Lest We Forget

I think the world was holding its breath last week as in this critical time in human history, the United States of America, a country whose states have been far from united over the last four years, was engaged in the democratic process of electing a new president.  This is a sacred trust; the cornerstone of a democracy. A process for which a president should pledge respect and allegiance and above all, honour this basic tenet of democracy. Sadly, this was not the case.

As this election unfolded and because of the enormous implications for the world, I found it an enormous strain and even avoided media coverage as I feared the possibility that this despicable man, who has spewed nothing but hate, derision and disrespect from the moment he took office in 2016 and who continued to lie and cheat at every turn, would be elected to another four year term. I feared this would have nudged the Doomsday Clock ever closer to midnight and led to further horrendous and cataclysmic events, threatening the health and well being of people across the globe.  

Donald Trump is a bully. He incites violence and hate. He threatens, he hurls insults and slurs, he inflames the worst in human nature. As he blathered on this week with his daily spurious and egregious tweets and press conferences, I received in my work inbox, the daily UN news bulletin informing me that November 5th had been declared the first ever International Day against Violence & Bullying at School Including Cyberbullying. Children face violence and bullying at school all over the world, with one in every three students subject to attacks at least once a month and one in 10, a victim of cyberbullying. How disheartening is that!  And how disheartening it has been to see the “leader of the free world,” lead the charge. I think of all those who fought against fascism in the last century as it rears its ugly head again and again.

Lest we forget.  Powerful words. On Wednesday, amid a pandemic, people of Canada and across the world will stand with heads bowed for a moment of silence at 11 am on November 11th to remember those who lost their lives in service to their country; to reflect on the principles of freedom and democracy and the horror, destruction and infinite sadness that war leaves in its wake. 102 years since the Great War ended and 75 years since the end of the Second World War and as we reach this milestone, it behooves us to remember the founding of the United Nations at the end WWII, an international organization to promote peace and encourage dialogue between nations. Lest we forget.

On October 24, 1945 the UN Charter came into force. Article one of the Charter defines its purpose as such, “To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace; To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace; to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”

Today we face an existential crisis which threatens humanity. We have not honoured the earth and the waters which sustain us and the air which allows us to breathe. We have not listened to the voices of Indigenous peoples, the traditional landkeepers, and we have allowed self-interest and greed to ignore science.  

We need as people to come together across the globe with compassion and understanding, with love and not hate, with humility and not grandeur. We need to stand together in common purpose. It is time to not just remember the past but transcend it.  Our very lives depend on it.

There is a South African word, ubuntu, which means, I am because you are, a word which describes an African knd of humanism and became a guiding principle for South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy and Nelson Mandela’s desire to move beyond retribution and violence. In 2013, when speaking at Mandela’s funeral, Barak Obama described Ubuntu as. “Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.” 

In John McCrae’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields, he speaks of the poppies growing out of the devastated landscape of the battlefields of Flanders. Immortalized in his poem, the poppy has for over a hundred years come to symbolize war and remembrance. Perhaps poppies might also be a symbol of what unites us; blood runs through all our veins. McCrae speaks for the dead soldiers so that their deaths be not in vain when he ends his poem to say:

“To you from failing hands we throw,

The torch; be yours to hold it high.”

The torch, long a symbol of enlightenment and hope, we must continue to hold high.  Lady Justice holds a torch in her hand as a symbol of truth. The Statue of Liberty in New York City stands magnificent in the harbor with the torch held high as a symbol of democracy and inclusion.

So, when the darks clouds gather, we the people, need to stand together for truth and justice and against the forces of darkness. There can be a better world.  The youth around the world are mobilizing to make it so, and perhaps as November 11 dawns, we can remember the immortal words of young Anne Frank, who while hiding from the Nazis in an annex in Amsterdam, wrote in her diary, “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Just hours ago, I breathed a sigh of relief. Joe Biden was elected president of the United States.  His will likely be a difficult transition as tyrants do not go gentle into that good night.  But it is good to remember as the great civil rights activist, Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” That’s the lens we need for this moment in history.  Lest we forget.