Remembering What's Been Endured

Rex Murphy notes Remembrance Day and how regard is deepening for both Canadian veterans and soldiers now serving.

Rex Murphy notes Remembrance Day and how regard is deepening for both Canadian veterans and soldiers now serving.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Remebering What's Been Endured

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It is but three years from a hundred, of the start of the First World War, a conflict that even now staggers in the scale of its slaughter - millions dead - and the unspeakable conditions under which it was conducted. 

Its appalling causalities drained conflict of the strained and artificial glories war has been dressed in since there has been war, it forced people to look at its deep costs, for the hurt and desolation that is war's inevitable expression.  Most particularly, the world became more mindful of the individual soldier, of the young men who went to war and who in such numbers suffered, were wounded, or killed.

The voice of the individual solider, the 'accounting' of what he endured, came most acutely from Wilfred Owen - the first poet of modern war, who gave all his heart and talent and finally his life to recording the experience of the trenches - the brutal, unrelenting and soul-crushing horrors of the Western Front.

I think in so many ways Wilfred Owen saw what Remembrance Day was all about even before there was a Remembrance Day.  He wrote not for himself, or for fame, but for the soldiers with whom he served and he wrote unsparingly and with the more savage honesty.

"Above all," he said, "I am not concerned with poetry. My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity."

Owen, as a poet, was memorializing his fellow soldiers and in terms which equally fit our memorializing nearly a hundred years later.  His ‘pity’ is not sentimentality.  It is an immensely profound conception of the suffering and struggle of each individual, unnamed soldier.   

It notes, clearly, what was endured; displays a reverence for the immense sacrifices and stirs the deepest chords of fellow feeling. Owen himself was killed exactly one week, almost to the hour, before the signing of the Armistice.

They are the terms on which we remember the oldest veteran of bygone wars and the soldiers of our most recent engagement in Afghanistan, those of compassion, gratitude and fellow feeling. 

Every November 11th here in Canada one senses that the regard for veterans and for those now serving is deepening, that Canadians place our soldiers, men and women, of wars past and present in a very special and singular place of distinction. 

Part of the homage we pay and the respect we feel, comes from the clear sight of what they once endured and what now they have to endure when on our behalf or for the good of others they risk their lives, see friends wounded or die, and families devastated.   

What was once the perception of a poet is now the common heritage. We honour sacrifice and valour, deplore the horrors of war, but salute those who encountered and endured them for our sakes. Such is the meaning of ‘Lest We Forget’

For The National, I'm Rex Murphy.