Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 11

These little critters are the Desert Rats that my father carried on his shoulders throughout the time he spent with the Royal Corps of Engineers under Montgomery in North Africa. He entered the service in '39 and fought his way across the desert as a sapper, watching his friends die only to wake up the next day and keep fighting until Rommel was defeated. From Africa he fought north through Sicily, then Italy and back to England, mustering on the southern coast in preparation for D-Day. He and thousands of his fellows climbed into liberty ships and vessels of every sort to cross the channel, to fight the Germans and liberate Europe. His war took him into the very gates of hell as he was among the first to witness and to help liberate the camps.

Below are the medals he was awarded for his service and above his medals are those of his father, from the first great war. He left the forces after close to twenty years in uniform following his release as a political prisoner in the Suez Crisis. Everything my dad saw and experienced, everyone he lost and all of the fear, concussion and trauma he suffered throughout his time in uniform left him a deeply damaged man. He almost never spoke of his experiences though they haunted him to his grave. He was part of the greatest generation and his suffering went unseen. His was a time before diagnoses of post traumatic stress, we could have been the poster family for that disorder. Despite all of the damage done to him and the damage he inflicted, there was never any question or doubt that what he had experienced had value, honour and merit. His anguish, his losses were small next to the terror of those who lost their lives, their families, their worlds. He and his generation fought the fight of their lives with a clarity of purpose, with an ideal to preserve. They fought to save and protect everything that we have grown up with, that we have come to take for granted. When the old man was willing to talk a little, he let it be known that chief amongst the motives that he and his friends risked their lives for was that you and I would never have to experience the terror and pain that he had endured. The highest purpose for which he was asked to lay down his life was that of peace.

I know without a scintilla of doubt that the ignorant cartoon and the sentiment behind it being posted at Dust My Broom would have infuriated him. Had he encountered anyone in a military uniform behaving in such an unprofessional manner, he would have intervened with all of the ferocity and tenacity that my sisters and I feared when it was directed our way. I hope I would have the courage to do the same. There is no comedy in that cartoon, it is a depiction of criminal violence and assault being perpetrated by a trained warrior against a civilian, a civilian whom that officer has sworn to protect. There is no laughter to be had in Conduct Unbecoming. It is the laughter of weaklings and pissants, childish partisans vomiting up their ignorance and spitting on the memories and sacrifices made to keep their worthless hides safe.

Before he passed, he had some very bitter words for George Bush and for sending young men and women into a war of choice. Having spent years of his life in the Middle East and North Africa he knew something of the character of the people and of the land and he was disgusted by the combined ignorance and arrogance that were in plain evidence as America wound itself up to invade Iraq. Born in Northern India to an army nurse, herself born in what is now the Afghan/Pakistan frontier, he had an understanding of the hellish task facing the coalition going into Afghanistan. He did not predict success. But he did view all of our troops as younger brothers and sisters in arms and he wished them godspeed and safe returns from their tours. I remember.


Southern Quebec said...

My father was also a WWII vet. He was in the Canadian Navy and also never, ever talked about the war. After he died, we found 5 black and white photos taken on a Canadian Ship. These photos were as clear as the day they were taken. He had never taken them out of the envelope in 50 years.

sooey said...

The further we get from 1945, the more governments ramp up the glory of soldiering.

Boris said...

Sooey, I was just thinking something similar. I suppose the further we get from 1945, the more abstract and smaller our wars get, and the more governments are more likely to find cause for war. In some ways we've thrown back to the pre-Great War era of colonial skirmishing with uncooperative peoples, and the associated pro patria rhetoric.

900 ft Jesus said...

My dad never talked about his experiences in WWII except twice - once, when my mother sent him outside to get me during a thunder storm and he ended up sitting with me and watching the lightning, saying that’s what some of the shelling in the war looked like, the glow coming up from behing a hill.

The second time it was to kick my arrongant teenage ass as I was going on about war the way kids who have never seen war can do. He said I couldn’t really know what it was like, that the physical reality isn’t like reading about it, and told me his intro to Germany - like yours, PSA, he was sent to help liberate a concentration camp.

He didn’t describe what he saw or experienced, but what I saw in his face, the terrible pain from his memories, increased the love and respect I held for him and I am still amazed that he did not come home from that war a broken, bitter man.

For him and others mentioned here, war was not an adventure, and those men didn’t see themselves as heros. They did what had to be done, paid a high price, and every day we exercise our rights and freedoms, we should honour not only their memory, but honour their sacrifices by doing what we can to protect rights and freedoms.

Mentarch said...

Very insightful post, psa.

Remembrance Day is not just about taking a moment to remember those who gave their lives in the service of their country, but to also remind ourselves exactly why they did so.

Glorification of military service is not what Remembrance Day is about.

Peace and the uglyness of war are what Remembrance Day is about.

liberal supporter said...

Thanks, psa. Those who call most loudly for peace are usually those who have family that actually fought and saw the results. Those who call you a coward for not showing sufficient support for the government of the day's military adventures are usually the ones with no idea of the reality.

My father and grandfather were also in that group that seldom talked of their experiences. Grandpa never spoke of it. We only learned about grandpa's experience from dad, who only heard them after he had signed up, before shipping out.

Remembrance Day is when we honour the fallen and remember them. But to me, the real meaning of Remembrance Day for me is never to forget war itself. Far too often today, we see calls to war that reek of enthusiasm. Instead of the kind of sad resignation that comes from realizing there is no other real choice.

You should never go enthusiastically to war. You go resigned to it, because there was no other option.