Lessons of history

By the time most readers receive this issue of the Wellington Advertiser, Remembrance Day 2017 will be little more than a week away.

The day set aside to remind us – “Lest we Forget” – what could happen if we ignore the lessons of history seems especially significant this year.

As we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedoms we enjoy, we should also remember that liberty comes with no guarantees. We must remain vigilant for signs of a reawakening of the prejudice, hate and greed that led to the horrific conflicts we mark on November 11.

While in Canada it may seem little has changed in the past 12 months, the United States of America, generally credited with leading the successful global charge against fascism during the Second World War, today is led by a man who can’t bring himself to clearly and promptly denounce swastika-bearing modern Nazis, whether they are endorsing his presidential campaign or marching on American streets. He is also presiding over a push for a return to the sort of American isolationism that kept the USA out of the Second World War until the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 brought it directly to their shores.

Even here in multi-cultural Canada, we have seen the signs of the flames of intolerance being fanned for political gain. Conservative MP Kellie Leitch’s so-far-failed push for a “Canadian values” test for immigrants and the thinly-veiled racism apparent in Quebec’s controversial Bill 62 spring quickly to mind.

It will be understandable in light of recent world events if your spine shivers a little more than normal as you brace against the fall chill that generally accompanies Remembrance Day in this part of the world. Western nations have enjoyed an unparalleled period of peace and prosperity in the years since valiant soldiers gave their lives for our way of life. While we in Canada can safely continue to consider ourselves among the most fortunate citizens of any nation in the world, we would be foolish ignore the ominous clouds forming on the horizon.

If those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, then it is perhaps today more urgent than it has been in decades that we do remember, among many things, the concluding passage of John McRae’s epic poem:

“To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.”