If you read this year’s Remembrance Day posts [1,2] you will be familiar with the passage that I read on air for CBC’s On the Coast on November 11th.Â My Great Grandfather survived Vimy Ridge largely unscathed, until he went back there in the 1980s and broke his ribs tumbling along old trenchlines, but the experience left a profound impact on him — one that jarred his preconceptions about the “adventure” and “excitement’ of going to war.Â What he saw when he arrived there was not pomp and chivalry and pretense; but instead a mechanical, brutal, unfeeling slaughter wrought by men who, when push came to shove, had no particular beef with one another.
Here’s the audio:Â IanB-WMP-vimy-remembranceday
His full account of Vimy makes that journey in just a couple thousand words so palpably that I recommend it for anyone whose child announces that he will take arms and join the fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, or wherever fate will lead.Â This is not to say that one should not go to those places — those arguments are for another time — but this is to say that one should not tread lightly or with eyes wide shut as they approach the maelstrom.
As a society if we cannot define why we are in a place of combat the stories that should emerge, and can emerge, need to be given air.Â That is why I applaud the Canadian Forces in particular, for embracing different media such as Suzanne Steel’s warpoet diaries which bring emotional stories and reflections straight from the front in Afghanistan.Â These stories are our conscience.Â They are the feedback loop through which those who are not directly affected by the war can feel the emotion, the frustration, the horror, and yes… even the humour.Â You’ll find all of those things scrawled in the words of soldiers.
Sometimes there are acceptable (to some people) reasons to go to war, but as Hemingway wrote “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”Â So let us not embark on these without solemn contemplation and reflection.
After leaving the CBC studios I met up with DaveO and recorded another session reading larger sections of Mark’s writing, which you can check out at his PodCast site, Postcards from Gravelly Beach (listen here).