The cost of war paid by the liv­ing

Penticton Herald - - WORLD - JIM TAY­LOR

To­mor­row is Re­mem­brance Day. And it’s a spe­cial Re­mem­brance Day — the Ar­mistice that ended the War to End All Wars came into ef­fect ex­actly 100 years ago. At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 the guns fell silent. If only we could say that they had stayed silent.

They haven’t. They’ve got­ten more lethal. With the Sec­ond World War. Then with the Korean War and the Viet­nam War, both of which I think of as out­breaks of the first World Civil War, with an in­ces­sant pa­rade of peo­ple tak­ing up arms against their own peo­ple. In Yu­goslavia, in Rwanda, in Kash­mir, in Su­dan…

And then there are the erup­tions where out­side forces get in­volved in lo­cal con­flicts: Afghanistan, So­ma­lia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ye­men…

To mark the an­niver­sary, the Cana­dian Le­gion erected 240 crosses in Kelowna’s City Park, one cross for each Cana­dian sol­dier from this area who died in the two World Wars. The crosses are a more vis­i­ble, and vis­ceral, re­minder than sim­ply hav­ing names in­scribed on the city’s Ceno­taph.

“This be­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War, we wanted to do some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent and spe­cial to re­mem­ber the fallen,” ex­plained the Le­gion’s John Cashin.

I ap­plaud the ef­fort. But by fo­cus­ing on the fallen, I think we miss some­thing im­por­tant.

Th­ese were not just in­di­vid­u­als. They were part of a com­mu­nity. They had fam­i­lies. Rel­a­tives. Peo­ple they worked with.

Dur­ing the 1950s and ’60s, I gather, psy­chol­o­gists de­bunked the idea that com­mu­ni­ties had any kind of col­lec­tive con­scious­ness.

Com­mu­ni­ties were a fic­tion, said the con­ven­tional think­ing of the time.

Com­mu­ni­ties con­sisted of in­di­vid­u­als, and it was only the in­di­vid­ual who mat­tered.

The cult of in­di­vid­u­al­ism be­came so per­va­sive that author Robert Bel­lah mused, in Habits of the Heart, that the only way we could imag­ine break­ing free of the in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic mind­set was to be­come even more in­di­vid­ual. The tide may be turn­ing.

Jonathan Haidt spends more than a chap­ter, in The Righteous Mind, doc­u­ment­ing an in­creas­ing recog­ni­tion that the group one be­longs to, the group one af­fil­i­ates one­self with, has a huge im­pact on what one thinks, and how one re­acts.

His the­sis is demon­strated ev­ery day in U.S. pol­i­tics where loy­alty to the group — whether Repub­li­can or Demo­cratic fac­tions — over­rides peo­ple’s per­sonal con­vic­tions about hon­esty, moral­ity, com­pas­sion, and even com­mon sense. Be­cause it is un­think­able, lit­er­ally un­think­able, to be­tray your group.

I sug­gest Re­mem­brance Day needs to look not just at what those sol­diers ex­pe­ri­enced in the mud and trenches of Vimy Ridge, the Somme, and Pass­chen­daele; not just at the hero­ism of the Bat­tle of Bri­tain or Iwo Jima; not just at the suf­fer­ing in prison camps in Ger­many, Thai­land, and Hong Kong; we need to look also at the im­pact of war on the com­mu­ni­ties left at home.

The whole vil­lage of Wal­hachin, a pros­per­ous colony of English set­tlers, died in the First World War, when its young men en­listed in the Bri­tish army. Too few came back to sus­tain the flumes that brought dis­tant wa­ter to the com­mu­nity crops.

If you look care­fully, you may still see traces of those flumes amid the sage­brush on the hills west of Kam­loops. But the last res­i­dent of what had been an af­flu­ent and stylish com­mu­nity left in 1922.

All Saints’ Angli­can Church, on the hill­side be­low my home in Okana­gan Cen­tre, died for the same rea­son. The priest had vi­sions of a larger and more im­pres­sive build­ing than the lit­tle Pres­by­te­rian church by the lake. But World War I took most of the young men he was count­ing on to com­plete the build­ing. Never con­se­crated, it sold for a dol­lar in 1923.

Bri­tain lost a whole gen­er­a­tion of young men. So did Ger­many.

We all know that post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der can af­fect in­di­vid­u­als for years. How long does PTSD take a com­mu­nity? A na­tion?

To be bru­tally frank, those who were left be­hind had to live with the death of their spouse, par­ent, lover, child, friend, and co­worker for the rest of their lives. Those who died, didn’t.

I don’t say that to dis­par­age the sac­ri­fice those young men made. To give your life for a cause not of your mak­ing is in­deed a huge sac­ri­fice. But we also need to pay at­ten­tion paid to the ef­fects on their com­mu­ni­ties. How did it change their ways of run­ning their lives? Their hopes and as­pi­ra­tions?

Jim Tay­lor is an Okana­gan Cen­tre author and free­lance jour­nal­ist. He can be reached at re­write@shaw.ca.

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