By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
NEEPAWA, Man. — Some days, looking at the news, the world looks to be standing at the precipice of an all-out war. Tensions are high, with terrorist attacks targeting major cities, conflicts in the Middle East drawing stronger world powers into proxy wars and world leaders, both hopeful and elected, advocating aggression. Refugees are fleeing oppressive and dangerous regimes as those elsewhere in the world look on with skepticism and concern.
Perhaps it’s against this backdrop that Remembrance Day seems particularly important.
In 2015, the Neepawa Banner marked the 70th anniversary VE (Victory in Europe) Day and VJ (Victory over Japan) Day with a special feature. These days marked the official end to World War II in Europe (VE Day) and in the Pacific (VJ Day).
For this piece, four of us interviewed veterans and civilians about where they were when the war was officially over. The compiled stories offered a snapshot of a world at war. On VE Day, there were soldiers fighting on the front lines of Europe who, for weeks, knew the end was near, but the fighting and the casualties continued. There were soldiers at the front lines of the war in the Pacific who were very much still at war. There were soldiers at home training and Canadian-based military personnel working to support the effort. There were mothers, fathers, bothers, sisters, wives and children who anxiously awaited the news that would bring their family members and friends home safely.
The joyous celebrations at the war’s end belied that fact that many who left did not return. In World War II, 1.86 million Canadians served and of those, 42,042 died and 54,414 were wounded.
The wars we have seen since have had a tremendous impact on those involved, but less so our country as a whole. Those around military bases or with family serving know first hand what war means. Those who have come to Canada from countries in which war was on their doorstep know what war means. For the rest of us, it’s an abstract concept– one we read about or watch on our TVs. This is dangerous in a world of heightened tensions.
Over the past year, we lost a few of the those interviewed as part of our VE Day and VJ Day stories. Each year, more and more will be lost, until no one remembers what it was like to have a whole country embroiled in war.
As we face threats and big talk from world leaders, each year, there are fewer and fewer people who know what’s truly at stake. There are fewer people who have seen their home in ruins from an explosion, fewer people who have witnessed large-scale loss of life, fewer people who have seen the devastation a family faces when they find out a member won’t be coming home. But there are also fewer people who have seen first hand the atrocities of genocide and other horrific acts perpetrated against innocents that have led Canadians into war.
The act of war is not one to be taken lightly and as we lose those with first-hand knowledge, we lose a valuable resource as we navigate these treacherous waters.