Being a nosey youngster, I asked Uncle Norm outright once .... I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time ... about The War. He declined to satisfy my curiosity ... graciously, of course ... and said that he had gone to the depths of hell and back again so that little girls like me never had to learn about War. Our eyes met as he said that, and I swear I saw a little bit of that hell in his eyes. I never asked again. Later, I learned that he had many impressive medals for his personal actions during that trip to hell and back.
The 1960s were the years of bell bottoms and beads, of peace and love ... at least in my little Canadian part of the universe. Not so for some of my American cousins. At least two of them came back from Vietnam forever changed, and not in any positive way. And they were the lucky ones. They came back. Vietnam was a war I couldn't ... as a teenager ... understand, and I don't think my American cousins and their compatriots understood it any better. Particularly after they had done a tour of overseas duty.
During the 1980s, my own children were involved with Air Cadets. While that experience was generally very positive for each of them, I couldn't help wonder ... and worry ... that Another War would happen, and that their youthful affiliation with Canada's Department of National Defense would lead them to foreign battle fields. When the First Gulf War happened, I ached for parents of all the young men and women whose lives would never be the same.
During the 1990s, I had the privilege of becoming better acquainted with John. Like Uncle Norm, he was also a WWII veteran. However, his experiences had been considerably different. He was a young farm lad who joined up as a lark at age 17, looking for thrills away from rural farm chores and parents' strict rules. His adventure took him to Holland at the end of The War just in time for the liberation. Unlike Uncle Norm, John was more than willing to recount his experiences ... especially with a glass or two of liquid encouragement. As I got to know him better, I realized the wine was necessary to cope with a civilian life that never quite measured up to his brief experience of War, and that ... perhaps ... the tales were a bit nicer than the reality of what he had seen and done. No soldier comes back untouched.
I honour veterans of all ages. They made incredible sacrifices that those of us who weren't there can never understand. I respect any soldier who truly believes they are doing something positive and acting on that conviction. However, I cannot respect the political leaders who encourage War. I am, after all, a child of peace time ... with the anti-war songs of the 60s echoing clearly in my head. I often wonder about War, about the sense of it all. After all, us human beings have been killing each other on battlefields for many centuries now. You would think we could have learned a better solution after all these years! I came across this quote etched into a study carrel at the University a while back:
Fighting for peace is like screwing for chastity.
I think that sums up my conclusions on the topic of War very well. And those are my personal thoughts this Remembrance Day.