Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lest We Forget

Today doesn’t seem as important to most people as it should be. Grumbling because some stores are closed. Kevin’s even on a course, because there was nothing special enough about today to stop them from scheduling one this weekend.

A fact that makes me sad.

I’m an anomaly. I didn’t have a grandfather or an uncle who fought in the war. There was no reason, from a family perspective, for it to be important to me.

But it is.

I’ve always been interested in WW2 history, in particular. I’ve always considered it a great tragedy. I know some would disagree, but I think Simon Wiesenthal was an amazing person, and I admire the tenacity that makes someone who endured all he did become a fighter. There was a movie of his life – Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story. It starred Ben Kingsley. I must have watched it a dozen times… I guess that would have been in my teen years.

I’ve watched a lot of war movies. Read tons of books set in the WW2 era. Part of my interest, I suppose, is the courage of so many people who were wiling to risk their life to fight for freedom. It was something people still believed in then.

The other part of my interest centers on Germany itself. How can civilized nations falter?

I was in Europe when the wall came down. And that’s another reason I decided to do this post today – it was the anniversary of the collapse of the Iron Curtain on Thursday, yet people weren’t talking about it.

And it made me wonder if we’re forgetting. Maybe forgetting because we never really understood how important it was?

There are only two of my photos from that time that you can see here. One of them is me at the Iron Curtain with an East German border guard. Yep, me in the big glasses.

The other is of the wall, being cut up by people who wanted their piece of history.

I have mine. I have a piece of the curtain.

The thing is, when I was in Germany I went to Bergen Belsen, and I went to Dachau. It was at Dachau that I really understood how manipulative Hitler was, how so many people were led astray.

It’s a fascinating case study in situational ethics from every angle, but to simply say a nation was ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ is both wrong and shortsighted. Oh, there are some people in every nation – this one included – that are evil and bad. But for the most part, the Germans were misled, coerced and many were victims themselves.

When the wall came down, when communism collapsed, there was excitement and there was fear. I talk about it a bit in that interview with JB, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to remember.

I think it’s a horrid thing to forget.

Genocide in Rwanda… massacres in Bosnia…

People gave their lives to make the world a better place, and sometimes I wonder how they’d feel if they returned now. In this country, Remembrance Day isn’t even a mandatory holiday. The banks and post office will take it. Costco will be closed. But every mall out there will be open. If it was a weekday it would be up to individual schools whether they adjusted their calendar for a day off or not. Life goes on, as though it’s any other day.

Me? I think it’s more important than Christmas. We’ve been pretty fortunate in this country, to not see ground wars in several generations on our soil. To not have bombs dropped on our buildings. Most of us haven’t known what it is to have our lives turned upside down because of war.

If we fail to learn the lessons of the past, we run the risk of seeing the same sins committed in the future. And when our own leaders don’t consider it important enough to make it a true and proper day of remembrance... What can we expect?

Is that too much to ask for? Given what others sacrificed so that I can sit here now, typing whatever I want, without fear of a knock at the door and being taken away at gunpoint?

I would encourage everyone to take a moment at some point today, and remember. In the words of Canadian John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow (1)
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


S. W. Vaughn said...

I'm afraid I don't know much about the great wars (something I should remedy) -- but I remember 9-11, and I feel for our soldiers over there now. I've even corresponded with a few of them.

Thank you for this reminder, Sandra.

Trace said...

Thanks for that, Sandra. We should always remember.

SAND STORM said...

My oldest son just moved to Ottawa and was at the ceremony today. It gave him goosebumbs as thousands stood in the rain while cannons fired their salute.

PS I too have a piece of the Berlin wall and a stone from the railway tracks at Aushwitz....very sobering.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm glad there are those who still find it important, guys.

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Anonymous said...

Three of my uncles served in WWII (my mother was the baby of her family, born in 1946). All three served in the navy in the South Pacific, and were decorated veterans. My uncles Chet and Maynard died a couple of years before I was born. My uncle Emerson never liked to talk about his war experiences, though as a little kid I was fascinated. I still read a lot about the war. Emerson died in 2003.

My youngest brother, Andy, served two tours in Iraq as an army sergeant and is considering re-enlistment.

My brother Rob (4 years younger than me) has been in the navy since 1992. He served aboard the USS Enterprise when Clinton sent it to the Gulf, and is currently an ensign on the submarine Providence.

I never had the desire to join the military, but I have great respect for those who have served and continue to do so.

anne frasier said...

fascinating interview, sandra!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

My childhood was spent listening to my father's stories of WWII. So even to this day i remember them well!

I to, have a piece of the wall!

And in adding to the list of atrocities in the world, let's not forget the Sudan...that atrocity is still going on as we read!

Anonymous said...

Now that Bonnie has mentioned the Sudan, I'll get political for just a second and say that it's shameful the way the West has turned its back on what's happening in Darfur (just as we did in Rwanda, leaving the ineffectual UN to try protecting the victims). If ever there were a cause worthy of our troops...

Sandra Ruttan said...

I tried to post a comment earlier - grrr. Blogger is being rotten.

But Sudan, definitely. And there's a story going in the spring Spinetingler by an African writer that will chill you to the bone.