It comes as no surprise to me that many Christians, and especially pastors, struggle with Remembrance Day, or Veterans Day as it is called in the United States, Armistice Day in other parts of the world. The struggle is born out of the fact that war is generally considered to be a bad thing, and not all wars are created equal. Some it is easy to see the necessity of the conflict and so can be regarded with some degree of honour; others, unfortunately, are much harder to justify and are the source of the philosophical struggle. How does one honour the fallen in an unjust war without giving credence to the conflict we opposed so strongly?
The most common response to this is, “We are not honouring the war; we are honouring the soldiers.” But for many this is a difficult concept to buy into because in their minds if the soldiers refused to fight there wouldn’t have been a war. As is often the case this idealistic approach can rarely play out in the real world.
In the real world diplomacy often fails. In the real world governments feel pressure to ‘send a message’ and ‘issue a measured response.’ In the real world some countries are governed by genocidal regimes that simply must be stopped. The average soldier in combat boots and fatigues with a rifle and a fifty pound pack isn’t in a position to make a judgment call on the bigger picture. They can object to specific acts, such as burning a village full of women and children, but the beyond that; well, they rarely get to see beyond the next hill.
So, keeping this in mind I would like to suggest a slightly different wording for the statement above.
We are not honouring the war; we are honouring the sacrifice!
Being a soldier is by and large an act of faith. In good faith soldiers lay their lives on the line believing that their leaders would not ask them to engage in an unjust war. In good faith they answer the call of duty believing that the best interests of their nation are at stake. In good faith they sacrifice some measure of their own freedom and all too often their own lives in the belief that doing so will bring some measure of freedom to others and allow them to live better lives.
It is that faith which puts them in a position to go to war. It is that faith which leads them to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is that sacrifice of faith that we pay tribute to on Remembrance Day.
Another aspect of the real world, regretfully, is that faith is often betrayed. However; and this is the most important thing I wish to convey to you, the betrayal of that faith by the government of the day does not in any way diminish the value of the sacrifice made by the men and women in uniform.
You see Remembrance Day is not about government policy; it’s not about international politics; it’s not even about whether war is just or unjust, right or wrong, of necessity or of opportunism. Remembrance Day is about the men and women in the tanks, trucks and trenches, the fighter planes and bombers, and the ships at sea and under the sea who, in good faith, answered the call of duty and ultimately sacrificed their lives by doing so.
And that is all it is about.
That sacrifice, made in good faith, must never be taken lightly. It must never be dismissed because we disagree with the politics of the day. It must never be demonized because of our own pacifist beliefs. If that faith was betrayed, if that faith was misplaced, it in no way diminishes the value of the sacrifice; and the fact that sacrifice was made must never be forgotten.
This is why I think it highly appropriate that the U.S. elections are held in the shadow of Remembrance Day. I wish that federal elections in Canada were held at this time as well. Holding elections so close to Remembrance Day reminds us that in a democracy the leaders who send the men and women of our armed forces into battle are selected by the people, by you and me, when we cast our votes. If our leaders have engaged in an unjust war it is because we gave them the power to do so. Few leaders in the Western world can declare war on their own; they require the support of their governments. Those governments were put in place by the people. Which is why the sacrifice of those men and women must also be important to you and me; to all of us.
So on November 11th, regardless of your political leanings, regardless of your philosophic or theological approach to war, please, take a moment to remember the sacrifice made in good faith by men and women who fought to oppose evil and promote freedom on our behalf.