On Remembrance Day, war stories from Vimy to Baghdad
By gathering the anecdotes and artifacts of war, we honour the noble efforts of regular folk in desperate circumstances. Further, we aid in the prevention of costly violent errors in the future by bearing witness and sharing what already know.
Nobility of Documentation
I feel there is great power in documentation and in gathering and sharing stories.
For me, the reasons for capturing memories are most clear around Remembrance Day when otherwise pacific elders are resplendent with dusty spangles, propped by stiffened knees, and tears are rather expected.
With the fading and guarded memories of veterans in mind, I extol the virtues of archiving the oral tradition and preserving the ephemera in attics and shoeboxes with the maxim, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it," in mind.
To my eyes, there is scant glory in the macro-reasons for war, but noble sadness (even wabi sabi in Japanese aesthetic terms), and I have utmost respect for the efforts made by the those who are obliged to participate in conflict – regardless of their roles or reasons.
(Photograph of war memorial in London by author)
Why I Gather
While wars go on, I would be a regrettable resister if I did not study, remix and share the stories of those at war, in years present and past. I've seen concentration camps near Muchen's Oktoberfest and the rusted hulks of tanks reclaimed by jungles on Peleliu. I've dived amongst the leftover debris of dead sailors near Guam. I've sat with the winners and losers of wars and listened to stories from civilian employees, special ops and draft dodgers. All are equal to my ears.
Now, with the tactile poignancy of a brother in Afghanistan (expected home soon), who also toured Iraq, combined with a crust of cynicism from the recent US mid-term elections – and watching on-going domestic political squabbling while pragmatic advice is ignored and the fallen come home, I can offer no more reason to remember than the obvious. Flanders Field on endless loop, the narrative is still the same. No change, no evolution.
While my ballot apparently is not strong enough to spare lives, I can hope to change minds for the future by compiling the stories of those in the fray, both past and more recent.
Listen to Veterans
On this Remembrance Day, I've gathered two audio stories from wars, referred to anecdotally with names like the Great War, the Just War (and the Mistake War).