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November 11, Remembrance Day, is this Sunday. For many nations it is a day to pause and remember those who lost their lives in the wars of the twentieth century, those who made other sacrifices in war, and, no doubt, in the future it will be a day for remembrance of the wars of the twenty-first century too.

What we should remember most of all is that it is a day about sacrifice. It is not about glory, about honour, about defending a way of life or any of the other reasons that the jingoists would like to spin it into. It is about death and deprivation, about physical and mental maiming and our acknowledgment of those who, for whatever cause or reason — good, bad or just foolish — were there when called upon to bear the burden.

The date comes from that of the armistice that ended the First World War. It was an armistice that took effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. An armistice that was signed at 5 a.m., yet allowed six hours of fighting to go on. An armistice that ended a war that took around 10-million lives, including over 60,000 Canadians and 116,000 Americans. The last Canadian to die was Private G.I. Prince, who was shot at 10:58. The last U.S. soldier was Private Henry Gunther, shot at 11:01.

The First World War was billed as the war to end all wars. In reality it hardly slowed the carnage at all. The Twentieth Century, sometimes referred to as the bloody century, started off with wars in South Africa, the Philippines, China and Manchuria, just to name a few hot spots.

The pace hardly let up, and at the end of the First World War, the Allies invaded the Soviet Union to fight the Bolsheviks, with the last troops not pulling out until 1925.

Between civil wars and a Japanese invasion, China was basically in a state of war during most of the century until Mao drove out Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, and hostilities were ended in Korea.

The Second World War, an extension of the First on a much bigger scale, brought even more deaths and destruction. And, as we know all too well, it did not bring and end to war either.

Of all of the wars of the past century, only the Second World War in Europe against Adolf Hitler came even close to being about the eradication of evil and all of the other things we are always told we are fighting for. Had those been the only issues, there is doubt that the war would have been fought at all.

The First World War was certainly about none of those — a stupid blunder by all parties and the shame of every country that took part. Many of the wars of the century that did have elements of freedom involved were the usual cases of colonized people fighting to be free from the very western powers whose propaganda prominently features freedom as a major component.

We also hear about wars as protecting our way of life, which in many ways may be true. But that begs the question, Why is it that we have a way of life that attracts wars? Is it just that the rest of the world is evil, is it just human nature, or maybe there is something that we are doing that creates so much hostility? Perhaps this is a question that we should be asking ourselves, particularly when we stop to reflect on all of those we have lost.

This is the time of year to wear the poppy to show respect for those who have died in war, and those who have suffered. It is the time to donate to the poppy fund to help veterans in need, and the time to gather at the cenotaph, to honour all who have given so much. Let it also be a time to reflect and to ponder, do we need a war to end all wars or can we rise above war and bring about the changes that can create a lasting peace?

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