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ASK JOURNEYS: Famous battlefields worldwide a compelling draw

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The Belgian Club in Winnipeg commemorates the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.

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The Belgian Club in Winnipeg commemorates the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.

The concept of giving your life for the freedom of others may be hard to grasp for those who have never felt freedoms have ever been threatened in our country.

Faraway wars can be difficult to identify with when politics and vested national interests muddy the reasons for going, or not going into battle.

The numbers of living veterans from the Second World War are shrinking, and as tragic as they are, the numbers of Canadians lost in more recent skirmishes may seem small in comparison.

But freedom can be a fleeting thing when we look at the number of nations whose journey to democracy has been thwarted by demagogues of all nature.

While most today cannot personally identify with the horrors of war, there is almost a fascination surrounding the sites of the best known battlefields of history. Entire tourism industries have been created around visits to these locations, with battlefield tours explaining the history and savagery of war always popular attractions.

For Canadians the World War I battles at Vimy Ridge, where there were 10,602 Canadians wounded and 3,598 dead, and Passchendaele with 15,654 Canadian casualties, 4,028 of which were killed, are just two of the battles that have gained increasing attention from movies, media coverage, and organized tours.

The Second World War battles at Dieppe and Normandy where Canadian casualties were huge have been even more under the microscope.

The battlefields of the Civil War in the United States have captivated the interest of Americans and visitors alike for generations.

With almost 52,000 warriors killed or wounded over three days of intense fighting, the Battle of Gettysburg was seen as the defining victory for the Union that led to the ultimate defeat of the southern Confederates.

Thousands visit this sacred land every year.

There are a number of organized tours that lead visitors through the battle histories of most of the Civil War conflict zones.

The year 2015 will be the 200th anniversary of a war, which became an expression over centuries after, because it was where Napoleon met his final defeat.

This Belgian battle site of Waterloo is one of the best preserved anywhere, with the battle re-enacted every year employing over 1,000 participants demonstrating the means and methods that won the war that ended the Napoleonic era.

To underscore its popularity today, a train leaves nearby Brussels every half hour for the short journey to the site. There visitors are greeted by special vehicles adapted to best highlight the experience of that war as it was.

Known as the Battle of Hamburger Hill, this Vietnamese campaign was small in historical terms. Nevertheless it is credited with changing public opinion in the United States so dramatically it is seen to have been the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War.

The casualties compared to the cause became an affront to the public.

Life magazine, the leader in photojournalism at the time, published photos of the almost 250 people who were killed in just one week of the Vietnam War.

The country that was once the scourge of U.S. policy makers in the '60s is now judged as the safest tourist destination in Asia, and is visited by countless thousands of Americans each year who go to see, or return to see, the places where they tried, and failed to win victory over the Viet Cong.

It is in Tunisia where a major chapter in the Arab Spring for democracy was written.

It is also the home of the great warrior Hannibal who, after conquering a world of his own, was brought back to defend his homeland as the tides of war turned against him.

His troops would be defeated in the Battle of Zuma in 202 BC. His conquests and defeats are chronicled in tours to the area, only a short drive outside of Tunis, the capital city.

Where there are not wars there are war and military museums. From the more recently opened Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden, Germany, whose stated objective is to have people think differently about war, to our own Canadian War Museum in Ottawa that promotes Peace exhibitions, these edifices have also become part of the tourist imperative where they reside in cities around the world.

Find a town or city in Canada where wars have taken any number of its citizenry, and you will most likely find a memorial to their bravery.

It is around these places we gather on November 11 to honour those who have fallen; to remember them as individuals and as symbols of the pain and grief caused by wars, as a duty to remind ourselves that wherever we live, we need to find peaceful ways to resolve our differences.

As we pause this week to contemplate how fortunate we are that we live in the kind of country we do, it is worth taking more than a couple of minutes to remember those who fought for our freedoms over the past and present centuries.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com and at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2013 E7

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