100 years on, les­sons of war are still elu­sive

Waterloo Region Record - - Front Page - LUISA D’AMATO

At sun­set on Sun­day, bells will ring in churches, pub­lic build­ings and at ceno­taphs across Canada.

Their sound will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, when — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — French, British and Ger­man lead­ers met and signed an armistice.

This of­fi­cially ended the hor­rific four-year con­flict that claimed the lives of more than 16 mil­lion peo­ple.

But the “war to end all wars” didn’t.

It was just Act 1.

As we con­tem­plate the cen­tury that has passed, it is dif­fi­cult to feel any­thing but pro­found sor­row that we don’t seem to be able to learn from his­tory.

Just 21 years af­ter that armistice, the Sec­ond World War would come. Four times as de­struc­tive, it killed an es­ti­mated 60 mil­lion peo­ple — an­other 20 mil­lion, if you in­clude war-re­lated dis­ease and famine.

Nearly 17 mil­lion Rus­sians alone died in this war, more than ev­ery­one of any na­tion­al­ity who had been killed in the Great War.

Although there had been geno­cides be­fore, the 20th cen­tury has a spe­cial place in his­tory, as mod­ern in­dus­trial tech­nol­ogy made mass mur­der eas­ier. Six mil­lion Jews were killed in the Nazi Holo­caust.

Since 1945, with the ad­vent of nu­clear weapons, the con­flicts have be­come smaller in scale — but no less vi­cious.

The Kh­mer Rouge mas­sacre of 1.7 mil­lion Cam­bo­di­ans in the 1970s, and the geno­cide of up to a mil­lion peo­ple, pri­mar­ily Tutsi, in Rwanda in 1994, are just two of many in the past 50 years.

Mean­while, we Cana­di­ans fo­cus on things that are eas­ier to take in, such as the lat­est dis­play of bad man­ners from Don­ald Trump or the short sup­ply of le­gal­ized pot.

There isn’t much news cov­er­age of the war in Ye­men. It’s far away, it’s com­pli­cated to ex­plain and peo­ple can’t bring them­selves to look at those pic­tures of starv­ing chil­dren.

On Sun­day evening, re­tired Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dal­laire will speak at a sold-out Armistice Day event at Kitch­ener’s Cen­tre In The Square.

Dal­laire was the United Na­tions’ peace­keep­ing com­man­der in Rwanda in 1994. He watched help­lessly as up to a mil­lion peo­ple were killed in less than four months. The Rwan­dans didn’t have ac­cess to gas cham­bers, so they hacked their vic­tims with ma­chetes in­stead. Blood was ev­ery­where. Women were raped, ly­ing in pools of blood, bro­ken bot­tles be­tween their legs.

Dal­laire had re­peat­edly pleaded for ac­tion and backup from United Na­tions head­quar­ters. But the world’s ma­jor pow­ers failed to act or pro­vide him with troops. He was or­dered not to in­ter­vene.

When he re­turned to Canada, he was still in hell. He couldn’t switch off what he had seen. He suf­fered from night­mares, felt iso­lated from his fam­ily and wanted to die.

In his 2016 me­moir, “Wait­ing for First Light: My On­go­ing Bat- tle with PTSD,” Dal­laire de­scribed drink­ing heav­ily and then cut­ting him­self with a ra­zor.

He later said he had found “an in­cred­i­bly sooth­ing ef­fect” and a sense of re­lease in the warmth and smell of his own blood.

Back then, we didn’t know what post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der was. We un­der­stand bet­ter now, thanks in part to Dal­laire, who has de­voted the rest of his life to speak­ing out against the evil of forc­ing chil­dren to be sol­diers and ad­vo­cat­ing for bet­ter care of vet­er­ans.

Dal­laire is one of the world’s most elo­quent and pas­sion­ate de­fend­ers of those who do not turn away from the worst that hu­mans can de­vise for one an­other.

Seventy years ago, we were grate­ful to the sol­diers who had pro­tected us from Hitler. They are mostly gone now. World pol­i­tics has changed. But hu­man evil has not.

For Dal­laire and so many oth­ers who suf­fered be­cause they were will­ing to look into the abyss, we wear the red poppy in sor­row and grat­i­tude.

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