Ritual is an old human activity and some of the best ones operate at a more or less unconscious level combining symbolism with myth and belief. Our basic Remembrance Day rituals on November 11th seem right and fitting, and they evolved that way in the immediate aftermath of the First World War.
Our Remembrance Day observation combines elements of classical Greece and Rome, a Christian hope of resurrection, and practices that probably go back to pre-historic times. They were not designed by a committee so much as they were assembled in 1919-1922 by the people of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Various officials yearned to design November 11th ceremonies, but King George V had the sense to rein them in. Remembrance Day was how the people of Britain and the Dominions chose to commemorate their losses, and practices from Melbourne to Cape Town, to Glasgow to Calgary rapidly gelled together in a broad consensus, and the people chose well.
The dark web, terrorism, hacktivists, intruding drones, transnational organized crime – a dizzying array of problems are growing but these are only the froth of a growing wave of instability. The order we knew in past decades is no longer assured.
In a world menaced by significant population growth, environmental stresses, urbanization; and which yet remains connected and mobile like never before, ideas and causes are appearing and morphing with bewildering speed. In the coming years, old habits of thinking about security and stability are going to be a liability.
In the days after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and the thrilling response of the French people to the attempt to intimidate them, any number of media commentators have talked about ‘root causes’ of terrorism. They mention that Westerners have to reach out to tame the ‘angry young men’ who are the agents of the Jihad’s terrorism.
It doesn’t take much to make the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) come over all faint sometimes, but the news in mid-November that former Canadian soldiers were joining Iraqi Kurdish groups to fight against ISIS seems to have done it again.
When Putin met Harper at the G-20 this week, it is said that the Russian leader insisted to the Canadian Prime Minister that there were no Russian troops in the Ukraine. Last week also saw a Moscow television station insisting they had dramatic footage proving that the MH-17 flight downed over the Ukraine last July was actually shot down by a Ukrainian fighter plane; and not by a drunken Cossack in command of a Russian SAM battery.
The Royal Canadian Air Force, (RCAF) is back in action again, dropping bombs on the slave-taking, throat-cutting rapists of ISIS. The morality of the situation is unequivocal, the effect of our contribution to the war on the new Caliphate is – alas – doubtful.
By now, much of the world has heard about Boko Haram and the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls in northeastern Nigeria; and many voices are clamouring for the girls to be rescued. Good luck with that but those girls were not kidnapped for ransom, they were kidnapped to be raped… repeatedly.
In Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the legendary King Arthur had to confront the errant Mordred at Camlann. The two entered tense negotiations while their uneasy armies stood by, ready for the least sign of aggression from the other. One knight, however, was walking in the grass and came across an adder. He pulled out his sword to kill the snake and two armies took that as a signal. The resulting carnage was – literally – almost total.
This is the third of my explorations into the wartime service and experiences of the family of my maternal grandparents. John’s brother George died at the Second Battle of Ypres, in the first major battle fought by Canadian troops in World War One. Having lied about his age, my grandfather spent two years in the Canadian Forestry Corps in the Somme Valley in 1917-18, before being transferred into the infantry for the last offensive against the Germans in October 1918. Having discovered what I could, it was time to turn my attention to Second World War.
December 21, 1941: The Japanese start landing in force at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon, and their 48th Division soon establishes a secure beach-head. The bombardment of Wake Island is joined by carrier aircraft.
December 20, 1939: Another Soviet division (122nd) is cut off and isolated by the Finns, and attacks on the Mannerheim line are running out of steam. It’s an ugly aircraft, but will seem like an avenging angel to hard-pressed Soviet troops in the coming years: The first Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik takes to the air. In time, over 36,000 of this tough ground attack aircraft will be in service and Stalin – in a very threatening letter to a tardy manufacturer – will describe it as being as necessary to the Red Army as air and bread.
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