Monday, March 24, 2008

What Did My Father Fight For?


How dare you? That seems to be a popular line among blogging tories. How dare you?

They question a prominent Liberal's assertion that our fathers fought for certain values in WWII which he claimed included cracking down on white supremacists in Calgary.

These same tories then go on to clothe their own dads in values they espouse. Sort of like getting out the Barbies and playing dress up. My dad was in the army (perhaps the motor pool or quartermasters corps but hey) and so he therefore validated my point of view on this issue or the other and he certainly didn't fight for anything you support.

What a preposterous load of hooey. Read Barry Broadfoot's book, "The War Years," (1974) Doubleday Canada, an anthology of vignettes from Canadians who lived and fought in WWII. It's from original source works like this that you'll discover just what was in your dad's or granddad's mind when he turned up at the recruiting centre to sign on.

Notable by their absence are things like King and Country or stopping global tyranny. Many signed up out of the enthusiasm of the moment, looking to grab a bit of the glory before it was all over. FTA, sometimes taken to mean F*** The Army, also can refer to Fun, Travel, Adventure - lures that have gotten young men to take the hook since long before Caesar. One fellow told Broadfoot that he signed on for the boots. He was barefoot at the time and nothing looked so appealing as a pair of quality army boots. Some signed on for genuinely trivial reasons, others to escape something unpleasant at home. Some needed a job or regular meals or wanted to learn to fly or just thought it'd be great fun.

The point is that each serviceman showed up for his own reasons based on his own beliefs and perceptions, views that generally were proven naive and sometimes completely false.

The curious thing is that, the more intimately a soldier was involved in actual combat, the less likely that person was to find meaning in the reality of war. Why we insist on finding that for them now is beyond me.

3 comments:

Mushroom said...

My father was too young to fight.

Living under Japanese occupation, he survived, like the people in Gaza, South Lebanon, the Warsaw Uprising, and Soweto.

This may be the only form of fighting that would be justified. My family probably knew a thing or two about resistance. Whether it was Maoist or Trotskyist remains to be seen.

Fish said...

My grandfather was in the infantry. I don't really know much about where he served, or precisely which battles he fought in, but according to my uncle he was shot in the chest by a German sniper, who refused to surrender about six days after Germany surrendered.He died 20 years ago.

I really wished he had lived long enough to answer my questions about the war. But then he didn't really like to talk about it much anyways (like most true combat vets). I do remember that my grandmother once told me that back in those days you were supposed to fight for your country or people would look down on you.

I really can't think of a cause that could be much more worthy of the sacrifices that were made than that of destroying the third reich, but then as a former history major I am painfully aware of the fact that few in the allied camp (much less the civilian populace and recruits) had any notion of the depths to which the Nazis would ultimately sink.

Still, the soldiers who fought in WWII didn't remain naive for long. Those who survived their first encounter with combat showed a lot of guts by returning.

The Mound of Sound said...

No question that WWII was the last great moral war. A lot of folks were drawn to recruiting centres because it didn't look good if you didn't go or because their buddies were signing up or because they wanted to impress their girlfriend or get away from a miserable marriage or whatever. Those who fought, however, didn't cling to patriotic fervor for very long. It's been long known that, in combat, the infantryman fights - not for King & Country or for the preservation of his political morality or any of that nonsense - he fights for the guy on his left and the guy on his right. He fights for the guys in his unit, not to save the world from tyranny.

I had an uncle who flew with RAF Bomber Command in the early days when a guy's odds of surviving two combat tours (intact, wounded or captured) fell into the single digits. He took to drinking before missions. He was the only one of his crew to survive when their "easy meat" bomber was shot down.

All these grand moral causes with which we imbue their service and sacrifice is about as great a disrespect as we can offer them. We're using their sacrifice to somehow validate our political preferences. We just make them our stooges. That's just wrong whether it's being done by a Lib or a Tory or anyone else.