We all have our own special day (or days) to remember, right? A birth, a wedding, a divorce, a death. A day that becomes a marker for significant change. Who we were, who we’ve become.
In Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s epic novel, there is a memorable paragraph about the great change a person goes through due to war, in this case the Great War, what WWI was called before WWII. She likens the transformation to that of larva, to pupa, then to butterfly, although the returning soldier doesn’t look so buoyant. “ . . . you emerge from your khaki cocoon so changed from what you were that you fear you’ve gone mad, because people at home treat you as though you were someone else. Someone who, through bizarre coincidence, had the same name, address and blood ties as you, someone who must have died in the war. And you have no choice but to live as an imposter, because you can’t remember who you were before the war.”
While each of us must fight personal battles from time to time, we are lucky to live in a country like Canada, recently ranked the “freest country in the world” by the Legatum Institute. Another ranking, by the Cato Institute and Canada’s Fraser Institute, has us at sixth, with our close neighbour, the U.S., surprisingly dropping to 20th. “In addition to the expansion of the regulatory state and drop in economic freedom,” says Ian Vasquez, an author of the report, “the war on terror, the war on drugs, and the erosion of the property rights due to greater use of eminent domain all likely have contributed to the U.S. decline.”
Most of that sounds like gobbledy-gook to me, so I discussed it with my fiancé B, an American from Iowa, over breakfast this morning. I said I would rank his country lower than Canada because of the epidemic of mass shootings. B is a peace-loving man. He’s never owned a gun. Yet he said, “Ah, but the right to bear arms! Many Americans equate that to freedom. It’s Homeland Security that has taken a certain amount of freedom away.”
Homeland Security came about following 9/11, to protect Americans from terrorist threats, but also to respond to man-made accidents and natural disasters. Says Wikipedia, “Its information sharing centers have been accused of violating American civil liberties and targeting American citizens as potential threats to national security.”
People do die violently in Canada and the U.S., but major war? Armed combat? It’s something we haven’t had to deal with on our soil, thank goodness, so far in our lifetimes.
Let’s get back to Remembrance Day, with its origin at the formal end of WWI on November 11, 1918. It is often regarded as an opportunity to pay tribute to veterans of WWI and WWII. But those wars were so long ago and there are so few veterans left. What, then, does Remembrance Day mean now? Veterans Affairs Canada defines it as a day of “remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace.”
Even in peace. We can learn from past conflicts, be grateful for freedom, remember and honour those who serve. The Canadian Armed Forces currently have a total reserve force of 50,000. In the U.S.? There are currently 1.3 million (as of December 31, 2013) on active duty.
Personally, I have learned from, am grateful for, remember and honour Private G-604760 of the Canadian Armed Forces. Vincent Clair Hartley. My father. He died on this day ten years ago, just prior to the 11th hour. I have to think there is significance in his passing on Remembrance Day. He was conscripted, and in a pact with his brother Van and cousin Owen to refuse active duty, so while he did not physically defend our freedoms, he was there. He bore witness. He did not speak of war, never shared his stories. From cousins, I have three letters, one of which I have already shared. Here is another, written to his sister, about arms. Dad was not a hunter, not a violent man. Perhaps a collector? Aside from the pistol and machine gun he speaks of in this letter, he also had swords from the war, engraved with the swastika.
December 18, 1945
I just thought I’d write and let you know I’m sending some more junk home. This time it’s a machine gun. The first parcel is numbered “Part no.4”, so when you get it you can let me know by the number. I haven’t sent the other part of that last pistol yet. I’m waiting to hear whether you get the first parcel or not.
I just came back from Edinburgh last Thursday. I saw Van. He went with me to Glasgow for 4 days. There was a couple parcels from Mama here for me when I came back.
When you get the parcel with the spring in it just take the spring out and lay it somewhere where it won’t be curled up because it will spoil if it’s doubled-up too long.
I guess this isn’t much to write about.
So long, Love Vince. Write soon.
Website picture is of my father with his mother, my paternal grandmother, Lillian (Campbell) Hartley.