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A lesson to be learned

Wingham Advance-Times editorial

You have to be pretty low on the human values scale to steal poppy fund donation boxes or deface a war memorial.

Every year a few idiots get nabbed for smashing wreaths, painting graffiti – in one case Nazi symbols – on a cenotaph, or swiping the donations the Royal Canadian Legion uses to assist war veterans and their families. The culprits are usually young, and usually in a group. Add alcohol and the group’s collective IQ plummets to the level of moose on loco weed. But why do they go after war memorials?

In their own way, they are saying they do not share the feelings their elders have about those memorials. They see no reason to show respect for a symbol of wars long past. Their actions involving these particular symbols are, in essence, an announcement that to them, the memorials are just old statues; the poppy donation boxes nothing more than cash sitting on a counter.

This is profoundly disturbing to any student of history. Cenotaphs and war memorials serve as far more than tributes to war heroes of long ago. They are graphic reminders that wars maim and kill, and that many brave Canadians have chosen to serve in wars because there are much greater evils.

Those memorials treated with such contempt by some, are meant to remind us our way of life, characterized by tremendous freedom of action and speech, can never be taken for granted. To do so is to risk losing what so many fought and died for. In honouring those who died for our freedom, we are reminded of the value of their precious gift to us.

There is an oft-misquoted statement by Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The fools who regard war memorials as having no significance to their generation; who think cenotaphs are but pieces of stone and metal to be broken, stolen, or even urinated on at their whim; and who say that what truly counts is the future; would be well advised to consider the rest of Santayana’s statement: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.”

Those who vandalize cenotaphs and steal poppy donation boxes are demonstrating abysmal immaturity. They are clearly not the leaders of tomorrow, the ones who will take this great country of ours forward.

There has been considerable effort devoted to legislation that would impose stiff penalties on those who deface war memorials. At first glance, this would seem to be a step in the right direction. However, the purpose of the legislation, to teach the vandals the importance of these memorials, might be better accomplished by other means.

We could let those oversized infants stumble around, smashing what they do not understand or value; slap them on the wrist and send them home having learned nothing. We lose, and so do they.

Or we can give them the opportunity to meet war veterans, and hear first-hand accounts from those brave people who survived wars past and present. We can introduce them to people who lost loved ones in wars. It would surely benefit youngsters who have so much to learn, to speak with people who know all about sacrifice and responsibility, about commitment to a better future.

We can provide them with the opportunity to learn where poppy funds go and who they help, and further, to learn about what the Royal Canadian Legion of today does in the community: the minor sports teams it supports, the seniors activities it sponsors, the events it holds, the work it does. Much of what makes this community the vibrant, busy, caring place it is, is thanks to the work of members of the Royal Canadian Legion.

They should be required to visit military museums, study accounts of military actions, and research every name engraved on local memorials. They deserve to know the stories of valour, loss and victory.

Infancy is a time of growth – often a painful process, but a tremendously rewarding one. Ensuring our young people learn about our wonderful heritage, about the people who fought to preserve all we hold dear, will not only do more to protect our war memorials than any punishment, it will provide our young people with strong building blocks for the future.

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