Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11th in the Early 21st Century

We still hold to the tradition of November 11th as Remembrance Day, even though there are no longer any living Canadian veterans from WW1: the war to end all war that ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month in 1918.  Within a couple more decades, we will bid farewell to the final veterans of WW2 who (for people of my generation), have been the faces of Remembrance Day); and within the lifetimes of my children, there will be no more people to share direct stories of the Korean War: the third and final 20th century war that are often commemorated on our cenotaphs.
We do have modern veterans of the post-9/11 Afghanistan War and others who have faced armed conflicts through UN and NATO deployments.  These women and men will be the continuing faces of Remembrance Day for new generations, but we are witnessing a significant change in the nature November 11th… and I think I know why:
Most of the veterans of WW1 and WW2 were not soldiers by trade - they were wartime volunteers (and a few reluctant conscripts from 1917 and 1944).  After the wars, few of them remained in the armed forces.
Modern veterans are ‘career soldiers’ many of whom choose this vocation in peace-time.
I do not presume to rank the value of the war-time temporary soldier versus the peace-time career soldier, I just note that there is a difference. 
As the WW2 generation ages, we have witnessed our Royal Canadian Legions winding down.  It is sad to see, but it makes sense: the legions were built on the desires of the temporary soldiers to maintain the best of the comradery (which they had experienced in war) after they came home and moved on with their lives.  For the modern military, those supports are built into the career.  A relatively small percentage of modern military personnel feel drawn to Legion activity.  This type of soldier has different needs for comradery.
Lest we forget.  Even if we remember in a new way.