It was 98 years ago today – at 11 am, on the 11th day of the 11th month – that the guns of World War I fell silent, ending the epic global conflict that consumed millions of lives. Nearly 11 million of these were military personnel – that, for context, is nearly half the current population of Australia. Millions more were wounded. The psychological and social toll of that War has never been adequately quantified, nor can it be. These sacrifices, and countless more in World War II and others since, are those we pause to remember at 11 am today, Remembrance Day.
So let’s ponder for a moment what exactly it is that we are remembering today.
Just two days ago, a massive spectacle of democracy played out on the other side of the Pacific, when nearly 120 million Americans exercised their right to vote to elect a new President. The fact that the result came as a surprise to almost everyone is a perfect validation of democracy in action. This long drawn-out exercise witnessed the freedom to express and debate in its extreme. It included freedom to offend without fear, freedom to be offended without resort to persecution, and in its aftermath, even the freedom to publicly disapprove and protest. These are the freedoms that we take for granted and cherish in our country. These are the freedoms that hundreds of millions around the world can only imagine – and some can’t even do that. These freedoms haven’t come by accident, they have been built and preserved through a long history of conviction, struggle and sacrifice.
So as we pause today to remember, let’s be clear that we are remembering those who didn’t just talk about freedom and democracy, they volunteered to stand up and fight for these values, and in doing so, countless among them laid down their lives.