This year marks 70 years since the end of World War II. With so many conflicts occurring in various parts of the world, now more than ever seems a vital time for Canadians to pay attention to our past and those who helped to shape our future.
Although Canada is a peaceful nation, our history tells us that sometimes as a peace-loving country we have had to stand up and fight for it to remain that way. Such was the case with World War II.
There is no doubt that World War I was a conflict which promoted “nation building” for Canada. But after the horrific conditions that soldiers endured during that war and the high number of casualties, Canadians were hesitant and even loathe to enter another such fray. No longer did our citizens have any illusions about the glories of war or the likelihood for a quick end to such a confrontation. We had adopted more of an isolationist policy which was expressed by Canadian senator Raoul Dandurand when he spoke to the League of Nations and stated that Canadians “live in a fireproof house, far from inflammable materials. A vast ocean separates us from Europe.”
However, once Hitler invaded Poland and his agenda became obvious, Canada could not sit on the sidelines while Europe went to war. Geography might have distanced us from the conflict, but our strong historical ties and moral obligations would call us to action. So on Sept.10, 1939, our nation declared war on Germany and Canada prepared for battle.
Once again Canadians would prove their worth and their valour on the battlefields in combats such as the unsuccessful Dieppe Raid, the ill-fated attempt to secure Hong Kong and the intense fighting in Sicily and Italy. The heaviest casualties would come in the spring of 1944 as troops struggled to break the Hitler Line. The Normandy Campaign which began on June 6, 1944, would see Canadians play an integral role in the battle of the Rhineland and the liberation of the Netherlands which ultimately would lead to the end of the war.
The RCAF would be instrumental in winning many dogfights in the sky and our navy would help secure the Atlantic so that much-needed supplies could be delivered. Our involvement came at a high price. Statistics vary, but it is estimated that about 45,000 died as a result of the war and another 55,000 suffered injuries.
If World War I had established Canada’s independence as a nation, then World War II validated that fact. Vincent Massey, who would become Canada’s Governor-General at a later date, summed it up by stating: “Out of the last war emerged their status. Out of this one, their stature.”
On November 11 of each year we remember the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedoms and we pay tribute to those who continue to secure our safety. Each of us might feel differently about armed conflict, but let us all be cognizant of the fact that we have the option of voicing our various opinions because dedicated men and women took up arms to protect that basic right.
Today, thanks in large part to those who took up the call for military action, we can exercise our democratic rights in Canada without retribution or punishment. This is not the reality for many people in the world. As good citizens it is our responsibility to remember our history, to honour those who have served and continue to serve our country, and to value our dearly-earned rights and freedoms.