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Community…On Remembrance, Poppies & Homelands

November 2, 2010

November. Conscious of and indebted to the efforts of veterans worldwide – I remember. An American expat living in Ireland, in matters of politics I have pacifist leanings. I am, however, untroubled by my passion for honouring the military and sacrifices made on my behalf. Generations of sacrifices.

American veterans, British veterans, Canadian, German, Italian, Japanese, Israeli and Arab veterans, I make no distinction. Every one was called upon by his or her motherland to serve.

Service. Few of those who served or died had a say in the arguments, feuds and passions that led to the conflicts. Some followed reprehensible orders, all faced circumstances I have not. I, therefore, respect their service, even when not in service to my ideals.

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour every year, I am proud to say that I have thought of, prayed and cried for the sacrifices of all veterans. Perhaps due to my age or the fact that I am an American of Irish and Italian descent who is Jewish, my mind goes first to the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps. Beyond the dangers they faced in their war efforts until that day – most took to their graves the horror of what they witnessed, and only in its aftermath.

My uncle was an Italian soldier who spent most of WWII in a Russian POW camp. Was his sacrifice less noble or costly because the leadership of his homeland chose the “other” side? I have a dear friend, an Israeli veteran whose service in the Lebanon war haunts him to this day. You get my point. Veteran’s day is complicated.

I never thought that before, it was driven home by an effort to obtain a small red poppy for a British expat friend in the states. I live in Carlingford, on the border with Northern Ireland, the UK.  I assumed that in my travels I would be able to make a donation and pick up this token of remembrance known all over the British Isles.

Not so. “Ah sure, but you wouldn’t want to be trying to find that.”  “No lass, we wouldn’t be wearing that around here.” “You’re brave to be asking for one of those.”

I have learned to challenge that response. 50,000 Irish soldiers died in WWI and many now serve with UN peacekeepers. I am sorry for the legacy of the British occupation. I try to be sensitive to both sides.

That said I am outraged by the intolerance and disrespect of the young men and women who serve their homelands, anywhere. Especially here.

August (2009) marked the 30th anniversary of the massacre of 18 British soldiers in Northern Ireland. I can see it from my home. There is now an uneasy peace in that conflict. Those 18 mothers and their sons deserved to have their memories honoured. We in the Republic were largely silent.

We should not celebrate the wars – victory or defeat – but we must celebrate the gift of the young lives they and their families have given. Their gift is literally our present.

I have a US homeland, the gift of brave grandparents who emigrated. Ireland is now home. My Irish forbearers were driven out by the policies of the British. Can I hold that against a British soldier? The Irish government generously regards this grandchild still a citizen, their soldiers serve bravely with UN peacekeeping troops worldwide. Can I blame an Irish soldier for the Republic’s neutrality in the face of genocide? The genocide that left my Jewish children deprived of extended families that exist no longer? Here as a Jew I am pilloried as an extension of the Israeli occupation. I have no connection to Israel, should I disdain the service of her young?

Jews trapped in European homelands 70 years ago were citizens of countries and dependent upon the protection of soldiers in whose armies many served. Later they were grateful to soldiers of other homelands who liberated them.

Whose soldiers and what sacrifices would you have me forget?

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