Every once and a while one gets the opportunity to stumble upon a great and engaging book. The kind that makes us excited to read again, to search and hunt for more of its kind. True to life at large, these hidden gems are hard to come by, and this is what makes the joy of finding them so riveting.
Recently I was blessed with such providence. I found my little hidden gem in a library branch I’ve only been to once in my life, the time I found this book! The book was none other than Roger Sarty’s War in the St. Lawrence. It was a captivating and educating read; not surprisingly for a history book on naval affairs, it had very little dry patches and best of all I was taken deeper into understanding the psyche of the Canadian generations before me.
I have noticed, mostly through my own inadequacy, that my own generation has a hard time understanding the ways of life from previous generations. During my time spent with a friend who has seen more winters than I can imagine, I am often confronted with a stark reality: my generation does not fully understand the horrors of a world war, the tumult of the sixties, or the need to support one’s military.
No matter how many times one sees Hitler and his cronies on TV or watches movies about the great military battles of those times, it will never compare to the actual reality of WWII. One can never imagine what it was like to live with constant, real, and vivid fear. It must have effected every aspect of life, the bus drivers, the shop keepers, the waiters, everyone must have felt the tension. People must have been more on edge, though I’m sure it also bonded people together as well.
War in the St. Lawrence is a captivating recollection of Canada’s efforts to protect many nations shipping interests along Canada’s enormous span of coastline from the attacks of German U-Boats, and even to guide transatlantic shipping to support Britain in her war effort against the Nazi death machine. The bravery of the Canadians who fought against the German U-Boats was enormous; at the best of times they were under-equipped and short-handed. Sometimes major waterways were defended by militarized pleasure craft, or other quick fixes to get some defence in place. Not only those in the military, but those who ran the supply ships ran a great risk to their lives in the open seas. Those on shore felt the fear as well: on more than one occasion the wreckage and bodies of dead sailors floated ashore from recently destroyed vessels; sometimes the bodies were family members or relatives of the people in those very communities.
In an age where relativism is gaining more and more ground, it is scary to imagine a country whose citizens will cease to fight for what is right in this world, to have a generation who will say, “maybe it’s right for them,” instead of stopping atrocity. Relativism cannot fight evil, because it cannot identify it. If I truly believe in relativism, then what right do I have invading Germany to stop the holocaust? Who am I to say that Hitler was wrong and I am right? However, if we understand the value of human life, absolutely, only then are we capable of intervening.
Perhaps one reason why relativism has taken such a footing is because the very real, blatant, and undeniable reality of evil contained in war, mass murders, and dictatorship is rather distant for most North Americans under fifty years of age. Many brave men and women have fought for our country over the years since the Second World War, but more and more people are losing touch with the importance of an effective, functioning, and well supported military. That means support from it’s citizens.
Though I am a Canadian, I also find America’s military history intriguing. People tend to tar and feather all American war efforts in the last few decades, but judgement is far easier then working towards understanding. If we are to understand the errors of a nation’s army, we must look to that nation’s very citizens. We must dig deep into the psyche of their people and leaders. We must feel and know the pain of their cultures, the struggles that have played out for centuries. Only once this work has been done can one begin to understand the true motivations behind America’s hunt for Bin Laden, for example, or their military action in Iraq. The first lesson of human psychology is that any given action is rarely singularly motivated; likewise, saying that America’s involvement in Iraq is due to oil alone, is rather short-sighted.
It is difficult to make accurate or meaningful judgements of the American military operations in Vietnam also. Though it was a tragic and misguided effort, how many of us know about the true horrors of communism? How many have lived under the oppressive, mass murdering, regimes of the communist political machine? The non-communists in Vietnam understood this reality all too well following the fall of Saigon. Two choices existed: try to escape or face slave labour and probably death at the hands of the communists and their “re-education camps”. A mass exodus occurred; people tried to escape the communist occupation and took their chances on the open sea, often times with home-made boats, facing deadly storms, pirates, disease, and starvation, rather then accept the “education” of the communists. Hundreds of thousands died trying to escape, and it wasn’t compassion or kindness they were running from. With this reality in mind, I cannot wholly blame America for trying.
Evil must be resisted in any form it takes, even at the risk of helping in the wrong way.
Without the capacity to see and know right from wrong, regardless of opinion or personal differences, a society becomes an enabling force for atrocity. Violating a country’s sovereignty is not an act that should be taken lightly; therefore, much thought and discernment is always needed to know when to intervene and when not too. As can been seen with the Rwandan genocide, to do nothing can be the worst choice of all.
Thanks to providence and the sacrifice of millions, we were spared from living beneath the Nazi boot. To argue that the lives lost defeating Nazi Germany were wasted, would be insanity. War is tragic, inhuman, depraved, and so contrary to every good thing, but the Nazi regime was worse. Taking a man’s life in an armed conflict is one thing, liquidating defenceless women and children for no other reason then their heritage is pure and unfettered evil. There is no better name for it.
Even so, I get the feeling that some would argue that “the Nazi’s just did what was right for them”. If this way of thinking has not been reached yet, relativism is quickly hurdling us in that direction. It is this type of thinking that terrifies me to my core. I have heard the argument that if Nazi Germany did conquer North America, then we would all have been indoctrinated into Nazi thinking, and thus we would not see anything wrong with Nazi thinking. For some this may be true, but for anyone with a solid sense of truth, it would not be the case.
No matter how long a dictatorship has been in place, we always hear of those who see the evil of their surroundings and fight against it in any way possible. For many, this means death at the hands of their government, but for these people, to do nothing in the face of such injustice is unacceptable. It is an undeniable proof of the human capacity for knowledge of what is good, and what is wrong, even in the face of relentless propaganda. These freedom fighters defied the greatest human inclination, the desire to maintain life, in the pursuit of goodness. A great example of this is the White Rose resistance movement: a group of university students who wrote and distributed anti-Nazi leaflets in defiance of such a malicious government. Many lost their lives because of their efforts.
If one rationalizes their experience of evil, they become more and more desensitized to it, until finally there is little or no reaction. It is good to be repulsed by evil. It is good to recoil at the thought of innocent people being slaughtered or worked to death. If a culture loses this ability it will lose its very soul. Great caution should be taken to ensure that the rationalization of evil is not encouraged. One need only look to the content of modern TV, video games, popular slang, pornography, etc. to see an unsettling trend.
More and more video games contain the ability to be good or evil, to kill the bad guys or kill innocent bystanders, to rob and murder or to live by some code. In one Japanese video game the sole purpose of the game is to stalk and rape women in the subway. Many would argue, “It’s just fantasy, or virtual reality, we don’t actually want to do these things.” My question is this: why would you even want to pretend to do it for fun? If our children spent their time imagining a scenario of sleeping with a prostitute and killing her after instead of paying her, a course of events which may be chosen in several of the games in the Grand Theft Auto series, would we encourage this “harmless” fantasizing?
In and of themselves, video games will not destroy a person’s conscience, but repeated exposure on a regular basis to such content will have a dire effect on a person’s ability to react to evil. We become desensitized to the suffering of the other, and therefore become more isolated and self-centered.
You can recognize the hero’s who fought against the Nazi occupation by those who decided to live for someone other then themselves, by those who risked everything to save children from Jewish ghetto’s, for example. You can see the fruit of self-centeredness by those who went along with the Nazis out of fear for their own life or livelihood, and as a result did atrocious acts they never would have done in any other circumstance. I cannot cast a judgemental finger at these people, however, because the pressure they were put under was enormous and unusual. To resist such coercion is extremely difficult, but this reality is exactly why it’s important to have firm and defined values, to know what one stands for, and what lines one will never hope to cross.
Some would argue that the only thing we can be certain about is that we can’t know anything with total certainty. People treat absolute truth like its some rigid and stodgy thing, that no true modern thinker could possibly hold such beliefs. I argue just the opposite. If we are to retain our decency and empathy then we need real and absolute values; only absolute truth can support real compassion. I must decide and know that what is happening to my friend is wrong, before I will act to help him, or alleviate him from his persecutors. To renounce such an ability is foolishness. To take on the responsibility of knowing truth, goodness, and right from wrong is a lifelong process, but it enables one to become more human, more compassionate, and more loving. Just as action towards the good of the other is inseparable from love, so striving on a daily basis to know truth is inseparable from doing what is right. Without knowledge of truth, a person becomes a leaf in the wind ready to accept any new influential movement, whether it be from a heinous dictator, like Hitler, or from some other source.
My love for history began with my love for the human race; more and more I’m beginning to realise how understanding history is absolutely necessary to understanding the actions and motivations of modern day cultures and nations.