It was supposed to be the War to end all wars. Well…did it?
This weekend’s carnage in Paris is a stark reminder that mankind has much more dangerous and pressing concerns. Remembrance Day is a ceremony that has outlived its relevance. People love parades, but interest in that particular one is steadily dwindling. Those who march at the Cenotaph (meaning an empty tomb) are more concerned with how sharp they look than being driven by any higher purpose. If we Dominicans must glorify anyone, let it be the Kalinago warriors and Neg Marwon who valiantly battled against colonial subjugation.
Now, others will tell you, bite your tongue! It’s blasphemy to even think of stopping the commemoration. The prevailing notion is we simply need to better educate the Dominican public on its deeper meaning. Well, consider this: absolutely no one who fought in WWI is alive today (they would have to be at least 112 years old, assuming they were drafted as young as 16). Even among those who fought in World War II, the vast majority has moved on. Members of the Legion, like my father, proudly marched and laid wreaths every hallowed Sunday around November 11. Any Legion survivors are tottering toward their hundred, bless their hearts, and can barely make it to the ceremony. Yet even they, like us, have no direct connection to WWI.
What was so special about World War I? Thirty eight million deaths? Was it any more gruesome than WWII’s 60 plus million? Was it any bloodier than Korea, Viet Nam, Grenada, Africa, South America, or whichever of the crusader or jihadi wars perpetually plaguing the Middle East? Is death in a small war or liberation struggle any less honourable than in a big war? Is it not ridiculous to continue doing something just because we have always done it this way before? If so, now is the time to smash this sacred cow.
Basic research reveals that West Indians serving in WWI were “not allowed to kill Europeans.” They mostly served as porters and labourers. What about that is there to be romanticized?! True, when the fight inadvertently came to them, they performed with such distinction that they quashed a good bit of those racist restrictions by the time WWII rolled around. True, they were trained in discipline and good order. True, they had the opportunity to see the world. True, that experience opened their minds and subsequently thrust them at the helm of political leadership in the long struggle for full independence. But that does not change the fact that they were fighting under orders in a war among colonial powers.
Personally, I am fueled by the prophecy embraced by the United Nations:
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” This inscription from Isaiah 2:4 is accompanied by the iconic sculpture (pictured above) in New York City by Soviet sculptor Evgeniy Vuchetich. When the peace of Christ rules our hearts, we strenuously avoid war. However, our enemies must make no mistake about our readiness to bravely fight for that which we hold dear.
Actually, we are already well on the way to disconnecting from WWI. Remember the poppy? That red paper floral designed pin was sold to raise funds for old soldiers and for the upkeep of monuments. Look at BBC or any anchor from anchor Australian or Canadian. You will see them dutifully wearing their poppies. Naturally, it was their war. Poppies were a big deal here a generation ago. Thankfully, in Dominica today, the poppy is passé.
Do not wait until London says, “Oh, by the way, we will no longer be commemorating that 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month thing anymore.” Cuba does not wait for permission from Washington to celebrate veterans of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. What’s the use being a republic if we continue slavish adherence to our erstwhile colonial masters? Let us take by in front. When I say forget Remembrance Day, I mean, as we now know it. Redefine it. Cherish the decorum. Make it more inclusive. Shift our focus to those to whom we most owe our freedom.
Here is one way forward: Cancel Remembrance Day forthwith. Move the observance to July 12, the date set aside to honour those who resisted slavery. Kudos to our Government for erecting the Neg Mawon monument. Now let us honour it fully.
Our cultural giants and parade masters can craft a meaningful formation at the Old market, march around the Neg Mawon monument and muster in the usual fashion at the Cenotaph – a new unique blend of the old and new. July 12 would also give a better interval between the new remembrance and November 3rd Independence celebrations. It will also memorialize all women and men who fell in line of duty for this country. This would include football coach Kurt “Brace yourselves” Hector and national player Norran Jno Hope. This has never been done before.
Time marches on. The United States began a similar transition nearly four score years ago. Back then, everything was about Civil War, Civil War, Civil War. But with Pearl Harbor, Martin Luther King Day, 9-11 etc., old observances had to be pushed aside. For an excellent example of an updated remembrance, take a look at the progressive African nation of Botswana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcmh-ntVGNA
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” So wrote Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. Colonial Gov. Ainsley slaughtered followers of the likes of Bala and Congore, at the red well in Roseau’s Old Market. This is dramatically depicted in the performance video above. You and I breathe free because of their total sacrifice.
Therefore, the essence of remembrance must be about courage itself, not just limited to those who fell in some big forgotten war from 1914-1918. Tell traditional Remembrance Day “Your time is done now!” When we march each July 12th, let it be a reminder that we the living, not just uniformed officers, may one day be called upon to give that full measure of devotion. In so doing, we leave behind a noble heritage of struggle, self-determination and achievement. May those who come after us enjoy the quality of liberty and dignity for which we now yearn.
By: Dr. Sam Christian
Maj. Sam Christian M.D. served in the medical section of the U.S. Army Reserve and Dominica Cadet Corps. He operates the Urgent Care at 137 Bath Road.