For those who put their lives on the line

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­ — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

Field Mar­shall Lord Dou­glas Haig, “Butcher of the Somme,” saw 2 mil­lion Bri­tish ca­su­al­ties dur­ing his com­mand in the First World War.

He was made an earl for his ef­forts and died at 66 of a heart at­tack, far from the field of bat­tle.

U.S. Gen­eral of the Armies John Joseph (Black Jack) Per­sh­ing was the com­man­der of the Amer­i­can ex­pe­di­tionary force on the Western Front, also in the First World War. He has been crit­i­cized for stick­ing to frontal at­tacks af­ter other Al­lied Forces gave up on the prac­tice, caus­ing high ca­su­alty rates among Amer­i­can sol­diers.

Per­sh­ing died at Wal­ter Reid Hos­pi­tal in Wash­ing­ton of coro­nary heart dis­ease and con­ges­tive heart fail­ure in 1948 at the ripe old age of 87.

Sir Sam Hughes was Canada’s Min­is­ter of Mili­tia and De­fence dur­ing the First World War. An ar­dent sup­porter of rais­ing a Cana­dian force for bat­tle, he over­saw the slip­shod train­ing of the first 33,000 re­cruits, and the arm­ing of them with Cana­dian weaponry — like the Ross ri­fle — that was in­ad­e­quate for bat­tle con­di­tions.

Ross died of ane­mia in 1921 in his home­town of Lind­say, Ont., hav­ing reached the age of 68.

I could go on, but I won’t. My point?

Those who launch wars, and those who di­rect them, of­ten get to live full and com­plete lives.

Those on the front lines of­ten don’t.

In the First World War, the av­er­age age of Cana­dian sol­diers was 26, though the av­er­age age was lower for those serv­ing on front lines. Twenty-thou­sand Cana­dian sol­diers lied about their ages, en­list­ing even though they were younger than 18. Two thou­sand of those un­der­age troops died in bat­tle.

Imag­ine if you had never got­ten to ex­pe­ri­ence any of the life you had af­ter the age of 18; heck, imag­ine if you didn’t get to en­joy any of the things that came your way af­ter you reached the age of 26.

When Re­mem­brance Day rolls around, I qui­etly re­mem­ber, as I al­ways do, the in­di­vid­u­als who gave their lives or their health on the bat­tle­field to pro­tect our na­tion and our demo­cratic free­doms.

But ev­ery year, I also re­mem­ber those who moved peo­ple like pawns from a great dis­tance away, safe in the knowl­edge that they would not bear the re­sults of their own de­ci­sions.

I’m not alone in my dis­dain: Cana­dian au­thor Charles Yale Har­ri­son, a sol­dier in the First World War him­self, made the point clearly in 1930 in his in­ter­na­tional best­selling novella “Gen­er­als Die in Bed.” It’s a first-per­son ac­count of a young sol­dier from Mon­treal learn­ing that slo­gans and glory have noth­ing to do with the re­al­i­ties of war. His mes­sage is clear: young, naive Cana­di­ans were told they were fight­ing for great ideals, “For King and Coun­try,” but found them­selves thrown into un­nec­es­sary and ter­ri­fy­ing carnage in­stead.

I don’t be­lieve there’s glory in war.

I be­lieve there are peo­ple who paid a price for us, and that, as a re­sult, are now are owed an un­stint­ing duty of care. Whether it’s care for their phys­i­cal in­juries or their men­tal ones, we should step up with the fi­nan­cial and ma­te­rial re­sources needed to en­sure they never feel aban­doned or even short-changed.

It is, I know, the kind of mes­sage that politi­cians love to de­liver end­lessly. The ques­tion is whether they ever ac­tu­ally de­liver on it in a ma­te­rial sense. If you’re in of­fice, don’t tell me how much you value those who serve, and their fam­i­lies: show me.

And don’t leap for­ward to put Cana­di­ans who serve into dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions un­less you’ve ex­hausted all other al­ter­na­tives.

Es­pe­cially if you plan on liv­ing a long life, ex­pir­ing peace­fully in your own bed.

Those who launch wars, and those who di­rect them, of­ten get to live full and com­plete lives. Those on the front lines of­ten don’t.

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