I was staring disconsolately at the keyboard when suddenly there he was, emerging from hiding just behind the space bar. “Hey, Newshawk,” I said, “my little hacker friend, don‛t startle me like that.”
“Not a hacker,” he growled, “I‛m your research assistant.”
“Did I ask for assistance?”
“Maybe not, but you need it. November 11th coming up and you just sitting there. Nothing to say? Forgetting how not to forget, are we?”
“There‛s too much to say. I just don‛t know how to frame it without appearing to endorse Harper-style militarism.”
The insolent insect put his hands on his hips and glared at me. “May I remind you,” he said, “that your purpose in this blip of a blog was to take a look at some of your old stuff and see, quote, if what bugged you, amused you, challenged you then, is still around today? If it is, then what might that say about the evolution or otherwise of our society? Unquote.”
“Do I take it, my little hacker – ” he looked so hurt that I rephrased, “do I take it, Newshawk old friend, that you’ve unearthed some more of that ‘old stuff ‘ ?”
“Yep,” he said. “It was an editorial in that hundred year old daily newspaper you were foolish enough to edit for a year way back in the middle ages.” He leapt over to the mouse, put his shoulder against it and moved the cursor across the screen then bounced back onto the board and did a little clod dance on the keys and suddenly there it was.
It had to have been written in 1984. That year Nov.11th fell on a Sunday so the item may have been for the Nov.12th edition. Not that it matters.
Lest We Forget
It was a drab, wet, miserable day. Even the bronze soldier on the Lindsay cenotaph looked more pensive than usual as though the chill air and steady drizzle awakened memories in his metallic heart. Not just memories of the inhuman, sodden trenches of World War I but more recent memories of ice laden corvettes battling the North Atlantic, of a winter campaign up the spine of Italy, of Normandy beaches, hand to hand fighting on the dikes of Holland, of last ditch stands on the hills of Hong Kong, of aerial battles over Malta and Britain and, later, after the war to end war, more hard slogging through the frozen hills of Korea.
Oh yes, the bronze soldier and the hundred or so aging men in the blue berets must have found memories penetrating their souls the way the dampness penetrated their bones.
The annual exhortation, “Lest we forget”, was surely not aimed at them.
There were others there, among the five hundred folk encircling the cenotaph, who remember full well the loved ones who went off to war and never returned. “Lest we forget” was surely not aimed at them.
There were youths there in their snappy cadet uniforms providing a proud and dignified honour guard at the base of the bronze figure and there were children clinging to their parents’ hands. Cadets and children have no personal memory of the individuals who struggled and perished all those many years ago that we might stand, voluntarily, in the rain, in a free town, in a free country – and remember.
But our memories become their memories.
Lest we forget.
But we do forget.
We Canadians have made a virtue of forgetting.
We seldom tell the young cadets in their red berets what that older generation did, those stodgy, cloudy-side-of-middle-aged fogeys standing there getting soaked in the chill November rain.
Do we tell how there were a mere 12 million Canadians in 1939 when Hitler went on the rampage; that Canada was an agricultural nation; how we became an industrial nation almost overnight?
We had almost no navy back in ’39. Do we tell how Canada built one? And manned it? And not just any navy but the navy that bore the brunt of North Atlantic convoy duty; the navy that was the keeper of the lifeline.
Canada had a minuscule army in ’39 but Canada created an army. Not simply an army that could withstand the trauma of Dieppe and the struggle for Italy. When the Commonwealth forces were thinly extended around the globe the army that sprang from the tiny nucleus of our 12 million was chosen to be the garrison of Britain, the guardian as it were of the temple of democracy.
Canada had almost no airforce. Not only did we create one but we became the training ground for the aircrews of the free world. The President of the United States called Canada “the airdrome of democracy”.
It’s to Canada’s credit, perhaps, that we don’t glorify those days but it’s sad that we seldom remind ourselves of the things our country could do when it had the will.
A Dutch lady who had lived under German, British, American and Canadian occupation was once describing the various armies. “The Canadians,” she said, “were the happiest. I think it was because they were all there voluntarily. No one ordered the Canadians, you know.”
Lest we forget. ♣
By the time I had finished reading this archival remnant my little research assistant had gone, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
The Nov. 11th about which I had been writing those 28 years ago fell near the end of a unique and very brief period in Canadian history. I think of it as the inter-colonial period when Canada was truly a free nation.
In 1914 the vestiges of colonialism had still dictated that we did not control our own foreign policy. When the Mother Country and its Empire had gone to war Canada had joined automatically, with a salute and a “Yes Sir!”. Even so, Canadians valiantly carved an independent identity for themselves, and Canada evolved. When World War Two came along and Britain declared war our parliament debated for a week before agreeing to enter the fray and we were more than two years ahead of the Americans.
That was then.
This is now.
Paradoxically, now our government seizes every opportunity to celebrate past military achievements while striving to entrench us ever more firmly not only as an economic colony of the United States but as one that is more and more integrated into the U.S. military machine. The only possible justification for Canada to be buying multibillion dollar stealth fighters that are useless for patrol, rescue, or even genuine defence is because we are expected, as good colonials, to be ready to assist our new Master (not Mother) country. And in keeping with the dishonesty that is the banner of contemporary government, our military colonialism is camouflaged under the netting of NATO.
Our Master country uses assassination as an authorized tool of foreign policy and drops bombs from drones onto the heads of people merely suspected of terrorism, in itself an act of terrorism.
I have just read a speech by Noam Chomsky, delivered last week in Australia, in which he points out that by today‛s standards the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, that “day of infamy”, would be perfectly justified under the current doctrine of pre-emptive warfare.
The more we integrate into the North American armed enclave by way of things like “perimeter defence” and by arming ourselves with stealth weapons the more paradoxical become our Nov. 11th observances. Are we not honoring the fallen and their comrades one day of the year and gradually debasing their legacy the rest of the time?
If we wish to remember where we have been let’s also ponder where we are going.
When I read that old editorial one line jumps out – “… the things our country could do when it had the will.” Ah indeed. If only the courage, energy and determination of that 12 million, now almost tripled, could today be harnessed to create outside the military box and help rescue humanity from it‛s own follies.
Alas, where is the leadership?
♣ An editorial,
Lindsay Daily Post c Nov.12, 1984
Copyright © Munroe Scott