A short while ago Canada celebrated Remembrance Day (a.k.a Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day). Lots of Canadian families (and American ones) paused to celebrate and remember those who fought for their country in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m from Venezuela. My family has no particular military history in the tree. The closest I can get to are one great uncle who served as a dentist in the military rising to the rank of Colonel and another great uncle (passed away a couple of years a go) who was a professional and had risen to the rank of a two star general. These men served in the Venezuelan military.

There’s a certain disparity on how the military is viewed in Latin America and the northern hemisphere. There is a tradition of military service in the north as respectable, honorable, an obligation even in certain quarters. Where I come from… not so much. As a matter of fact, the military has been often used as a tool of control and repression rather than protection and service far too often. This had led many intellectuals and knowledgeable people to be decidedly anti-military or even call for the abolition of the military all-together.

For me, it’s more of an issue that our military heritage in the south is rooted in the strong men of the 19th century who fought over power rather than serve the country. Yet, I would not call for an abolition of the Venezuelan military, especially with so many para-military groups and insurgents operating freely and threatening the frontiers. Rather it needs to be molded to fit the needs of the country rather than the egos and pride of the so called professionals. I find it nonsensical that there are far far more generals than there are brigades and divisions. Too many commands are desk jobs or bureaucratic in nature. The Venezuelan armed forces really need to be molded like the Colombian army. Rather than buying jets, frigates and tanks to show off in a parade and nothing more, time and money should really be spent on training and equipment for counter-insurgency and jungle warfare.

Now I go back to my great uncle who passed away. Unlike the strong men of yore or the egos of today, this man was an intellectual. His library was second to none on all sorts of historical topics. A professional officer who sought to serve his country rather than exploit it. He became a teacher after retiring to continue to mold and shape young minds in the military academy to follow his example of how a proper military officer should behave and defend his country.

General de Division Carlos Celis (ret). you will be missed. You may not have fought wars and you certainly served with distinction throughout your career. I will use Remembrance Day to honor you.