RE­MEM­BER WHY

Cana­dian iden­tity forged in cru­cible of war

Toronto Sun - - NEWS - LIZ BRAUN lbraun@post­media.com @LizBraun­Sun

Here in Canada, you can vote for any­one you want to. You can ar­gue pol­i­tics by the wa­ter cooler at work and go to any church your heart de­sires. You can an­nounce that the world is flat, par­tic­i­pate in a protest rally, send your chil­dren to school, get free med­i­cal care, live where you like, have a trans­la­tor if you need one in court, join a pa­rade, run away with the cir­cus, use the In­ter­net at will, watch or read (mostly) un­cen­sored news and more or less lead your life as you wish.

It’s a free coun­try, you might say. And many of the free­doms we take for granted were fought for and won dur­ing the First and Sec­ond World Wars.

Just how frag­ile these free­doms are and how vig­i­lantly they must be pro­tected is cur­rently be­ing demon­strated south of our bor­der, where peo­ple are be­ing shot in their place of wor­ship for their race or re­li­gious be­liefs, and where your tired, your poor, your hud­dled masses yearn­ing to breathe free are de­mo­nized, their chil­dren placed in cages. But we di­gress.

Af­ter three gen­er­a­tions of peace, what we owe our vet­er­ans seems to be fad­ing in the col­lec­tive mem­ory. Peo­ple of a cer­tain age may pin a poppy to their jack­ets or at­tend a Remembrance Day cer­e­mony, but many younger Cana­di­ans don’t seem to grasp the sig­nif­i­cance of it all.

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs found that out when they put to­gether some new ad­ver­tise­ments, aimed at keep­ing all Cana­di­ans aware of the con­tri­bu­tion made by this coun­try’s vet­er­ans. When they ran the ads past test groups, half the young peo­ple did not know the poem, In Flan­ders Fields

— the most fa­mous poem of the First World War; it led di­rectly to the wear­ing of a poppy to ac­knowl­edge vet­er­ans in this coun­try and all around the world.

Things change. Time passes. Peo­ple for­get. And his­tory gets rewrit­ten. The French are past mas­ters at rewrit­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion as re­sis­tance. Some 22% of mil­len­ni­als have no idea what the Holo­caust was. Ja­pan is hop­ing you’ll for­get about com­fort women and their con­nec­tion to the state. Croa­tia is openly sup­port­ive of the Us­tashe, their happy, home­grown Nazi move­ment from the 1940s. A new Pol­ish law tried to make it a crime to at­tribute blame for Nazi crimes to Poland, but then ev­ery­one re­mem­bered how to spell “Jed­wabne.”

As au­thor­i­tar­ian rule gains mo­men­tum ev­ery­where, it’s in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to think about our debt to the vet­er­ans, which is in­cal­cu­la­ble. The prob­lem is that free­dom is an ab­stract con­cept, some­thing of­ten taken for granted un­til it’s taken away. If you don’t have any direct con­nec­tion to a vet­eran, then First World War and Sec­ond World War are just more lists of dates and bat­tles, about as per­sonal as the War of 1812. Which is to say, not at all.

Fought for free­dom

So here’s a more im­me­di­ate way to look at what we owe our vet­er­ans: al­most ev­ery­thing good you be­lieve about be­ing Cana­dian can be at­trib­uted to the vet­er­ans of the two great wars. Their ef­forts and the im­pres­sion they made on the rest of the world con­trib­uted to a dis­tinct na­tional iden­tity.

Ev­ery no­tion of Cana­di­ans as a peo­ple — hard-work­ing, mod­est, in­clu­sive, po­lite peace-keep­ers, with good health care — can be traced to the Cana­di­ans who first cre­ated a global im­pres­sion of our coun­try through their war ef­fort.

Just ask our friends in Hol­land. The Dutch keep a spe­cial place in their hearts for Canada and the Cana­dian sol­diers who lib­er­ated the Nether­lands; to hon­our the 1,300 who died in the ef­fort, Dutch school­child­ren put lighted can­dles on the graves in the Cana­dian War Ceme­tery in Holten ev­ery year.

To cel­e­brate the liv­ing, Hol­land hosts a huge cel­e­bra­tion of the lib­er­a­tion ev­ery five years, and plans are un­der­way for the 75th an­niver­sary in 2020.

The now-el­derly Nether­lan­ders freed by Cana­dian sol­diers from five years of Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion de­scribe those sol­diers as hard-work­ing and unas­sum­ing. Cana­di­ans brought food to the starv­ing Dutch and stuck around to help re­build; the Dutch speak of how mod­est these Cana­dian vic­tors were, how hard-work­ing and du­ti­ful. The peo­ple of Hol­land were amazed that any­one would en­gage in such sac­ri­fice for them.

That’s how they think about Cana­dian vet­er­ans. As should we. Lest we for­get.

ERNEST DOROSZUK/TORONTO SUN

Austin Hua, 15, places a few of the 47,500 Cana­dian flags in Op­er­a­tion Raise A Flag on the lawns out­side of the Sun­ny­brook Vet­er­ans Cen­tre yes­ter­day. There were 100 flags for each of the 475 vet­er­ans who live there.

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