A recent controversy being discussed in the Canadian media is the fact that parents can ask that their children be allowed to “opt-out” of school Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day as it is sometimes known, is observed on November 11 in most commonwealth countries around the world. The day and time – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – were chosen to commemorate the official end to hostilities in the First World War. The primary purpose of the day though, is to honour the fallen soldiers who were not lucky enough to return home from the battlegrounds in Europe. Over time the ceremony has evolved and it is now generally a time to remember and pay homage to all of our veterans both living and dead. It is one day of the year when the country comes together in a moment of silence to pay respect to the soldiers who have given their lives, and the soldiers who continue to risk their lives, to protect their fellow citizens.
For me, Remembrance Day goes far beyond honouring our veterans and their fallen comrades. To me it is about freedom. That is the cause that these brave men and women fought and died for. It is a cause that is shared by soldier and civilian alike and fought for by both, albeit in different ways. It stretches back well before the two great wars. It’s a battle that has been fought continuously since the dawn on human civilization. It is a perpetuation of the struggle between those who would live free and those who wish to control them.
Freedom is a cause that is so much bigger than the conflicts of the 21st Century. The battle has raged for millennia, being fought between nations, within nations and even within families. Governments have been toppled, nations conquered and families torn apart.
Freedom is such a simple word, but it seems to be a surprisingly difficult concept for many to understand. Freedom isn’t about supporting the rights of only the people whose opinions and beliefs of those with whom you agree. Freedom is about supporting the rights of everyone, especially those with whom you disagree.
The outcry caused by this rarely used school policy has clearly shown how little some people understand the true meaning of freedom. There have been calls to make the ceremonies mandatory, to ‘force’ people to pay their respects on Remembrance Day. These vocal few wish to honour the sacrifices of those who died in the name of freedom by taking away a freedom.
It needs to be pointed out that there are two very different groups who may choose to opt-out. The first group is made up of those who are entirely opposed to Remembrance Day, be it religious, social or other reasons. While I don’t agree with their position, I wholeheartedly support their right to it. Opponents to this school policy claim that allowing students to opt-out of the ceremony goes against everything that our soldiers have fought and died for. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Those who choose to opt-out are paying the highest honour to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives. They are exercising the very freedom that those brave souls fought and died for.
The second group are those people who fully support the day, but for whatever reason can’t or don’t want to attend a ceremony. While Remembrance Day services are generally a good thing, it needs to be remembered that the pomp and tradition are really only the trimmings. The meat of the day is taking the time to appreciate the freedoms that we currently enjoy and giving thanks to all the people throughout history who have fought and died for those freedoms. It’s not necessary to attend a ceremony to appreciate and honour those sacrifices. We all have the right to pay our respects in our own way, and the traditional Remembrance Day service is only one possible way to do so.
Tomorrow morning at 11:00, while I observe a moment of silence, I will not only pay my respects to the fallen, I will also acknowledge the people who are choosing not to observe that moment. Those people are the proof that we still have at least some freedoms left for which to give thanks.