On Sun­day we hon­our sac­ri­fices made a cen­tury ago

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion -

A cen­tury has passed – will have passed, come 11 a.m. on Sun­day, Nov. 11, 2018 – since the ar­mistice that of­fi­cially ended the First World War, re­turn­ing rav­aged Europe to peace and sent home Canada’s armed forces, short more than 60,000 young men killed.

Those hun­dred years can be counted many ways. Time is like that. Fil­tered through his­tory it takes on new colours and per­spec­tives.

One count is by gen­er­a­tions.

The baby boomers who pop­u­lated the great eco­nomic boom that fol­lowed the Sec­ond World War are now Canada’s clos­est link to the gen­er­a­tion that sac­ri­ficed so much 100 years ago.

Their grand­fa­thers and great un­cles fought in the First World War. Par­ents, fam­ily mem­bers and fam­ily friends shipped over­seas to fight the Sec­ond

World War, or watched from home and lived the fears, hard­ships and, even­tu­ally, hope and tri­umph wrapped up in that bloody and ter­ri­ble con­flict.

Their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren are much far­ther re­moved from the old wars but still touched by new ones.

They make six gen­er­a­tions of Cana­di­ans charged with ac­cept­ing and hon­our­ing Lieu­tenant-Colonel John McRae’s poignant chal­lenge:

“Take up or quar­rel with the foe:

To you from fail­ing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.”

The mes­sage of In Flan­ders Fields, the most fa­mous poem to sur­vive The Great War, has rung through those six gen­er­a­tions.

Po­etry, like time, is both per­ma­nent and chang­ing. The words are fixed but their mean­ing shines in dif­fer­ent lights as the time of their writ­ing re­cedes and new events add per­spec­tive.

For McRae’s own gen­er­a­tion and the one shoved shortly af­ter into the threat of Hitler, Nazism and then the Sec­ond World War there could be no miss­ing a lit­eral read­ing of “Take up the quar­rel with the foe.”

Democ­racy, free­dom and the prom­ise of a largely peace­ful world were threat­ened again and had to be de­fended at the cost of mil­lions of dead and in­jured com­bat­ants and civil­ians.

The men and women who made their sac­ri­fices dur­ing that sec­ond ter­ri­ble war were em­braced into Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies, hon­ored for their will­ing­ness to take up the quar­rel at any cost.

But Mc­Crae’s call was not pri­mar­ily a call to arms. He saw the hu­man cost of war at the front lines and paid for the vi­o­lence with his own life. In the mud and blood his foe was the Ger­man army. The larger, more el­e­men­tal foe was, and is, any threat to peace and free­dom.

And so the “quar­rel” be­comes a cam­paign to pre­vent those el­e­ments from tak­ing con­trol on the world stage.

The chal­lenge is to knit coun­tries and peo­ples – gov­ern­ments and cit­i­zens – more closely to­gether and to do it peace­fully.

Aid to those less well off, diplo­macy, and the free move­ment of peo­ple, goods and ideas across na­tional bor­ders are the strate­gies that have worked.

At best they could bring the end of war, still a long way off. But those fol­low­ing gen­er­a­tions have al­ready succeeded in one im­mensely im­por­tant way: the past 75 years have not brought an­other World War, and de­spite many chal­lenges over the pass­ing decades we can look op­ti­misti­cally to a pre­dic­tion there will never be an­other.

On Sun­day at Peter­bor­ough’s ceno­taph, we can hon­our that legacy of a cen­tury of fallen heroes and com­mit to con­tin­u­ing it in their mem­ory.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.