Monday, November 10, 2008

November 11th

As a Quaker I come up to November 11th with mixed feelings, I am a pacifist but I would never want to do anything to denigrate the people that chose to fight in the wars and lost their lives.

I also have very mixed feelings because the side of the wars my family was involved with from 1905 to 1945 was normally on the side of the despots. I had family members involved in the following wars:
  • Russo-Japanese war on the Russian side
  • World War I on the Russian side
  • The Russian Civil War on the White side
  • The Estonian War of Independence on the Estonian side
  • World War II on the German side
  • The Russo-Finnish War on the Finnish side.
My grandfather, August von Schulmann, was an officer in four of those wars and was executed at the end of World War II.

World War II alone killed one in ten people from my ethnic group and displaced 99.99% of us from our homeland.

I grew up in Canada learning about the sacrifice Canadians made to defeat the Axis powers in World War II, but could not talk about or mourn the losses of my family.

The men I knew in my family when I was growing up that had been to war were all decent, kind, good men who wanted a better world for their families and their community. They also all fought for Nazi Germany in World War II or the Russian Czar in World War I.

So I am a religious pacifist who grew up only knowing the personal story of the people that fought on the wrong side of the war. I am also someone that respects the decision of others to go to war to fight for what they believe in.

Remembrance ceremonies have always been very hard for me to go to because of all my mixed feelings. I have not been to one since I was a youth and went as part of Air Cadets. I have been seeking something to do on November 11th because it seems morally wrong not to pay attention and show respect. My fear of the cenotaph ceremonies is that they will not touch me in a way that honours what is going on or means I will act in a disrespectful way. Sitting alone in the house and quiet has never really been meaningful enough.

I believe I have found something I can do that will work for me. Shelbourne Avenue in Victoria was planted with trees in the 1920s and 30s as a memorial to all of the men from BC that died in World War I. Tomorrow I will spend an hour or two walking along the street and contemplating that each trees is a living memorial to a man that died.

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