November 12, 2011 Leave a comment
I was at a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Alberta Legislature Grounds where the Royal Canadian Artillery did a salute with three howitzers, and the experience was one I won’t soon forget, which is what led me to write up this post.
Being of Filipino stock, I don’t have the same connection that most Canadians have to the World Wars. My connection to World War II is through the Pacific Theatre and the invasion, occupation and liberaltion of the Philippines. Both sets of my grandparents lived through the occupation, and it is my maternal grandfather, Bernardino de Guzman, who I often think about every Remembrance Day.
I know little about him because he died four years before I was born. I do know that he was a hard-working and religious man and that he was–in spite of his short temper–very devoted to his family. I also know that he was involved with the Philippine Resistance during World War II. Admittedly, I know very little about what my grandparents experienced during the war. My paternal grandfather was a schoolboy at that time and has never said much about it. My maternal grandmother vividly remembers the exact details of the day the Imperial Japanese soldiers arrived in their village. In fact, I’ve heard her tell this story enough times that I can re-tell the story almost as well as she does. However, that’s all she has ever mentioned about the war. All I know of my maternal grandfather’s involvement comes from the limited knowledge that my mother has, which is not much different from the usual depictions of resistance fighters anywhere.
War is a difficult thing to endure, and I know enough about human psychology not to stir up painful memories in people, much less my family.
This is what leads me to my experience at the artillery salute yesterday.
The power of watching a howitzer fire (even the obsolete ones that they used at the salute) is, in the truest, non-colloquially-used meaning of the word, awesome. I was standing just ten feet away from one of the guns, and, I can vividly recall the thundering report, the smouldering smell of powder, and, most of all, the shaking of the earth that coursed through my body. The thought that persisted in the back of my mind for the rest of the day was, “I can’t imagine hearing that all day and night, every day, for years, let alone seeing the other horrors and atrocities of war.”
Yes, death and the physical scars of war are terrible, and it’s important to commemorate those who fought, suffered and died to defend all that we hold dear. That is why I have always commemorated Remembrance Day. However, the emotional and psychological scars of war are just as terrible, and these are scars that survivors of war, even those unharmed physically, must live with for the rest of their lives. This is becoming more apparent now as thousands of our brave soldiers are returning from Afghanistan, many of whom are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s not to discount the trauma experienced by our peacekeepers over the years, but the much larger scale of our involvement in Afghanistan has created a large number of veterans in a short period of time, which Canada has not faced since our last major engagement in Korea.
Moreover, it’s not just soldiers that pay the price emotionally. Civilians who have seen their cities and homes destroyed, their land lie in ruin and their loved ones cut down also pay the psychological price. While it’s important to honour our soldiers, I thought to myself yesterday, “on what day do we honour the civilians who have endured the horrors of war?”
Yesterday, I decided that, on every Remembrance Day, I would honour the sacrifice paid by all who have experienced war, combatants and non-combatants alike. War is a terrible thing, necessary as it may be at times. The price paid by all of humanity is too great for us not to remember and honour everyone who has endured it.