Remembrance Day Controversies
News Letters, Stories
November 8, 2023
Remembrance Day Controversies
The Armistice of the First World War was signed at 5 in the morning on November 11th, 1918. The ceasefire went into effect six hours later, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, bringing an end to the Great War.
The following year, the Canadian House of Commons debated over the establishment of a federal Armistice Day. Although the majority of the Members of Parliament agreed that it was a good idea, some worried about the logistics of the date. Fixing the holiday to November 11th instead of a designated Monday could mean that it would disrupt the work week or conflict with Thanksgiving.
After much debate and a previous failed bill, in 1921, a bill was passed that placed Armistice Day and Thanksgiving on the same day (the Monday closest to November 11th). But in 1931, the bill was repealed. Canadians complained by combining a day of memorial and a day of celebration, the meaning of each was dampened by the other. Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day, set to be held on November 11th, and was separated from Thanksgiving. It was also clarified at that time, the day was intended to honour and remember the sacrifice, horror, and waste of war rather than as a celebration of victory or national pride.
In 1995, after several decades of half-hearted observance, the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War saw a resurgence in interest in memorializing soldiers’ sacrifices. Not only has interest in the day expanded in recent years but also its scope. Remembrance Day has gone from memorializing only the soldiers of the First World War to all Canadian military personnel.
In recent years, there have been numerous criticisms of the day. These include the assertion that the day has strayed from its original meaning. Some believe that it no longer serves as a warning against engaging in war but rather as a glorification of Canadian militarism. Additionally, the glorification of the First World War comes from the idea that it served as the “crucible of the nation.” The idea that Canada became a proper country as a result of the First World War is exclusionary to communities who were negatively impacted by it, such as Canada’s large German and Ukrainian populations. Many Remembrance Day ceremonies also honour the fallen soldiers of the Second World War while ignoring the internment of Japanese Canadians.
On the other hand, using the day to criticize war can be seen as disrespectful to those who died. The famous poem by John McCrae, In Flander’s Fields, is often referenced as a call to use the day to fulfill the Homefront’s end of the bargain not to allow the soldiers’ sacrifices to be forgotten. This perspective focuses on the interpreted wishes of the soldiers rather than the intentions of the politicians who created Remembrance Day. Some believe the day should not be used to disavow the act of war but to honour those who gave their lives.
These controversies all underline a greater message: Canadians are still grappling with the grief of war. Hopefully, as we wrestle with our collective feelings of past tragedies, we can gain some clarity on the conflicts of the present.
References and Further Reading:
Government of Canada. (n.d.) [Photograph of Canadian soldiers climbing from the trenches]. https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/wars-and-conflicts/first-world-war/
Iqbal, N. (2009). View of enacting Remembrance Day in the public sphere. University of Alberta. https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/constellations/index.php/constellations/article/view/9578/7518
Marsh J. H. (2011, November 7). Remembrance Day in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/remembrance-day
National Defence. (2022, November 8). Remembrance Day | 3. History of the Poppy. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/military-history/history-heritage/remembrance-ceremony/3.html
Remembrance – Remembrance Day | Canada and the First World War. (n.d.). Canada and the First World War. https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/after-the-war/remembrance/remembrance-day/