Remembrance Day is fast approaching. A time to remember, mourn, hope and imagine. Recently, a cartoon appeared in my Facebook feed which I have been thinking about. In it, it depicted a boy and his mother, with the boy wondering why they had to wear poppies, the mother patiently explaining its history of war and the famous John McCrae poem, the boy responding he doesn’t know what war really is, and the mother stating that was probably the best reason of all to wear the poppy. It’s a cute cartoon with a good message, but it got me thinking about my own childhood.
I was born in 1991, so a lot of my early years occupied the 1990s. Now, a lot of the Western world views the ’90s as a time of peace and prosperity–sure, there was the occasional rumble but after the devastation of the World Wars and the tension and maneuvering of the Cold War people above a certain age breathed a huge sigh of relief. Francis Fukuyama even released his article which became a political science staple called the “End of History” in which he thought global conflict was a thing of the past–of course, Fukuyama would be proven wrong in short order with Samuel Huntington’s article “The Clash of Civilizations” arguing that conflict would shift from warring nation-states to warring cultures seeming fairly prophetic in retrospect.
As a kid who grew up in the ’90s though, I certainly didn’t think everything was sunshine and roses. One of my earliest memories of elementary school (somewhere between Kindergarten and Grade 2 from what I DO remember) is of our teacher telling us that we were born in the same year as the Gulf War, so I was aware that war was still very much apart of the world, and the Gulf War was still fresh enough in the teachers’ minds that it seemed like a big deal that we were born in that year.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred exactly three days after I turned 10 and even to a 10 year old it was clear the world had been shaken. I remember seeing the footage looping on CNN, and the teachers telling us about it during school. A mere couple of years later the Iraq War was launched which I definitely paid attention to since I had been born in the year of the Gulf War which was the last major conflict involving Sadam Hussein’s regime.
Now, I should clarify I definitely had anxiety disorder, and we now know I was on the autism spectrum. I was also probably more tuned into politics than most kids–my parents watched the news faithfully and were tuned into the local community as well. Since we also had fire phones and pagers in the house for many years, and my Dad was a firefighter, fire chief and ski patroller, I also had a lot of awareness about the fragility of human life and exactly how active even volunteer first responders are in a small rural community. So all of that probably compounded my awareness.
All in all, I may not have been aware (and I hope never to be!) of what it’s like to actually be on the front lines, or in the depths of a war zone, but I have definitely been aware that we’re extremely lucky given our geography and geopoltiical history in Canada, and that even with our good fortune the world is still not a safe place. There’s enemies around every corner, and the world is bound together in peace largely by a shared game of pretend.
That said, I’ve grown from when I was a kid. I see now the good parts too, the parts that are beautiful, and wonderful, and I’ve become convinced that most people have basically good hearts and minds. I also know more about the history of the world, the trends and changes and theology and conflicts–and I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was right about the moral arc of the universe being long, but bending towards justice. Humans still have a lot of frailties, and evil is more often banal than cosmic–but we’re learning, and we’re growing, and I think there is tremendous reason to hope.
I don’t know if we’ll ever eliminate war entirely–even if we eliminate it on Earth, chances are that if we venture beyond our solar system we’ll find species that are hostile to us and we’ll probably have to fight our share of battles out there too–but we can at least work to ensure that the wars we’ve fought our not in vain, and that we can one day stand in solidarity with all our fellow human beings. May it be so soon.