Most people born in Canada have had little firsthand contact with war.
Canadians have been extraordinarily fortunate in not having a war fought on our soil for more than 200 years.
Many new Canadians, on the other hand, have had vastly different experiences.
War may not be ever-present in all parts of the world, but it is far more likely to have had an effect on peoples’ lives in many other countries. Nowhere is this more true right now than in Syria, where millions have been displaced. Many of them are in neighbouring countries, with a smaller number trying to find better lives in Europe.
The new federal government is working hard to get 25,000 of them to resettle in Canada, but it’s a monumental effort that involves layers of bureaucracy.
It’s an appropriate time to think about how we as Canadians can help people affected by war, as we have just marked Remembrance Day – the one day of the year when most Canadians think more about war and the effect it has had on this country.
The effect was not from battles fought on Canadian soil, rather it was on most families because young people volunteered in the millions in the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean War. They crossed the ocean to fight for freedom and to preserve our way of life.
Surrey was a small rural community in 1914, yet almost 700 volunteered to go. About 10 per cent did not return, and their names are inscribed on the war memorial in Cloverdale, which was the centrepiece of a large community gathering on Wednesday.
By the time the Second World War came in 1939, many more young residents were ready to “take up the struggle with the foe,” in the immortal words of John McCrae.
Three members of my own family were among them – including my father. His mother did not want him to join up. Her brothers had been killed in the First World War, when she lived in what is now Poland. Her memories of war were universally negative, and she did not want any of her children to lay down their lives. Mercifully, my father and his two brothers returned home safely.
War is hell, yet good can come as a result of it. My father’s family would not have come to Canada without the First World War. My grandfather, who served in the Russian Army, was determined that his family not be caught up in a second war that he was sure would follow. They left for Canada in 1927.
Many other immigrants have followed that path. They wanted to pursue a peaceful life in Canada. If hard work would lead to prosperity, that would be a bonus – but just being in a place that was far from the boiling cauldron of instability and war was the priority.
War also has been a strong motivator. When my father’s contemporaries returned to Surrey after the Second World War, they came back with a renewed sense of purpose. They started families, opened businesses, built community organizations and helped Surrey to grow and prosper.
Most members of that generation are now gone, but their legacy remains. Those who are still among us deserve honour and gratitude, as do all the veterans of subsequent wars, including Korea, the peacekeeping missions that were often very challenging (Bosnia and Rwanda being two examples) and, most recently, Afghanistan.
We’ve thought about their sacrifice this week, but let’s also be grateful for their legacy to us – in war and in peace.
Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for Peace Arch News. firstname.lastname@example.org