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    Cultural Identity (what defines us?)

    Red Fridays - Lest We Forget

    Debbie Ouellet  |  05.Nov.09

    “If ye break faith with us who die
    
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    
In Flanders fields.”

    In Flanders Fields— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

    In Canada, November 11th is the day set aside each year to remember the sacrifices made by the veterans of war. Right or wrong, whether or not you buy into the politics behind the conflicts, the sacrifices made by the countless young men (and now women) on the front lines in order to uphold our personal freedoms must never be forgotten.

    There is a growing movement in Canada to recognize and support our troops by observing Red Fridays. This is not a government sponsored marketing campaign, but the culmination of a grassroots movement that began when the first fallen Canadian soldiers were returned home from Afghanistan. An ‘Everyman’ initiative, it has gained momentum ever since. By wearing red on Fridays, we are asked to make a typically Canadian statement: to quietly, peacefully, and with dignity express our appreciation to the young men and women in the military who put their lives on the line daily so that we can live in freedom.

    Why red? Red is the colour of remembrance. For as long as I can recall, each year, two weeks prior to Remembrance Day ceremonies on November 11th, I’ve pinned a red poppy to my lapel as a symbol of remembrance for our fallen soldiers. Red is also the colour of the maple leaf and bars on the Canadian Flag.

    The Highway Home: We live in a hectic, helter-skelter world where much of our time is focused on making it to the next meeting, the next sale, the next highway exit. It’s disconcerting to see how lost we can become in the endless pursuit of ‘more’. Even in the midst of this daily chaos, however, a glimmer of the quiet pride and deep appreciation is becoming increasingly evident. Along the busiest highway in Canada, the 401, motorists momentarily forget their rage at gridlock and rush hour stress to pause and line the overpasses to pay their respects as the bodies of fallen soldiers make their final journey home via what has now been named, “The Highway of Heroes”. A 172km stretch, The Highway of Heroes runs from the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton to Toronto. After a repatriation ceremony on the tarmac at CFB Trenton, the families of the fallen make the long, emotional trip to bring their lost hero home. Snow, rain, ice: the weather doesn’t matter—overpasses along the route are filled with thousands of Canadians wearing red, waving flags, hands over hearts, silently saluting their dead.



    When talking about his experience after witnessing the Highway of Heroes firsthand, journalist Kevin Tibbles said, “The kind of unified and public show of respect along the repatriation route is unusual in the world today. It doesn't happen in the States; it doesn't happen in the United Kingdom… Here is a grassroots movement that has simply grown out of respect for those who put their lives on the line ...”

    The Canadian Peacekeeping History: For decades, Canada was the number one contributor of UN Peacekeeper troops. A quiet wallflower in the political arena, though Canada represents a mere 1% of the world’s population, they consistently provided 10% of the world’s peacekeeping forces.

    It’s a history for which most Canadians (in their understated way) are fiercely proud. The rub today, however, and where many Canadians (including this writer) are torn, is the change in direction over the past decade. Until 1996, Canada ranked in the top 10 of peacekeeping nations. Today it ranks a disappointing 52nd.

    Which raises the question: Where have all the peacekeepers gone? It’s not that we are sending fewer troops overseas; it’s where these troops are being deployed. As of June 30, 2009, Canada (and other governments) shut down SHIRBRIG, the multinational Standby High Readiness Brigade for United Nations Peace Operations. This represents a failure to live up to peacekeeping commitments made when Canada helped to pioneer SHIRBRIG in 1995 following the Rwanda genocide. Currently, almost no support is being offered to the UN peacekeeping initiatives. Instead, support has been shifted to NATO and conducting counter-insurgency operations as part of the American war on terrorism. Today there are 2,700 Canadian troops stationed in Afghanistan.

    With the 2011 deadline approaching to draw down our military commitment in Afghanistan, what new role will our troops play in our nation’s future? My fear is that Canada currently lacks the political leadership to return the mission of the Canadian forces to its peacekeeping heritage.

    How do we, as Canadians, reconcile the pride in our history to the slippery slope that awaits our military if our political leaders lack the strength and conviction to position our troops where they can once again serve the greater good? As we approach Remembrance Day on November 11th and consider Red Fridays, each of us, as Canadians, must make a personal choice of where to hang our hat of support.

    Will I wear red on Fridays? I will.

    The lack of leadership and direction currently within the Canadian government is not what I am supporting. The conflict in Afghanistan is not what I’m supporting. I’ll wear red because, regardless of where our political leaders send our troops, they still see themselves and act as peacekeepers. Daily, they put their lives in harm’s way to ensure the safety and freedoms of those I love. Because of these brave men and women, and those who have fallen before them, my children are the first generation in my family’s history who have not seen war. Because of them, I can write, without fear of retribution, my disappointment and disapproval of the political mismanagement that has lead us to this slippery slope.

    More than a poppy worn in the lapel once each year, we owe it to the young men and women who guarantee our freedoms and fight for the right to freedom for others who would be denied theirs, to say thank you.

    In our truly Canadian way, it may not be loud or flashy, but quiet, like the swelling of a wave. If enough of us join in, the result will be felt from shore to shore: a sea of red each Friday to say, “We remember. And we thank you.”

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    Comments :

    1. Posted on 10.Nov.09   From: Rena McClung

    Debbie,

    I will be passing this on with hopes that there will be many viewings on Remembrance Day of your article and accompanying memorials.

    Rena

    2. Posted on 10.Nov.09   From: Shari Lyle-Soffe

    Debbie

    This is a wonderful article. If only we could live in a world without wars and killing. Red Friday sounds like a wonderful movement.

    Shari

    The comments to this entry are closed.