Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

I attended the city-wide Remembrance Day service today. I attended it for the first time two years ago, mainly to see my nieces, who are in cadets, march. I am very much ashamed of that now. I wish I could say that I attended it for all the right reasons, but I didn't. But I am glad now to say that I "have seen the light".

We went as a family. It was Dave's first time going, and the first time that I've taken my kids. As much as it is possible, I intend to take them yearly. I do not want them to grow up ignorant like I have been.

The kids were very enthralled with the marching: The veterans, cadets, RCMP, police officers, among others marched. They were so impressed by this that they came home and practiced, as evidenced by the above picture. They marched and saluted and called out orders.

The things that touched me the most about the service were, of course, the entrance of the veterans, the laying of wreaths by mothers who recently lost their sons in Afghanistan, and the newest veterans of all - those who have already completed a duty in Afghanistan and have returned. As the parade marched by these recent returnees, I couldn't help but let the tears fall. Most of us will never know the price that has been paid by these men and women. And this year I have endeavored, more than ever, to NEVER FORGET. And I plan to teach my kids this as well.

I thought it was fitting on this Remembrance Day, the 90th Anniversary of the 1918 Armistice, to include a copy of an article written by Kevin Myers of The Sunday Telegraph in London, England. Today, I am very proud to be a Canadian, and am so grateful to live in a democratic country.

Salute To A Brave And Modest Nation - Kevin Myers, 'The Sunday Telegraph' LONDON:

Until the deaths of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan , probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops are deployed in the region.

And as always, Canada will bury its dead, just as the rest of the world, as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does. It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored.

Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped Glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again.

That is the price Canada pays for sharing the North American continent with the United States, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts.

For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: It seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

Yet it's purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10% of Canada 's entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle.

Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, it's unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular Memory as somehow or other the work of the 'British.'

The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone.

Canada finished the war with the third-largest navy and the fourth largest air force in the world. The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the previous time.

Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign in which the United States had clearly not participated - a touching scrupulousness which, of course, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity.

So it is a general rule that actors and filmmakers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality - unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg, Alex Trebek, Art Linkletter and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer, British.

It is as if, in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves - and are unheard by anyone else - that 1% of the world's population has provided 10% of the world's peacekeeping forces.

Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peacekeepers on Earth - in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peacekeeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.

Yet the only foreign engagement that has entered the popular non-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia, in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace - a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit.

So who today in the United States knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan?

Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun. It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost. This past year more grieving Canadian families knew that cost all too tragically well.

Lest we forget.


Laura said...

The one thing I noticed at today's Rememberance Day Service, is the fewer WWII veterans. I am ever grateful for the price paid for my freedom.

I was really glad that today's service honored the veterans who served in Afghanistan. Primarily because these men and women are from our North Saskatchewan Regiment here in Saskatoon. Thanks guys for everything you do!

Laura said...

Oh, by the way, great article. I have had that one forwarded to me before. True though.

Rachel and Aaron Roberts said...

This is a great article!