The 5 Ws of Remembrance Day

By: Michael Nickerson

Michael Nickerson is a freelance writer and satirist based in Toronto. His website is

Michael Nickerson is a freelance writer and satirist based in Toronto. His website is

REMEMBRANCE: THE ACT of remem­bering or process of being remembered.

It seems a simple enough idea, es­pecially when the Canadian Oxford Dictionary phrases it so succinctly. And when it comes to things like remembering a password or having your smartphone remind you of something, it usually is. When it involves setting aside a whole day to remember things like conflict, courage, stupidity, sacrifice and death, well, that’s something else entirely. No simple task, that. And with another Remembrance Day come and gone, there seems to be much confusion surrounding the whole issue.

Opinions abound as to the who, what, where, when, why and that lonely how. Of course, the ‘when’ should be fairly easy to figure out — all the more so with six provinces giving people the day off as a statutory holiday in case they might forget. And the ‘where’ tends to be well advertised if never particularly well attended; bad weather, diaper changes and late morning hangovers tend to get in the way of the best of intensions. Though even a mo­ment’s remembrance in the shower before work can still make all the difference.

This all assumes you’re considered eligible to participate. One would think that when it comes to the question of ‘who’ can engage in this act of remembrance, particularly with something so important, all Canadians would be included. Silly thinking there, old chap. It’s become an exclusive club. An aboriginal veteran who quietly unfurled a flag to honour his First Nation comrades during a recent ceremony was arrested for breaching the peace; veterans wanting to protest their treatment by the government they served were told to shut up or stay home; pacifists were just expected to be out of sight and out of mind.

So, assuming one is lucky enough to get into this club that grants you the privilege of remembrance, ‘what’ should you be remembering exactly? According to Veterans Affairs Canada, it’s “the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace.” One assumes the good folks who look out for Canadian veterans aren’t referring to their birthdays.

And indeed they aren’t. According to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, the whole exercise is to “bring vital parts of our history to light to learn the stories of perseverance from our men and women in uniform, and to show our gratitude.” It seems all so very inspiring when you put it like that, doesn’t it?

For those of us raised on stories of abject horror from veterans who wanted to instill in young minds the idea that what they went through should never be repeated, it also comes across as a G-rated take on an R-rated snuff flick. But that’s neither here nor there, because what you’re actually remembering is apparently not that important; it’s ‘how’ you go about it.

In short, be careful what poppy you wear, pilgrim. Along with the afore­mentioned snubs of First Nation veterans as well as those other veterans wondering where their government went to, it was made clear that Remembrance Day pop­pies are, and mark these words, always to be RED. White is out. Take those pacifist leanings elsewhere. Show up, be quiet, and enjoy the air show, missing man formation or no.

Which brings us to the ‘why’ of things. Why remember at all, be they acts of war, those who have engaged in such acts on our behalf, or the reasons they were asked to in the first place? Many refer to George Santayana and his well-worn quote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” an adage that more often than not is cited by professional historians looking to stay relevant. Yet we keep repeating the same mistakes, sending men and women into conflict without first doing our utmost to avoid it. We quote history to justify more violence, rather than to remind ourselves to seek a peaceful alternative. Canada no longer actively tries to advance the possibility of peace, but instead finds ways to belligerently pursue the opposite.

Meanwhile, many seem more con­cerned with the dead of wars both one and two hundred years removed than the living who have survived our country’s call to duty, be they volunteer or professional. And military spending continues to be based more on promises of economic kickback than need or purpose.

For there is another thing to consider: people have stood by for millennia and let their leaders and societal elites lead them into conflict. If nothing else, remember that.