On November 11, 2011, I attended my first Remembrance Day ceremony. I was taking pictures for Victoria News. A large crowd of people was gathered in downtown Victoria, right in front of the Legislative building, in the pouring rain, remembering those who have fought and fallen for their country.
In all honesty it felt a bit strange.
As you may know, Iceland doesn’t have a standing army (we have the Coast Guard), and having grown up there I only ever saw some sort of Hollywood version of military life. Before I moved here, I never met someone who knew military life first hand, or even second hand (spouse, child, sibling). Well, at least I never knew about it. Never even thought about it.
The day that comes closest to Remembrance Day in Iceland is probably Sailors’ Day, a day dedicated to the Icelandic men and women who have, through the ages, put themselves in danger at sea in order to help feed Icelanders. But that day focuses even more on celebrating down by the harbour, playing games and having fun, than it does remembering those who have drowned – although there is a memorial service in every town and village throughout the country. So not even that day comes anywhere close to Remembrance Day.
Today I have friends and acquaintances that are or have been connected to the military in one way or another. And I talk to them with open mind about what it’s like, trying to grasp what lies behind. They, in turn, find it strange that I don’t know military life at all. In that respect it’s a bit like I come from another planet, because pretty much every country in the world has a military.
I feel fortunate that I come from a country where there is no military.
I feel for the people who have lost someone during war times.
I respect the choices of those who enlist and fight.
But I may never be able to fully understand, no matter how hard I try.