17 November 2012


I should have remembered. After all, I even wrote about it right here three years ago. But when I went through my calendar a while ago to pick a random November weekend for some museum visits in Canada's capital, the significance of the date completely eluded me. A week or so prior to my Ottawa gettaway, I picked up the seasonal red poppy from the Canadian legion's booth at the grocery store. But it was not until the day of my departure that I realized that I would be in the capital for this year's Remembrance Day celebrations.

Of course, when it finally dawned upon me, I was excited about the prospect, for I knew my room at the Westin hotel was going to have a perfect view of the cenotaph, right across the Rideau canal. So waking up to an appropriately bleak Sunday morning, I opened the curtains, turned on the TV, and between the CBC's commentary and the view below, enjoyed seamless coverage of the events. As the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month approached, the dignitaries gathered, and joined the large numbers of veterans for the two minutes of silence, followed by the traditional laying of the wreaths, RCAF fly-past and 21 gun salute.

The ceremony, highly ritualized as it is, was solemn yet touching, and if the Canadian War Museum had not already been in my plans for the day, it would have been swiftly added. Touring its exhibits of the various conflicts Canadians have been involved in, and listening to some of the Veterans from World War II as well as the Korean, Cold and Afghan wars, it occurred to me how much these expeditions have formed and defined the identity of a comparatively young nation. If there is one thing Francos and Anglos, east and west can all agree on, it is on the respect and gratitude for the country's past and present soldiers.

It made me realize how lucky Switzerland is to be blissfully unaware of the duty to care for Veterans, and the obligation to remember the fallen. Not having been entangled in an open war for centuries, the Swiss have no legions of wounded and killed to mourn, no empty tombs to guard, and no overseas battlefields to dot with memorials. Instead, they write obituaries for defense tycoons who have managed to sell guns to both sides of many a conflict - a rather cynical interpretation of Swiss neutrality.

With the new $20 bill issued this November 11, Canadians have another reminder of the blood and treasure their nation has spent on battlefields around the globe. Adding my little poppy to the crimson sea covering the cenotaph in the wake of the ceremony, I knew for sure that next year, I will remember.

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