Thursday, November 11, 2010

Culture: Make It a Statutory Holiday

TORONTO, ONTARIO - North American society spends a lot of time lamenting the commercialization of our holiday traditions. While Christmas and Valentine's Day are the most extreme examples, any barbecue salesman knows the sales peak that occurs around Independence (or Canada) Day and any clothing retailer knows how to make money from Presidents' Day (or Family Day) sales in February. One of the reasons that the latter marketing campaign works so well is that there is really nothing specific or traditional to do on a February holiday.

Veteran's Day (or Remembrance Day) is not like that. While the observances may be somewhat more ritualized in Canada, ceremonies to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month take place at memorials and other gathering places all over the continent. It's very clear what there is to do on 11-November--and it occurs right at mid-day.

Furthermore, remembering veterans is something that everyone should take more time to do. Those that know my attitude about the use of force and war know that I stand somewhere between Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, but once a conflict has started, it seems to me that a nation owes those that served in its armed forces a huge debt. It is inexplicable to me how a nation can cut the funding of its veterans' hospitals or breach the privacy of the records of its veterans. Someone that spent time away from his or her family to defend everyone else's right to live their normal lives without interruption deserves first-class treatment.

To me, it's highly symbolic that November 11th is not a statutory holiday for everyone in either Canada or the United States. We're not serious about providing services to veterans in either country, and so why would we want the whole population to spend 0.27% of the days of the year thinking about what veterans have done for the country? It's much better to let people "trade" Veteran's Day for the Friday after Thanksgiving, or Remembrance Day for the August Civil Holiday.

It may be a symbolic gesture, but I think it's time, while we have recent veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq on our minds, to make November 11th a statutory holiday and encourage people to attend ceremonies. Maybe then, we'll meet a few veterans and hear their stories. Maybe then, the public pressure to treat veterans with the respect they used to receive will grow and governments will be shamed into actually funding services. It's worth trying.

No comments: