Friday, November 07, 2008


Among hundreds of high school students invading the northeast food court, only a handful of red poppies could be seen.

"It's because people don't like paying for them," said one Grade 10 teen.

If Remembrance Day's future isn't completely bleak, it's certainly confused and disconnected.

Sure, it was only a small snapshot of Remembrance Day's relevance to youth, but it turned out to be an amazingly consistent glimpse of what they believe and don't know.

These students, who just happened to attend Lester B. Pearson high school, all understood the gist of the occasion, that we enjoy our freedoms through the sacrifice of soldiers. 

And they say it shouldn't be forgotten. But press them further and they don't know much about what they've forgotten.

"Which war? Two, right?" said 15-year-old Tyson.

The words Vimy Ridge, Ortona, Dieppe, Kapyong, Medac Pocket, even Passchendaele whose name is now celluloid currency draws a total blank, a universal F.

"Vimy's in Ottawa, it's a place where people go and remember -- it's a guy, I think," says Gina, 17.

Uttering Stalingrad provoked mention of a Russian czar, a revolution and other zany detours.

"Bloody Sunday -- wasn't that involved?" says Nathan, mistaking Northern Ireland's 1970s troubles with a Second World War turning point.

Says Sequora, 17: "I remember learning about Vimy but I can't remember -- they do teach us but it just doesn't have as much of an impact."

In other words, they're just not that interested and increasingly distant history doesn't resonate.

"We still do one minute of silence but I don't think it has as much of an effect on us as it did on people before ... like the deceased," adds Sequora.

Maybe 50% of her classmates "actually think about it, the rest are zoned out," says Romeena, 16, who insists she's never "learned about Hitler at all."

Some say they're aware of the Holocaust and 16-year-old Rhea recalled what she'd been taught about the trenches, presumably those of the First World War.

Jolene says she has military veterans in her family, but hasn't a clue what they did or where.

Youths of south Asian or African backgrounds at the ethnically diverse school are virtually identical to their European classmates in their responses and attitudes.

The Afghan deployment of Canadian soldiers not much older than them adds no contemporary relevance to Remembrance Day for these teens.

If anything, at least among the youths with an inkling of the Second World War and nation-gobbling Nazi aggression, the West's occupation of Afghanistan is completely disconnected from Nov. 11.

They seem startled to hear the two sharing the same breath. It's easy to see why.

"They're not saying they're going to come invade our country," says Melat, 16, of Canada's Afghan foes.

Not a single one interviewed in the food court supports the mission, though a couple of them think Canadian troops are also helping to pacify Iraq.

"I don't think it's our deal to be in Afghanistan, it's not our problem," says Nathan.

Others say they believe Canadian troops in Afghanistan are being exploited by the Americans -- hardly a Flanders Fields moment.

There's some awareness of Canada's peacekeeping heritage, which stands out starkly in young minds from the more recent warmaking.

"I don't think our soldiers are making any peace -- they're dying," says Gina.

Regardless of the bravery of today's Canadian soldiers, we've come far from one conventional army expelling another occupying one.

And the kids know it, even if they're hazy on the more distant history.

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