Peace in our times takes effort - Keith Roulston editorial
As we prepare to mark another Remembrance Day, we will honour the memory of those who gave their lives to protect our freedom, but we also must realize how important it is to forget old enemies.
Remembrance Day 2023 comes at a time when old rivalries are being recontested in a new Middle Eastern war – after innocent Israelis were killed and hundreds were kidnapped in a raid by Hamas into Israel and thousands of innocent Palestinians have lost their lives in retaliatory strikes by Israel, attempting to hit at the Hamas raiders.
It’s hard to see how peace will ever prevail in the Middle East. The new strikes will create bitter lasting memories on both sides, making a peaceful resolution seem like a fantasy.
By contrast, Germany and Japan, the two major enemies in the two World Wars, are now allies of Western powers, thanks to the vision of enlightened leaders (particularly the Americans) who sought to rebuild these countries following the destruction of World War II. Billions of aid dollars went from the U.S. to both countries, and, instead of permanent enemies, they became friends.
A perfect example about how good can arise from the bad is Blyth Community Memorial Hall. When World War I ended, most Canadian communities prepared to build cenotaphs to recall the efforts of people of their communities to help democracy overcome its enemies. Blyth had something more ambitious in mind. Led by groups like the Women’s Institute, Blyth decided it was an opportunity to honour those of the community who had given so much, while at the same time, giving the community something that would give back. Blyth residents were joined by people of the Blyth community in East and West Wawanosh, Morris and Hullett Townships, in raising tens of thousands of dollars to build a community hall.
That hall got new life with the birth of the Blyth Festival in 1975 and every day during the summer hundreds of people pass photos of the young men who gave their lives for their country on plaques in full view of Festival patrons. The gifts of today’s young actors, directors, playwrights and technicians recall the gifts of our young soldiers from two World Wars. Blyth Community Memorial Hall is a true memorial to those heroes of so many years ago.
The problem is that World War II was so long ago that we’re in danger of forgetting the lessons of that war. Germany fought that war because the failures of the peace efforts at the end of World War I left Germans feeling abused. Adolf Hitler captured that discontent when he rose to power in Germany. As well as his resentments resulting from the Allies’ treatment of Germany, his sick mind dreamed of purity of the German race and the inadequacy of people of Jewish, Black and other “lesser” races.
The shocking result was that he decided, once in power, to exterminate the Jews, Blacks and all other “inferior” groups.
Extermination camps were set up across German-controlled Europe that are documented to have killed six millions Jews and others. The film of those atrocities shocked my parents’ generation and even mine. But after so many years, many people begin to doubt an impossibly large figure like six million people exterminated. Some people in Germany tend to doubt that total - and the entire possibility of such an atrocity carried out by people who might have been their own relatives.
The guilt of the rest of us following World War II led to support for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. The problem was that the land for that homeland wasn’t sitting abandoned. It was occupied by Palestinians. Several wars in the 75 years since have established a small (if still powerful) Israel and a displaced and dissatisfied Palestinian people.
Meanwhile, more generous immigration quotas in the last 50 years, have gained a large Muslim population for Canada. The result has been duelling demonstrations of support for the two sides on Canadians streets.
So, as Canadians prepare to mark Remembrance Day again in 2023, we generally have peaceful relations with our Second World War enemies of Germany, Italy and Japan, but there are new tensions and new wars elsewhere in the world.
And that is perhaps what we should remember, besides honouring the people of our communities who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives in two World Wars, Korea and various Peacekeeping missions.
The temptation to get angry and strike back - at a family member, someone in the community or another country - is always present. We, in Canada, have had 78 years of peace. We should remember, and give thanks, for those who earned it, and work to maintain it.