Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Remembering in Order Not to Make the Same Mistakes: a Message for November 11

Today is Remembrance Day, and as I passed the memorial to Outremont’s fallen in the wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45 (as the monument puts it) the borough’s crews were out blowing away the leaves in preparation for a ceremony at 11:11 a.m. This concern in Canada about marking the end of that so-called First World War is something that surprised me when we came here during the US’s Vietnam War. At the time in the States, no one who opposed the war wore poppies, but here everyone, including the young on the McGill campus, did. It took me a while to realize that Canada’s nationhood was forged in that conflict during which 68,000 men were killed from a country of 7 million. The red poppy meant a tribute, not belligerence.

Last night at one of my book discussions, the book was The Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, a singularly appropriate choice we decided. In it, two young Native Canadians go to fight in Belgium and France, and the talk turned to the participants’ own stories. Grandfathers who had never spoken of their time in the trenches, but who in their last illnesses relived the danger and fear. Fathers who declined to go camping with their grandchildren because “I spent seven years living in a tent, and that was enough.” Women who refuse to read about war, but who delight in Boyden’s heroine who saves her nephew from the demons of war.

Story telling is a form of remembering, and as time passes, the stories change too as our perspective alters. The trick is drawing the truth from the stories and applying it to our world in order to avoid the mistakes of the past while trying to decipher the present.


lagatta said...

Hi Mary, I love your blog (found it thorugh Spacing).

1939-45 is indeed the correct dating for Canadian participation in the Second World War. See you are originally from the US, where of course participation started in 1941.

Usually 1939 is taken as the beginning of the World War, though of course there were bellicose events leading up to it such as the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Anschluss, and even the Spanish Civil War with the Nazi bombing of Guernica.

From Wikipedia: "The starting date of the war is generally held to be September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by the United Kingdom, France and the British Dominions".

It is a pleasure to see that Joseph Boyden has taken the Giller. Sadly, reading the article in the Globe and Mail, there were many, many insulting comments insinuating the Boyden received the award merely as a politically-correct sop to his Aboriginal heritage.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Dear Lagatta

Thanks for your kind posts and interesting comments. I'm glad you found the blog worth reading. It started out to be sheer book promotion but has become a place to talk about everything that concerns me. My family and friends, I think, are glad because they are spared some rants!

When it comes to shoes, by the way, I usuall wear sandals or light weight hiking boots--the pretty ones only come out when I know I'm not going to have to stand. Like to sit and admire how they look on my feet, too!

Best wishes