"To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace." - George Washington
I'm off today- Remembrance Day- to go to a cenotaph service with some of my siblings and nephews and nieces. There are a lot of children in my family, and they are cherished and protected; the idea of something happening to one of them makes me have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. My oldest nephew is fifteen and taller than I am (that's not saying much), and this week as I think on our past wars, I realize that many of the men who went overseas to fight were only a few years older than he is now. And this makes me think of what their families must have gone through, watching their boys march off to war, not knowing when or if they would return. This is one reason that I want the conflict of our time- with radical Islam- dealt with decisively and with finality. I don't want my nephews and nieces to be faced with the consequences of allowing it to fester and spread. I don't want what is happening in parts of Europe to happen here, and have our children forced to face that sort of threat here at home, where they should be safe.
That being said, I don't think that wanting children to be safe should result in shielding them from knowledge of war: its causes, costs, and results. It's a struggle sometimes to make these things age appropriate, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. Come to think of it, my parents never worried about scarring the minds of me and my brothers and sisters... I can remember sitting on my Dad's knee as a preschooler, watching a documentary about the Holocaust. In retrospect, maybe that wasn't the best idea in the world, but at least we were never in doubt about the evils of Nazi Germany and anti-semitism.
It's no use expecting the school system to teach them, because this won't happen. Even when I was in school, and it wasn't quite the politically correct, morally bankrupt wasteland it is now, in my high school Canadian history course we didn't learn about the accomplishments of the Canadian forces, or about true Canadian war heroes like Wop May or Arthur Currie. Instead, our teacher went on ad nauseam about the conscription crisis in Quebec. Anything useful I actually learned about the wars I picked up through independent reading, in documentaries, and yes, in fictional accounts of the wars- movies and novels. One of my sisters is a substitute teacher, and she was at a Remembrance Day assembly at one school a few years ago and told me afterwards disgustedly that a student had sung John Lennon's Imagine at it. Some day I will write a post on just how much I loathe that creepy, evil song by that hypocritical jerk Lennon, but not right now. I'll simply point out that its message is a complete betrayal of everything our veterans fought for. And this message, that nothing is worth fighting for- not our country, our way of life, our family- is not one that I want my nephews and nieces to absorb. I want them to know what our values are, why they are important, and why they should be willing to fight for them.
I want nothing but the best for the kids in my family; I want them to grow up free, happy, and at peace. But I don't want them to grow up thinking that Canada became the country it is without great courage, sacrifice, and yes, violence. I don't want them to take our rights and freedoms for granted, or think that these things don't need to be carefully guarded and defended- with words, with deeds, and with force when necessary. Lest we forget.
The movie clip below is from the 1941 film 49th Parallel, which tell the story of Nazis from a destroyed U-boat attempting to escape from Canada to the then neutral U.S.A. While on the run, they seek refuge in a Hutterite community, assuming that their shared German heritage will make them sympathetic to the Nazi cause. They are mistaken.
Even Canadians who know little of their history have probably heard of Passchendaele. The ghastliness of this battle and the conditions under which it was fought evoke a sense of horror which echoes from that day to this, one century later. General Douglas Haig, the commander of the British armies in Europe, became convinced early in 1917 that if they could break through the German lines in Belgium, they could push to the coast and take the Belgium ports which were being used to launch U-boat attacks. He proposed a plan to mount an offensive in the Ypres salient, a part of the Flanders region which included Passchendaele ridge. Despite forecasts of immense loss of life, the plan was approved by the British war cabinet and the Battle of Passchendaele began in July.
British troops fought here for months but were unable to advance the line; nothing was accomplished but racking up huge casualty counts on both sides. By September Haig was being pressured to end the offensive but instead he doubled down, ordering Australian and New Zealand divisions into the fray. The result was the same: catastrophic loss of life with no ground won. For some time, the Canadians were spared participation in Haig's folly. After a series of victories including Vimy Ridge, they had been ordered to lay siege to the German-held city of Lens in order to draw enemy troops and resources away from the main offensive. As his offensive became an increasing military disaster however, Haig contacted Lieutenant General Arthur Currie- the Canadian Corps commander- and ordered him to bring the four Canadian divisions to Belgium and engage the enemy at Passchendaele.
Currie lodged a protest of Haig's order: he'd assessed the battle plan and was of the opinion that it would result in major Canadian casualties- he predicted about 16,000- for little or no gain. In the end, though, he had no choice so began planning the Canadian offensive. The battlefield, scene of months of uninterrupted battle, was a hellscape of mud, shell craters, and the unburied rotting corpses of men and horses. Currie oversaw the removal of bodies and building of roads over the mud, but only so much could be done. The Canadian assault began late on October 26 and for the next two weeks, the four Canadian divisions fought under some of the worst conditions imaginable; it rained almost non-stop, mud clogged their rifles, and there was a constant barrage of German shelling.
"The enemy and ourselves were in the selfsame muck, degradation and horror to such a point nobody cared any more about anything, only getting out of this, and the only way out was by death or wounding and we all of us welcomed either." - Private John Sudbury
On November 6 the third Canadian attack at Passchendaele was launched, and they took the ridge and the nearby village. They then, in a fouth assault on November 10th, took the rest of the high ground in the Ypres salient from the Germans, ending the Battle of Passchendaele which had been dragging on since July. Four thousand Canadian soldiers died in the battle, and twelve thousand more were injured... almost the exact number of casualties General Currie had forecast. As a whole, from July to November the British forces suffered 275,000 casualties at Passchendaele. Less than a year later, the British armies were ordered to evacuate the ridge and surrounding area. Passchendaele has become synonymous with the futility and folly of much of the action in World War I. The objectives were dubious at best, and not worth the cost in lives and resources. The men- like Haig-who ordered these battles were often incompetent and seemingly indifferent to the appalling loss of life which they required. Winston Churchill, who served in W.W. I, called Passchendaele, "a forlorn expenditure of valor and life without equal in futility."
“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
This is the Commando Memorial which is close to Spean Bridge in the Scottish highlands. The pedestal is inscribed with the words "United We Conquer". The plaque on it reads "In memory of the officers and men of the commandos who died in the Second World War, 1939-1945. This country was their training ground." When I was hiking in the highlands of Scotland, I did two of the national trails: the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way. While on the Great Glen Way I stopped at the Commando Memorial, which is set against the glorious background of Ben Nevis. It's about 17 ft. tall and was unveiled in 1952 by the Queen Mother. I also passed by Achnacarry Castle, seat of Clan Campbell, and used during the war as a training center for the British Commandos. Part of the hiking trail was used in training, with the men having to complete the distance in a certain amount of time while carrying all their equipment. Any who couldn't complete this- or other- training exercises were told to hop the train and return to their regiments. Only the best completed the training. During the war, 1700 Commandos lost their lives; eight were awarded the Victoria Cross.
Sunday, since Remembrance Day is this week, we watched a movie set- and filmed during- World War II. It is a Powell & Pressburger movie called 49th Parallel and was released in 1941, after Britain- and Canada- had entered the war, but the United States had not. 49th Parallel is about a German U-Boat which has entered Canadian waters, intent on sinking ships taking supplies to the troops. A group of six sailors from the sub are sent ashore to pick up supplies and while they're on land, the U-Boat is spotted and sunk in Hudson Bay by an RCAF bomber. Undetected, the six Nazis on shore decide to travel across Canada and enter the States, where they'll be on neutral ground.
Led by the two highest ranking officers still surviving- Lieutenants Hirth and Kuhnecke- they make their way to a Hudson Bay Company outpost. There they take the post's manager- Eskimo Nick- and a visiting French Canadian trapper named Johnnie hostage. They also break into the post's store and take supplies and civilian clothes. Although treated brutally, Johnnie and Nick manage to get out word by radio that something is wrong and a float plane is dispatched to investigate. When it lands, the Germans shoot and kill the pilot as well as several Inuit who are on the shore. They steal the plane and take off, though an Inuit hunter manages to shoot and kill one of the Nazis, leaving five. Since the plane hadn't been refueled, it runs out of gas over Manitoba and crashes into a lake, killing Kuhnecke. The other four struggle to shore and start walking. They come upon a Hutterite farming community and pass themselves off as Hutterites from another part of the province.
They stay for several days, and one of the men- Vogel- begins to like the life they live there and think about staying.Meanwhile, Lt. Hirth assumes that since the Hutterites are of German heritage, they will sympathize with the Nazi aims. He gives a speech to the assembled Hutterites, urging them to rise up against the Canadian government. Peter, the leader of the community, tells Hirth that they came to Canada to get away from that sort of thing, and so that their children could grow up in freedom. He orders the Nazis to leave their community, although he tells Vogol that he can stay and take up their way of life if he wants. Vogol intends to do so, but Hirth finds out and, accusing Vogol of desertion, executes him.
The three remaining Nazis make their way to Winnipeg where they trade binoculars for some food. They also learn that the police, aware of their presence in the country and expecting them to make for the U.S., are watching the border. In view of this, Hirth decides that they will make for Vancouver, hoping to find a Japanese freighter which will take them to Russia. They start walking along, but soon murder a motorist and steal his car. Being tracked by the Mounties, they make it as far as Banff, Alberta. There, they are spotted by citizens who have been given their description by the police, and one of them is taken into custody though the other two get away.
The last two Nazis- Hirth and Lohrmann- escape into the woods and decide to cross the Rockies into the States. Not long after they start the ascent, they stumble upon the camp of British intellectual Philip Armstrong Scott, who is living in the Canadian wilderness to research a book he's writing on the history of the Blackfoot Sioux. Taking them for lost tourists, he invites them into his luxurious tent where, of course, they take him captive, steal supplies for their journey, then leave. Furious, Scott gets his men together and gives chase through the woods in the dark. Lohrmann panics and attacks Hirth, knocking him out and running off alone. He is cornered by Scott and his men in a cave and starts shooting at them. Scott, though wounded, enters the cave and eschews using a gun in favour of delivering a pummeling to Lohrmann with his fists.
Hirth wakes up and stumbles off alone, eventually hopping onto the freight car of a passing train headed for the American border. In the car he meets Andy Brock, a Canadian soldier headed back to his regiment after having been AWOL on a bender. Having no idea who Hirth is, the gregarious Brock makes conversation, grousing about his regiment being stuck guarding the border when they want to be sent overseas to where the action is. As they approach the border, Hirsh grabs Brock's gun and makes him give him his uniform, intending to masquerade as a Canadian soldier when he disembarks. Once over the border, the custom inspectors enter the car, and Hirth demands to be taken to the German embassy. Telling the inspectors that Hirth is one of the escaped Nazis that the Mounties have been tracking, Brock pleads with them to return them to the Canadian side of the border so that Hirth can be taken into custody. The inspectors are sick at the thought of aiding the Nazi, but say that they have to follow the rules and take Hirth to the embassy. Brock points out that, speaking of rules, he and Hirth aren't listed on the freight manifest. The inspectors, happy to have a legitimate excuse, order the car sent back over the border into Canada, due to the presence of "improperly manifested freight". Hirth panics, shouting demands that he be released on the American side but the inspectors ignore him and tell Brock that his gun, which they've confiscated, will be mailed back to Canada, care of the RCMP. Brock grins and says that's O.K.: he doesn't need it. As the car starts moving, he turns menacingly toward an aghast Hirth and tells him to put his fists up... he wants his pants back, and he isn't asking.
For the Fallen - LaurenceBinyon - With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea. Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, There is music in the midst of desolation And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; They sit no more at familiar tables of home; They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound, Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, To the innermost heart of their own land they are known As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.
The poem For The Fallen was written in 1914 by Robert Laurence Binyon, an English poet and playwright. He composed the poem while sitting on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic in Cornwall and thinking of the high casualty count the British Expeditionary Force had already suffered in these early days of World War I. The most well-known portion of this poem is its fourth stanza, which is used in Remembrance ceremonies the world over. In Canada, it is incorporated into the section of the Remembrance Day service called "The Act of Remembrance". The verse is recited, and everyone present repeats the final vow, "We will remember them." This part of the service also includes the playing of The Last Post and the two minutes of silence. The following is the 2014 national cenotaph service from Ottawa; the Act of Remembrance actually starts at the 56 minute mark.
I'm an adult single woman; I live on my own and support myself. And, unlike so many "feminists" I neither expect nor want the government to give me free stuff because I'm a woman, like in the creepy "Life of Julia". However, being independent doesn't mean I overestimate my ability to physically defend myself if something- or somebody- bad happened. I took clarinet lessons in school, not karate. Even if I had taken some sort of self-defense training, let's be real... I have to stand really straight to reach 5' 1". Any medium-sized guy who wanted to push the issue could roll me into a ball and slam-dunk me and I know it. Fortunately, I live in a country where most men would never do such a thing, and any who would are held in check by good men who would stop them. These include my Dad, my brothers, and now brothers-in-law who I know would all leap to my defense if it was ever necessary. That makes me feel valued and protected, not threatened by "toxic masculinity". Also, I admit that, as a gal who has been religiously watching old, classic movies since I was a kid, I find manly men attractive. Be honest, ladies... who would you rather look at: Dana Andrews or Pajama Boy?
More to the point, which do you think would be of more use in a situation which required physical action?
Recently Michelle Obama gave a talk where she described men as "entitled and self-righteous". This is a grossly unfair generalization. Are some men entitled and self-righteous? Sure- and maybe all the ones Mrs. Obama knows well are- but so are a lot of women. These are not characteristics determined by sex, but by upbringing and personal behaviour. She also said that, in families, girls are "raised" but boys are "loved". I was not aware that Mrs. Obama had expert knowledge about everyone's methods of raising children; she certainly seems to have missed examining my family's. My brothers- and brothers-in-law- are good, solid men who love their wives and kids, work hard, and protect and support their families. And they're not unusual in my sphere. If the majority of men Mrs. Obama knows aren't like that, then perhaps she's hanging out with the wrong crowd.
We're coming up on Remembrance Day when we commemorate the sacrifices made in war to protect our lands, our freedoms, and our way of life. We asked men to face hell for us and they did. Many still do. Yes, so do some women, but at the end of the day, when the barbarians are at the gate it's our men who hold that gate and put themselves between us and the danger, and I'm honest enough to acknowledge it. And be grateful for it. Real men aren't brutes, but they are masculine and, well, manly. And any woman who isn't a neurotic or hysteric- or a liar- would admit that we want and need them to be so. How about we stop trying to shame them for it.
"History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world have a chance for it." -Walter Bagehot
This is an illustration from Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel, Jane Eyre. After Jane flees Thornfield Hall, she ends up attempting to cross the moor without food or shelter. She manages to make her way to the home of the Rivers family, but is turned away by their housekeeper. Her strength gone, she collapses on the doorstep but is found by St. John Rivers.