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Peace with honour

We need to do more than pin a red poppy on our chests

By Carolyn Pogue

I was appalled to see a newspaper article featuring a young student placing a can of soup in a box marked “Honour.” Other boxes nearby were marked “Valour” and “Courage.” I was glad that the kids were learning history. I was appalled that veterans, whom Canadians say they honour, were reduced to begging at a Food Bank.

This month, Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino visited Calgary to say how marvelous it is that some city veterans will have access to affordable housing. This did not make me feel warm and fuzzy toward a government minister. I was incensed. If I were him, I would be ashamed to show my face to any veteran. I would be embarrassed to be part of a government that slaps on an poppy, watches tears slide down grizzled faces, solemnly lays a wreath and then dishonours veterans the rest of the year.

If our country was really proud of our military accomplishments and history, why is food and shelter a problem for veterans? No one who has visited hell for one’s country should have to suffer the humiliation of poverty and lack social services needed to reintegrate into society. If our country understood the word, "honour," Lt-Gen. The Honourable Romeo Dallaire would not have to struggle to find help for wounded hearts and minds returning from dangerous places.

So what does honour really mean? Canadians could determine that it means caring for traumatized military and other citizens after the hell of war. We could teach peace stories, peace strategies and peace possibilities in all its manifestations: within, with nature, with families, with communities and with the world. We could ensure that children grow up with more stories about peace than of war. We could elect governments that truly honour those who serve by giving them a decent pension so that food, housing and psychiatric care are affordable.

We could support peace programs, such as the ones at McMaster University in Hamilton and the University of Calgary. We could celebrate and get to know young peace-builders, such as Canadians Craig and Marc Kielburger who established "Free the Children," "We Day" and "Me to We."

We could celebrate — as the Calgary Peace Prize committee did in 2012 — brave peaceable people like former Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal. Through his unique African rap music, presentations and concerts, Jal works tirelessly to tell the story of child soldiers and of peace.

We could get to know authors whose books encourage new ways of thinking. There are many current ones, like Canadian Deborah Ellis who writes fiction and nonfiction for young adults. There are some surprising oldies available, too.

A.A. Milne, like John McCrae who wrote "In Flanders Fields," served in Europe during World War I. Milne is known for his Winnie the Pooh stories and poems, but Milne’s book, Peace with Honour, is different. Written in 1934, it is a plea for sanity:

“We know ... that, of the casualties of the last war, not all were killed on the battlefield; that hundreds and thousands died painfully of wounds – in bed; that hundreds of thousands died slowly of gas-poisoning or disease – in bed.  Yet the sentimentalist, knowing this, still visualizes death in war as something which comes cleanly and swiftly and mercifully, leaving its victim no more time for awareness than is necessary for a last message to his mother.”

If we are to honour “those who served,” then I believe we need to do more than pin a little, floppy red poppy on our chests.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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