By MPP Toby Barrett
“Most of great literature is about the nobility of the warrior. We need people who will fight to the death for things. It’s important.” – Victoria Goddard, on Soldiering as quoted in Fifteen Days by Christie Blatchford.
Over the centuries we have had tough, principled people willing to do whatever it takes to ensure we can all sleep soundly at night – those who stepped forward close to 100 years ago to fight the Kaiser; those who stepped forward 70 years ago to fight fascism; to fight communism in Korea; and terrorism in present-day Afghanistan.
It was an act of terrorism, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungarian Empire – that triggered World War I. Within a month, Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia and, then Germany invaded Belgium, Luxembourg and France.
When war was declared, Prime Minister Robert Borden had the job of rallying 25,000 troops for Britain. Canada’s regular army at the time was only 3,100. By the end of the war, more than 600,000 people had enlisted out of a population of 8 million. A staggering 10% of those never returned home and another 173,000 were wounded.
The Second World War started in 1939 when Hitler’s fascists invaded Poland. Canada’s first independent declaration of war followed 10 days later. Over the ensuing six years, 1.1 million Canadians served in the army, navy and air force. Canada entered the Second World War the same way it started the first: underequipped and understaffed. By war’s end in 1945, Canada’s air force was the fourth largest and its navy third largest in the world.
Canada’s connection to United Nations forces started with Korea and the fight against communism. After North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the UN declared war on North Korea. Three Canadian destroyers were dispatched within a month and 26,000 Canadians fought.
Since Korea, Canada’s forces have gained a stellar reputation as peacekeepers – participating in the majority of missions.
The World Trade Centre attacks in 2001 launched Canada’s war on terror. After nine years, Afghanistan is now our longest-fought war.
Near Kandahar City, local navy man Douglas Craig Blake was killed by an improvised explosive device last May. The husband and father of two was returning to camp after disposing of another IED. IEDs were described in Christie Blatchford’s book as “This faceless enemy, this unseen force, that attacks you and kills you and your peers and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Whether it was fighting the Kaiser, fighting fascism, fighting communism in Korea, serving as peacekeepers, or soldiering in Afghanistan, we owe a tremendous debt to those who defend democracy and protect freedom.
As the years since the First World War and Second World War turn into decades, and the decades accumulate, the ranks of those who fought are dwindling. Soldiers, sailors and airmen have stories. We owe it to them to breathe some life back in to the history they made.
When we gather in coming days to pay tribute to those who defended freedom over the years, it’s important to ensure we never forget the service and sacrifice veterans, as well as those currently serving at home and overseas, have made.