Lest we forget: Canadians stop to reflect on sacrifices - Macleans.ca
 

Lest we forget: Canadians stop to reflect on sacrifices


 

OTTAWA – Canadians from coast to coast pause today to reflect on the sacrifices of wars long past and modern-day conflicts coming to end.

It’s a Remembrance Day for which Canada still has large numbers of troops deployed in harm’s way.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to take part in the national ceremony at 11 a.m. ET in Ottawa, but will take a journey back in time to Crysler’s Farm, in nearby Morrisburg, Ont., later in the day.

The region was the scene of a pivotal battle in the War of 1812, where an American campaign through the St. Lawrence River valley was stopped cold by British, Canadian and aboriginal forces.

Fought on Nov. 11, 1813, the engagement is sometimes referred to as the battle that saved Canada, and involved as many as 12,000 troops.

The annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial is always well attended, but will have extra significance this year because Canadian soldiers have begun arriving home from Afghanistan.

A mission in Kabul to train Afghan soldiers, following five years of combat in Kandahar, is drawing to a close in March, and all boots are expected to be out of the war-ravaged country by summer.

In its recent throne speech, the Harper government promised to rededicate the national memorial, within sight of Parliament Hill, to the memory of all men and women who fought for the country in every conflict.

There has been a simmering debate about whether to carve the dates of the Afghan war into the massive granite structure, a notion resisted in some quarters of the federal government, including Veterans Affairs Canada.

During the First World War, roughly 68,000 Canadians were killed in four years of fighting.

The Second World War claimed a further 47,000 Canadian lives between 1939 and 1945.

The United Nations-led Korean war in the 1950s saw 516 give up their lives. An additional 1,800 Canadians have died either on UN peacekeeping missions, in Cold War training exercises — or in Afghanistan. There were 158 soldiers killed in that conflict.


 
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Lest we forget: Canadians stop to reflect on sacrifices

  1. One supposes that most people who wear poppies as a public
    declaration of remembrance at this time of year, do not think that their
    gesture has political implications. Perhaps they are wearing their
    grief on their sleeves, which may be irritating for purists, but they
    are not declaring victory to those who were defeated by rubbing salt in
    an old wound.

    The red poppy is an international symbol recognized in any country,
    even Germany. It is easy to overlook the rather obvious fact that German
    soldiers, and those of the Axis powers, were part of tortuous, violent
    acts perpetrated on humankind. One doesn’t have to be Jewish to
    contemplate the horror of the Holocaust and feel complete revulsion at
    the injustice that provoked it. A red poppy should remind us of
    Schindler’s list too, but we can forgive ourselves if the Canadian poem
    that captured the moment and symbolism for World War I and the great
    wars that followed shone a light on soldiers who had died, rather than
    people who had died.

    Count me among the purists who choose to think of the sacrifices of
    so many without making a public declaration about it. That public
    declaration is the point of it, of course, but it leaves out too many
    people; civilians who fought in the Resistance, who died in the camps,
    who emigrated to Canada because families were lost and homes
    obliterated.

    I think of my parents who lived through the London Blitz. Mother was a
    nurse at Middlesex Hospital. Dad was a navigator on Sterling and
    Lancaster bombers. Dad kept his medals under socks in a drawer. I never
    saw him wear them, even on Remembrance Day. He was proud, but he
    understood what he and others of his generation had done, the full
    ramification of it.

    The war left dad and mum with ambivalent feelings about faith and
    God. They were clearly conflicted. Mum had been raised in the Church of
    England by a family with social position, a large home, and servants.
    Dad was raised Presbyterian on a farm in Grimsby Ontario. One can only
    speculate about the difficulties that created. They decided that their
    four children should make independent choices about God as adults. So
    they did not raise us as Christians with a church affiliation. Perhaps
    the fact that both sides in the War imagined that God was their ally
    left them profoundly disillusioned.

    Mum told me that dad would awaken during the night, flailing his
    arms, tormented from a nightmare that had replayed one of many
    terrifying moments of his war experience. In the years since, I think of
    the thousands of others, soldiers and civilians, who must have awakened
    from dreams just as disturbing. I think of my late Polish
    mother-in-law, who endured passage to Canada with everything she owned
    on her back. I imagine her standing on the dock in Montreal with her
    name pinned to her chest, like a Star of David, marking her as a
    Displaced Person, as she queued with hundreds of other refugees, with no
    home or family. I try to imagine what she was thinking as she shuffled
    to the table where someone with a vague smile was waiting to speak to
    her in a language she did not yet understand.

    Now, I have done it too. This post is a public declaration, an emotion on my sleeve which tugs at me to delete it.

    • Thank you for this.