The Common Denominator of War

Our own Nadia Nasir wonders what is worth remembering on Armistice Day if we cannot seem to stop going to war…

On November 11, 1918 at eleven o’clock in the morning, a war-torn Europe finally reached armistice. Seven months later, a treaty was signed in Versailles, and it was official: World War I was a thing of the past.

So much a thing of the past, in fact, that on a bright autumn morning ninety-four years later, as I sit on my couch sipping coffee, I’m surprised to hear the radio announce the anniversary of Armistice Day – or, as it’s known today in the U.S., Veterans Day

My own ignorance, as it does more often than I’d like, shocks me; how could I forget such a monumental date? Then again, how could I not? I have no friends or family serving in the armed forces; I’m lucky enough not to be living in a warzone; and the particulars of the Treaty of Versailles ceased to be useful after I passed U.S. History in high school. So maybe my negligence makes perfect sense; thinking about war just doesn’t apply to me.

We all know that war is old news to humans; since the beginning of time, we’ve found plenty of good excuses to kill our fellow man, burn down his house, terrorise his children, and murder his neighbours… War is a part of us. It’s what we see when we turn on the television, hear from the politician’s pulpit, play when we purchase that latest version of Call of Duty – and what we’re supposed to remember every 11th of November.

Okay, so we remember it: we write news articles and take pictures of servicemen and -women. But we still know that despite this anniversary of “the war to end all wars” (outshone by its sequel two decades later), war keeps happening. People keep dying. We can’t seem to stop it, no matter how much we might want to. So what’s the point in even thinking about it?

To answer that, let’s take a moment to think about the common denominator in every war since time immemorial. No, it’s not religion. It’s not money. It’s not culture. It’s not fear, and dare I say it’s not even scarcity. It’s something far simpler and much more obvious.

It’s people, people.

War is a people thing; it’s what individuals – men, women, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends, neighbors, allies, enemies – do and what they do to each other. War is people being painfully human, misunderstanding, failing, messing up, hurting one another. It’s cruelty, fear, injustice, bloodlust; a showcase of those things we are not proud of.

Strangely enough, though, this definitive ‘badness’ doesn’t account for all the other products of war: the stories of compassion and mercy; of people accepting and honoring differences; of joining together, believing in a greater good and hoping for a peaceful future. These stories are impossible to ignore, and they’re what I saw again and again as I riffled through all those pictures and interviews that Sunday. People with their kids and partners; people disfigured and injured, yet still smiling and working hard; people in uniform and people remembering those days. So many people, and so many different kinds of people. Still people – just like you and me.

Spoiler Alert: Humans are always going to mess up. Sometimes it’ll be inconsequential; sometimes it will be devastating. We can’t change this. But we can do ourselves a favour and not forget that as people, we are just as capable of understanding and forgiveness as we are ignorance and blame. We can strive to do right by others twice as many times as we will inevitably mess up. And we can cut ourselves a little slack – all of us – for suffering through the same, imperfect-beautiful-painful human condition we all know and (may or may not) totally love.

Because whether we’re in uniform or not; on the front lines or at home; war supporters or peace activists, our humanity is that sticky glue keeping our conflicts relevant to every one of us. We, as people, are the common denominator – and that’s definitely worth remembering.

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