||April 20, 2007
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the April 9th
rededication of the memorial of Canada’s victory at Vimy Ridge. It was a
remarkably successful event with lots of newspaper and television coverage and a
CBC re-enactment using the descendents of soldiers who actually fought in WWI.
The outstanding planning and execution and the courage of the men in 1917 was
indicated with some exaggeration on the caps of the visiting school children
that said “The Birth of a Nation.”
The 20 million dollar restoration of the monument has saved
a beautiful piece of art and architecture. The idea of having one student for
each of the 3600 soldiers killed was in inspired idea.
A lot of people extended their thinking beyond the
pageantry as well one should. Some were critical of P.M. Harper keeping other
parties from attending at first and using the event for support for peace
keeping that was causing more deaths. The 6 casualties in Afghanistan at the
same time as the event, as painful as they were, did not compare with the 111
million who died in wars in the 20th century and the 1.3 million on
both sides in WWI.
Rich Salutin in an article in the Globe and Mail raised the
question Vimy: Was it worth it. He quoted Pierre Berton who wrote a book on
Vimy and ended by saying “No!”.
|Canadian and German Soldier sharing a light in no-man’s land 1917 (NACPA
Other authors have written that inept leadership caused
many of our wars and that may soldiers had no personal grievance with the
average soldier on the other side. Many fought because if they ran they would
be shot or put on trial and executed. The term “Canon fodder” is not far from
Joseph Boyden who wrote my favorite book of 2006 Three Day
Road which tells the story of two Cree soldiers in WWI has an excellent piece in
the April 16th edition of Macleans showing the horror of war.
One remarkable example of the lack of animosity for the
other side in some battles is recorded in the story I wrote about at Christmas
2001 where I reviewed a book called Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub where he
told the story of how allied and German troops put down their guns at Christmas
1914 and came out of their trenches and exchanged souvenirs and food and played
soccer for 48 hours until they were ordered back to the slaughter of 6,000
casualties a day. One angry little corporal who did not participate was called
Weintraub quotes a soldier’s poem that caught the gist of
The ones who call the shots won’t
Be among the dead and lame
On each end of the rifle we
Are the same
The photograph shows a wounded Canadian and a wounded
German sharing a light in no-man’s land in November 1917.
I am reminded of a favorite poem by British poet Thomas
Hardy from 1915 which touches on the same subject.
The Man He Killed
“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
“I shot him dead because –
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
“He thought he’d enlist, perhaps,
Off-hand like – just as I –
Was out of work – had sold his traps –
No other reason why.
“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”
In the modern world of the new millennium with current
technology and thinking it is scary to think about the atrocities, the
genocides, the hatred in a highly religious world that have happened or may
happen. The positive Vimy event gave a flicker of hope that our future may be
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