On the television news all week you have probably seen them. Old men, their chests covered in medals, on the streets of Holland, there to celebrate the anniversary of the Liberation and to visit the graves of their fallen comrades, one last time.
Seventy years ago today the guns fell silent in Europe with the defeat of Nazi Germany. The European portion of the Second World War was over.
We may never see anything like it again. Wars now are fought the “modern” way. Lots of electronics and very little face to face combat. No need for million man armies anymore. Just push a button and the deed is done.
There are so many problems with this method of waging warfare that I won’t even begin to try and enumerate them. I could write a book (if I had time) but I am sure someone has already.
Those old men who returned to past battlefields this week fought for a cause they believed in. That is perhaps something that has gone out of fashion in much of the world. The idea of putting your life on the line for a cause, no matter how virtuous, doesn’t seem to appeal to many people.
In war it has always been normative to stir up emotion by demonizing the enemy. Makes it easier to kill them if you think they are inhuman. War was cast in simple terms of good versus evil. Nowadays we are much more enlightened. We no longer believe in absolutes, or in good and evil. That has ramifications everywhere in society, including in military matters.
In the Second World War our government said the Nazis were evil, and Canadians believed it. At Auschwitz we discovered we had been told the truth.
Do governments today convey the same moral authority? Will their citizens fight to defend themselves? Or go overseas to support the cause? I am not so certain.
When “coalition” forces tackled Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army in the two Gulf Wars they were surprised at how little opposition they faced. Surrender en masse was a regular occurrence. Saddam’s troops didn’t seem to be motivated to fight to the death to repel an invader. Saddam’s successors seem to have fared no better, as can be seen by the rapid gains by ISIS about a year ago, seizing large portions of Iraq as the Iraqi army (supposedly well trained and organized) put up only token resistance. It was the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, that fought for their homeland and stopped ISIS’s advance.
Those aged veterans on the TV news this week believed in their cause. That’s why they went back to Holland to relive the past. It was war, but there were good things they wanted to remember.
What do we believe in today?