Deegan Charles Stubbs is a Montreal writer. He blogs about a variety of topics at DCMontreal.
As I sat watching the television coverage of the recent shocking domestic attacks on members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and their subsequent funerals, I felt a strange sensation: something just wasn't right. Aside from the obvious incongruity of Canadian soldiers being killed on Canadian soil, I was experiencing what social psychologist Leon Festinger called cognitive dissonance.
Briefly defined, cognitive dissonance is what one "experiences when confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs." In my mind, Canadians who have lost their lives at the hands of an enemy – and their comrades who mourn them – are older than me. Both Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo were younger than me when they died. It just didn't fit.
Like many Canadians of my age – those of us who are now in our mid-fifties and older – both of my grandfathers fought in the Great War, the War to End All Wars, or as it became known once time proved that designation to be merely wishful thinking, the First World War. Less than a quarter-century later, it was my father and uncles' turn to go overseas, as Canadians once again fought proudly to defend king and country, this time in the Second World War.
In the 1960s, as a young lad in grade school, I recall looking out my classroom window early one November – no doubt I probably should have been paying attention – and watched as the cenotaph across the street was prepared for the Remembrance Day ceremony that our municipality still holds on the Sunday before Nov. 11.
During the ceremony, a parade would set out from the local armoury and wend its way through the streets to the cenotaph. Those marching included a band; the current members of the Canadian armed forces, uniformed young men and women; a contingent from the Canadian Legion; the Boy Scouts; and most importantly veterans.
This last group was made up of men dressed not in uniform, but in suits and overcoats, windbreakers and blazers. White-haired, ruddy complexions and rheumy eyes, some stooped with the years, medals proudly displayed on aging chests, these men seemed lost in thought as they marched along the route.
Stoically they stood, regardless of the weather conditions for nothing could be as bad as what they had experienced. A moment or two in driving rain or biting wind was a small sacrifice to make to honour those who did not return – whose remains, if recovered, are buried in cemeteries in Europe.
As I looked at those men through my eyes, the eyes of a child, one thing all of the veterans in those parades had in common was that they were very much older than I was. For me, as a young boy, veterans were a generation or two removed. Not unexpectedly, as the years passed, the segment of the parade reserved for veterans got smaller and smaller as the older WW1 veterans passed away, and the WWII vets aged.
Sadly attendance at the service waned as members of my war-free generation took their places as captains of industry and elected officials and seemed to lose interest in the veterans and their fallen brothers. They were occupied with completing their education, establishing professions and starting families.
But then Canada became involved in the Gulf and Afghanistan Wars. The next couple of decades saw a new generation of Canadian war veterans returning from foreign conflicts, suffering from PTSD, physical wounds or in the worst cases not returning.
Now as I look at these returning war veterans through adult eyes, as I watch them mourning their fallen comrades, I am moved by just how young and fresh these brave men and women are. I understand that soldiers sent to war and perhaps killed in action have always been young, but I was younger. Now that I'm older the waste of youth and potential hits home as it did not before. Will we never learn?