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Canada's good war forgotten

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The government of Canada has said that the men and women who served in Afghanistan will be "appropriately recognized and commemorated" in Ottawa when the last troops come home in 2014.

The promise of proper memorialization was made after the government rejected the idea of carving the dates 2001-2010 into the National War Memorial, which was erected after the First World War.

The proponents of the plan to alter the memorial also wanted to spend $2.1 million to add an eternal flame to the monument, as well as reassemble a monument from Kandahar in the Ottawa area.

There are also plans to unveil a national memorial to the Afghan conflict near Trenton, Ont., where the fallen from the conflict were repatriated.

Good and fine, but there's one problem, an unanswered question, really.

What about the Second World War? When is someone -- the government? -- going to build a dedicated monument to the 45,000 Canadians who died (and 1.2 million who served) in that war, which truly did save civilization.

As a series of articles in today's FYI section illustrates, there is no significant monument to Canada's role in the 1939-1945 conflict anywhere, not in Canada and not in Europe or Great Britain.

The Juno Beach Centre on the Normandy coast in France, which honours all Canadians during the Second World War, civilian and military, is a museum and cultural centre. Opened in 2003, it tells stories about Canada's history and its present-day commitment to multiculturalism and so on.

It might be called a monument, but nobody calls it that, anymore than the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa is called a monument. In contrast, the Americans and British have dozens of Second World War museums, at home and abroad, as well as elaborate monuments and memorials.

It's a yawning gap in the country's history.

Anyone who has visited Vimy Ridge leaves the sacred site with a sense of pride and the comfort of knowing that Canada did right by its veterans of the First World War, at least in terms of memorializing their sacrifice. It is one of the greatest, most beautiful war memorials in Europe, or anywhere for that matter.

Nor is there a shortage of First World War memorials in Canada. Every town, city and village erected cenotaphs after the war, partly because of the enormous trauma of losing 65,000 young men in a nation of just 8.5 million souls, but also in an effort to make sense of a war that solved nothing and then led to great upheaval. Some soldiers, for example, returned home just in time for the 1919 strike.

After the Second World War, however, with the veterans of the first war still in charge of how the past was remembered, no one saw any need to build new monuments.

Times were good and veterans were more concerned with getting their names on a list for consumer goods, such as refrigerators and telephones, which were only then becoming available.

As time passed, the Second World War was simply etched in the stone of existing monuments. The National War Memorial added the dates 1939-1945 in 1982, which was around the time Canadian interest in the war was increasing. A bronze plaque to the war was simply bolted to the Cenotaph in Winnipeg.

In 1999, Ottawa unveiled a simple plaque on Juno Beach, but that was it in terms of official remembrance.

Today, the most important memorialization of Canada's contribution to the defeat of Hitler can be found in the Canadian war cemeteries in England, France, Belgium, Holland and Italy. There are many soaring Commonwealth monuments that pay tribute to Canada and our dead, but none that are exclusively Canadian.

Canada is not a boastful nation, but it has a lot to brag about and mourn in the Second World War.

The veterans of Afghanistan deserve their due, but it seems terribly wrong that there is no soaring memorial to the Greatest Generation and its enormous accomplishments.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 A14

History

Updated on Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 1:02 PM CST: Bump to top

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