Pro patria mori–neither sweet nor proper

As most sentient beings have probably been able to judge from the ubiquitous poppies, Remembrance Day is upon us once again. This day has always struck me as special; the solemnity of elementary school assemblies and the yearly recitations of Wilfred Owen’s wartime poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” which never failed to give me the shivers, convinced me that this was a day to be taken seriously. And I continue to believe that wholeheartedly. Remembrance of wars past is imperative for all those who have ever been affected by warfare, i.e., everyone on earth.

But one aspect of Remembrance Day that sometimes scares me is the fine line between expressing gratitude towards those who have fought for their country, and the glorification of that fight. If there is one thing that human society should have learned by now, it is that war is—how shall I put this?—bad. Really bad, in every possible way. Anything that reduces people to killing machines can never be just. I think that the act of killing another human being, who is probably fighting for similar reasons and has no less right to life than anyone else, is one of the most dehumanizing things a person can do. Far too often, war is seen as a viable option for problem-solving, rather than an absolute last resort.

This is not to suggest that war should never be waged. There are occasions when outright warfare is necessary from a humanitarian perspective. I would use the Second World War as an example of this, although to be perfectly honest, I think that the escalation of events in the late 1930s was a frightening example of the utter failure of international intervention to prevent a political and humanitarian crisis that necessitated a full-scale war. The lives of those who died during that war and during the Holocaust that accompanied it are on the world’s collective conscience. Today, international organizations such as the UN are ostensibly more effective than the League of Nations at diffusing global conflict, yet entirely unnecessary, tragic warfare has not been stopped. If anything, violence has increased, both in scope and degree. Almost all this bloodshed can be attributed, whether directly or indirectly, to the world’s most wealthy, powerful, and stable nations: the ones that should

be doing the most to stop it. Violence in Africa, South America and the Middle East is in large part the result of instability caused by centuries of the subordination of colonialism.

We, as so-called ‘first world nations,’ are guilty of supplying arms and exacerbating conflict where it serves our interests. Granted, Canada has not been doing much of this since it supplied the United States with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. However, no matter how much we tout ourselves as peacekeepers, we have done very little in terms of the actual prevention of war. During Remembrance Day ceremonies around the world, Owen’s chilling and powerful poem will be read aloud. But the message of this poem, its outright condemnation of war, has yet to be taken to heart. It is time for the global community to wake up and realize that war is anything but glorious, and that we need to negate once and for all the old lie: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

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