Ten years ago today I was sitting in War Memorial Hall on the University of Guelph campus taking in the Remembrance Day service.  I had been to this service the previous two years, but this one was quite a different experience.  As usual, the place was packed and the first couple rows of seats were filled by veterans in full uniform that had been invited to the event.  But when the MC got up to speak, she made an interesting comment.  She said that as we remembered those troops who fought for us, we should also remember the many people who refused to go to war because they were pacifists.  She brought this up over and over again – it was clear that she thought the true heroes of the World Wars were those who stayed at home.

I was shocked and upset at this, to say the least.  While I respected a pacifist viewpoint, I thought it was terrible to invite veterans to an event to remember those lost in the wars, and then give all the praise to those who skipped out to let others fight their battles.  I felt like if I was one of those veterans, I would have been hurt, and felt totally denigrated.  That Remembrance Day left a sour taste in my mouth, and I have yet to go back to War Memorial Hall for another Remembrance Day.

Now, ten years later, I myself am a pacifist.  Over the last year, I’ve come to understand and believe that when Jesus said, “turn the other cheek,” he meant it.  I’ve come to see through Jesus’ teachings and examples that those who follow him are to be willing to lay down their lives for anyone; not just their friends and countrymen, but their enemies as well.  So as Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day in other parts of the world) came around again, I had to think about how I view this event now.  As a strict pacifist, how do I view a day that celebrates the actions of men who spent their days violently taking the lives of others?  How do I look back and see that Remembrance Day ceremony where pacifists were praised for refusing to go to war?  Well, some things have changed, and others, not so much.

Firstly, I still think even the hardcore of pacifists needs to be thankful for those who fought for our freedom, and to realize and recognize that these men and women risked their lives, gave their lives, and in many cases were genuine heroes, all in good conscience.  I live in a country with a ridiculous amount of freedom, and I have to recognize that much of it is thanks to the men and women who served in the World Wars.  So in this regard, I still look back on that Remembrance Day ceremony with a sadness for how it was run. This day is a day to remember and recognize those people who served in the wars, not those who stayed behind.

Secondly, as I’ve learned more about pacifism, I’ve come to realize that the MC at that Remembrance Day service didn’t just denigrate the soldiers, but denigrated the pacifists as well.  She confused those being “pacifist” with those being “passive”.  Pacifism isn’t about avoiding conflict, but about using peaceful measures to help in the midst of conflict and to try to help resolve it.  She ignored those pacifists that were serving on the front lines.  The thousands of Anabaptists and other pacifists serving the military through non-violent means, as field medics and with other assisting duties.  Or the Bulgarians who literally laid down on the tracks to stop the trains carrying Jews to concentration camps.  Or to the current day peacemakers, like Christian Peacemaker Teams who are jumping right into the midst of war-torn areas in the Middle East, promoting peace through peaceful means.

Remembrance Day is an important day, a day to remember those who fought, those who gave their lives, those who willingly jumped into the midst of horrible violent chaos, those whose heroic actions are hard to even comprehend as someone living in a peaceful North America.  Regardless of whether we are pacifist or not, and regardless of whether those heroes were pacifist or not, it is important to remember, and to continue to work towards peace, in our lives and around the world.