The Half-Staff issue …

Recently, a controversy has erupted in Canada over a perceived change in tradition, a change which now dictates that the flag on the Peace Tower, above the Parliament Buildings, fly at half-staff whenever a Canadian soldier is killed in combat. When Canadian PM Stephen Harper clarified this issue last week, he started a wave of criticism from many quarters (not least from partisan opponents in Commons, of course). While Harper has done many things to generate criticism, this is actually one of his better decisions, IMO.

I've been having a bit of an argument with a friend on this issue … I responded that I felt in a time of war, flying the flag at half-staff could become a continual thing. Having the main building for Canada's government continually in an official state of mourning sent the wrong message to Canada and the world, I argued. She replied with some very strong arguments, which I quote below.

-but thats the point isnt it??? Flying the flag half mast means that someone who is over ~somewhere~ protecting our supposed freedom has died.....dont we owe them a half mast flag at the very least?? If its never raised....well...personally i think thats important..and telling. Worrying about it never being raised is kinda like sticking your head in the sand about the reality of the situation isnt it? No offense...but who cares in that case if sensibilities are being offended? The reality is...someone lost a son (or daughter). How different is it than GW banning coffin photographs?
if we are at war
then so be it.  The whole country should be at war and recognize
it...not "pop" into it every now and then when the mood strikes during
quick blip news coverage.  If we are at war then the entire grim
reality should be in our faces 24/7 and acknowledge the sacrifices
that these people are making for us.  Hell...the flag ~should~ be at
half mast during hte entire war and not raised until its over imo.

I have to admit, I tend to agree with her. This IS something we should take seriously, and we should be acknowledging the sacrifices made by all soldiers, especially those who end up paying the supreme price. But its important to look at this issue in a historic perspective, and not get caught up in the emotions of today. Licia Corbella had an excellent editorial in the Calgary Sun today, Feds should fly flag high through conflict , that helped bring some perspective to the issue, for me anyway.

In it, she discussed the history of lowering the flag on the Peace Tower. Prior to the 1990's, the protocol was that the flag was never lowered for overseas deaths, but was lowered to half-staff once a year to honour all of Canada's war dead, from today and yesterday, and those who might sacrifice tomorrow as well. Through WW I, WW II, Korea, through peace keeping duties in the Golan and in Cyprus, Canada honoured its fallen soldiers by lowering the flag on the Peace Tower once a year, at 11:11, on the 11th day of the 11 month.

In 2002, when four soldiers died by friendly-fire in Afghanistan, Jean Chretien broke with THAT tradition to lower the flag. Harper is being criticized for trying to bring Canada back to a tradition that has extended for most of Canada's military history.

There is one more bit of trivia, or perspective, that Ms. Corbella gives, one that I hadn't realized before. It really does put the flag issue into perspective, for me anyway. If Canada must honour its fallen soldiers by lowering the flag on the Peace Tower, the price for that is steep. To be fair, all of Canada's fallen soldiers would have to be mourned that way … one of the points of the Rememberance Day lowering is that all soldiers, from WWI to Afghanistan, from Private to General, are honoured equally.

If Canada had this tradition from its beginning, when we went into WWI, we would have started lowering the flag with our first casualty. Canada has lost some 103000 soldiers, just in the two 'Great Wars' alone. At one day per soldier, PM Robert Borden would have lowered the flag to half staff in 1914, and it would have remained at half staff for the next 282 years … or well past today.

The fair way to honour the Canadian soldiers that fall overseas is by observing the Rememberance Day ceremony. On the at 11:11 on the 11th day of the 11th month, it makes good sense to lower the flag on the Peace Tower, and silently thank all those who have given their lives, and who will give their lives. That is the appropriate time to do it for all soldiers. It honours them all equally, without political purpose, and it does so at a historically significant time. In this case, I think PM Harper is restoring some dignity and tradition to the process of honouring our war dead.


One Response

  1. There is no dignity in senseless deaths like this imo. But lemme ask…is it less dignified to change tradition and acknowledge the soldiers that are over there now by bucking the system and lowering the flag each day it happens? I dont think so. Arguably, one *could* say that news coverage of the coffins arriving *may* tarnish some of the dignity or privacy of the soldiers…but lowering a flag? I dont think so.

    Im going to go out and buy a flag just so that i can lower it. Its the very least i can do…AND ill think of them on Rememberance day.
    The Rememberance day motto is: Lest we forget. That means that we should always remember….never forget….which imo translates that we should remember 365 days of the year…not only one.

    (i should have spell checked my initial post lol)

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