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Lest We Forget

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Mourn the blood spilled on Flanders Fields and the blood red poppy that speaks to the dead.

A Canadian WWI commanding officer named John McRae witnessed the death of a 22-year-old friend.

His poem, In Flanders Fields, calls all who would come later to pick up the fight.

The poem is inspiring and devastatingly sad. McRae would die two months later, killed by the pneumonia that swept through the battlefield. Among the traces of his life were In Flanders Fields and two doctors he tutored back home. They would become two of the first female physicians in Ontario.

Mourn the 64,000 Canadians killed in World War I.

Mourn the White Rose campaign, a cell of students inside Germany who resisted the Nazis. Hitler had the half dozen ringleaders decapitated. Later, Allied Forces would drop their writings as leaflets over Berlin. Where there is evil, courage inevitably flowers.

Mourn for Private Mark Graham of Hamilton, killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2006. Mourn the 42,000 Canadians killed in the WWII, but make room in your grief for the 20 million Russians and civilians killed in the same conflict. The Russians thrust their own toward the German troops. A machine gunner stood at the rear of the phalanx, ready to shoot down those who hesitated. It’s been said that a familiar tactic of the Russians was to randomly execute one of their own soldiers, the better to terrify the men toward combat.

Mourn the circumstance that prompted some of our WWI soldiers to execute 23 comrades who refused to fight.

Mourn the residents of Nanking, China, the site of a massacre by the Japanese. The Chinese said 300,000 were killed.

Mourn the 700,000 Americans killed by their own countrymen in the Civil war.

Mourn the evil a world away that prompted us to rename a stretch of Road the Highway of Heroes.

Mourn 200,000 killed in Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the 25,000 incinerated at Dresden in Germany.

Mourn six million Jews killed by the Nazis and the couple that jumped to their death hand-in-hand from the World Trade Centre.

Easily lost in the poppies and the Last Post and the flyovers is the message of Lest We Forget.

Remember the bayonet wielded throughout history for it is within all of our reach, cloaked in the ether between patriotism and nationalism, ambition and ruthlessness, redress and revenge. One of the most cultured countries in the world produced Hitler.

There has been no higher cause than the heroic desire to stop Fascism, to unshackle the horrific clutches of the Taliban, to resist Stalin. The wisdom of those sentiments is usually amplified by time. How many lives were lost because of the American reluctance to enter World War II? What about the 1,000,000 people said to be killed in Rwanda, partially because of our inaction?

But the rueful corollary of Lest We Forget is ‘Dare to Remember’ before we send our men and women into harm’s way.

Our people in the armed services deserve our reluctance and our caution before we wave a lit candle near the thread that is their legacies. We owe them that.

The fact that we have had so many people we call heroes is a tribute to our country. That there had to be is an indictment of our kind.

As long as there is wrong, there will be people willing to risk everything to set things right.

That is the best of our human nature. And it will be forever tested by the worst.

Lest we forget.

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