Lest we forget…hug a veteran!

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. I’m more or less anti-war, pro-peace. But I have a ton of respect for people who serve their country and put themselves in harms way.

I’m prone to forget what Remembrance Day is all about- I don’t think I’m alone in that. But I really shouldn’t ever forget- my Mom is a World War II veteran. She served overseas as part of Canada’s armed forces. A volunteer like all women, she chose to disrupt her life, to take the risk.

Its hard for me to imagine what that must have been like. Mom grew up on a farm near a tiny town in Southern Saskatchewan. When she enlisted she ended up being trained a long way from home, then was loaded on a troop carrier (a big converted cruise ship) and was sailed across the ocean. She ended up London, a huge city under nearly daily attack at times, attacks that included weapons unheard of at the time like unmanned rockets fired from hundreds of miles away. I imagine it was exciting, and very scary at times too. People she knew in London surely must have died in bomb attacks, buildings were standing one moment and destroyed the next, rationing was in effect, and the Nazis were winning…

I’m proud of my Mom. Its amazing to think of what the world might look like today if it hadn’t been for the courage of people like her. Not all of them carried guns or flew planes, but they set aside comfort and safety to defend us. I’m going to be thinking of Mom tomorrow, and of all the men and women who didn’t come home. And of the men and women who are on today’s battlefields, putting their lives at risk for their countries…Thank you all.

5 thoughts on “Lest we forget…hug a veteran!”

  1. The sacrifices that the previous generations made were incredible. My gradma (as you mentioned above) did some pretty amazing things, and my grandfather was a POW in Japan for the majority of WW2. I never thanked him enough while he was alive, for all that he did.

    It is so sad that so many people died just because of a few crazy nations. Germany, involved with starting both world wars gets off way too easy in my opinion, but that is another story.

    I too will be thinking of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could be alive today to complain about everything 🙂

  2. The world has changed so much just within a single lifetime that its just staggering. I find it hard to imagine a time before computers, but my own Mom lived in a time before television…even radio wasn’t that common when she was born, and cars were still curiosities, not every day parts of life.

    War and military service has changed incredibly in that time as well. When WWI started, warfare was still perceived by many as a noble pursuit, full of great honour. A country in those days could be at war and the average citizen would hardly know it- war was fought on battlefields, sort of like football games with death and no penalty flags. By the end of WWI that had all changed: warfare was mustard gas and machine guns, dysentry and millions of dead. By the end of WWII, war was all about destroying the enemies manufacturing infrastructure and their “will to fight”.

    As for Germany getting off “easy”: there are a lot of historians that believe that Hitler’s and fascism’s rise to power would never have happened if the Treaty of Versalles repayment terms hadn’t bankrupted Germany. The main reason that Hitler came to power was that the economy of Germany in 1929 was decimated: you needed a shopping cart full of money (literally) to buy a loaf of bread. Taxes were totally crippling, and something like 50% of their gross domestic product left the country to pay back their war debt. The people felt they were being destroyed for the sins of their leaders, and got increasingly angry at the rest of the world. And when Hitler’s Nazi party came to power in 1929, they literally turned the economy around on a dime. I imagine that’s a lot of the reason why German citizens turned a blind eye to the excesses later in the war…but personally, I can’t imagine myself living in Germany in 1942 (for example) and not being desperate to get out.

    One thing that isn’t talked about very much were the anti-Nazi movements in Germany, and the anti-Nazi politicians that desperately tried to get help from Britain and the rest of the world to over-throw Hitler in the years before WWII really started. Those anti-Nazi’s were literally hung out to dry by the British politicians at the time, who felt they could establish positive economic relations with Hitler. And when they made their last assasination attempt (of something over a dozen such attempts) against Hitler, the Nazi party rounded up something like 5,000 of them and executed them. Many of them were tortured horribly. One of the conspirators against Hitler was, apparently, Erwin Rommel. He was forced to commit suicide or face trial as a traitor, which would have almost certainly meant the trial and torture/execution of his family.

    But the average soldier, Canadian, American…even German, isn’t a political science major. In a great many cases, they were conscripts, and I imagine a lot of them desperately wanted to be somewhere else. Somewhere without bullets and bombs being fired at them. They were trained to not over-think, to simply follow orders: if anything was explained to them, it was in the simplest black and white, us and them terms. I imagine some believed what they were told, but a lot probably just wanted to survive to the next day. And despite that, they did an inhumanly difficult job, and in a great many cases did so with great bravery and even (amazingly) honour.

    If a war broke out today in, say, eastern Europe…and if it started to involve France and Britain and other “friendly” nations…how would I react if Canada activated the draft? Imagine I wasn’t 40 something and was drafted- could I be brave enough? Would I be the guy pulling my injured buddy out of the line of fire, or the guy running away? And what if I thought the war was ethically wrong? And when it was all over, could I go back to being an “ordinary” person, and be a good, kind human being?

    To me, I guess, the part about our veterans that amazes me and makes me respect them goes beyond the “justness” of the cause they fought for. Its the fact that they performed that service for their country, and in some cases did so with great heroism…then came home, and lived as normal people. Thats why the Vietnam war was, in my mind, so tragic: the soldiers who served there were just as heroic (or not heroic- there were undoubtedly lots of shady / cruel actions performed by soldiers in WWII) as soldiers in other wars, yet they were almost universally reviled.

    One thing for sure…I appreciate the sacrifice the veteran’s made, and which the folks in military service make today. Like you say, Shane, its thanks to them that I live in a free country and can complain about whatever I want- including the latest war or “military action” or whatever its called this week 😉

  3. Did Germany “get off easy”? I don’t know, the people certainly didn’t. One out of 10 Germans died in WWII. Half the population was displaced. The country was divided for 50 years and half of it under soviet control. The Nazi’s were defeated, the threat was gone. Punishing the people that were left would not have done them or us any good. I hold it to their credit that the very people that survived the bombing of London felt ill at ease even at the time with incinerating the people of Dresden.

    And thatis part of the horrible thing of war… not just what is done to you, but what you have to do. Indeed, it may be the worst part because it is what lives on with the survivors. Peace is not just about not being killed, it is even more about not having to kill.

    And I think it should be noted that it is “Rememberance Day”. Not “War hero day” or even “Veteran’s Day.” We need to honour those that served, but even more we need to remember what they went through. What they did, both good and bad. Because what it is really about is remembering what war is. What it does what is required. The first phrase associated with remeberance day is “Lest we forget” but the other is “Never again.” The second phrase is why we musn’t forget, so that it will be less likely that we will ever go to war for reasons other than absolute nescessity. That our young will not cheerfully line up to go and die in the mud for what afterward seem trivial reasons.

    The ultimate goal in any war, and of any soldier must be that of peace, as contradictory as it sounds. And that is what we need to remember; that war is so horrible, so damaging that the only just reason for fighting one is to end it.

  4. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and with that being said, I still say Germany got off way too easy. Sure 1 in 10 germans died, but I have zero sympathy for them, because they did start the whole mess. I don’t know the number, but I am guessing 1 in 10 english, canadian, american, polish, etc died in ww1 and ww2 as well. And “we” didn’t start it.

    Feeling sympathy for Germany to me is the same as feeling sympathy for a bully. Someone that starts a fight, kills a bunch of weaker foes, then when a bigger foe appears and starts winning, we are supposed to forgive and forget?

    It may sound cold, or not PC but that is how I feel. Same goes for Japan. A nation that tried to conquer all of Asia, and even after having 2 atomic bombs dropped on them, the war council of Japan was still “split” on whether or not to surrender. Not to mention, that on a personal level, the Japanese people, not just the soldiers, were involved with endless torture and the execution of our Canadian soldiers, for basically no other reason then they wanted to. And what really annoys me, is that in Japan, the atrocities of what Japan did to other nations was not taught in any school or university to the Japanese people until just in the last decade. How or why should we forgive a people who won’t even admit to the truth about what they did??

    Do I hate civilians getting killed, and people suffering, of course I do. But when a nation is responsible for all of that suffering, I don’t think it is wrong to hate them for it. My hate, good or bad, is still there.

  5. About one out of every 250 Canadians died in WWII. Only in the baltic states, parts of the Balkans and the Soviet Union did as great or greater percentage of people die as a result of the war, just in case you wanted to know.

    While I don’t agree with your hatred, or condemning the children of the present for the sins of their fathers ( after all, name a culture free of guilt. My ancestors in the Royal Navy ended the transatlantic slave trade… but they also created it in the first place to run their sugar plantations.) I do agree that the lack of recognition of the sins of the past in Japan is disturbing and dangerous.

    I will not accept responsibility for the rape and pillage of my Viking forbears, or the colonial excess of my British ancestors, any more than I will take credit for what good things they achieved. But I do acknowledge them.

    I think the failure to learn from the past is dangerous, whether that failure is from an unwillingness to acknowledge the past or from an unwillingness to let it go.


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