COLUMN: Lessons from war must not be forgotten

World War II ended 73 years ago and the remaining veterans are now in their early 90s or older

Summerland’s V.E. Day observance on Sunday did not draw a large crowd.

Members of the Royal Canadian Legion Br. 22, the 902 Nighthawk Air Cadets and some members of the community were at Canyon View Cemetery to remember and to light candles to place on the graves of veterans.

Only a few years ago, attendance at the V.E Day event was much larger.

For most of us, events from World War II are removed from our own experiences.

The war ended 73 years ago and the remaining veterans of that war are now in their early 90s or older.

For the rest of us, the war belongs to another era.

Revisiting this part of history is uncomfortable, especially for those of us, myself included, who are part of a pacifist tradition.

But unless we take time to remember and learn the lessons of the war, we could see similar events repeating themselves.

V.E. Day marks the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, on May 8, 1945.

The fighting continued in the Pacific for several months and the final end of the war did not occur until Sept. 2, 1945, six years and one day after the war began.

The global death toll during those six war years is estimated at between 50 and 85 million.

Those at the V.E. Day observance, especially the veterans, treat the event as a solemn occasion, not a celebration.

It is a time to reflect on the devastating effects of the war and to consider ways to prevent another war from occurring in the future.

Wars don’t just happen.

People don’t simply wake up one morning and decide to do battle.

While the start and end dates are clearly defined, the factors leading up to the outbreak of World War II had been building for many years.

The seeds of war are planted when one side or one group feels wronged or threatened by another.

A perceived threat, presented with a message of extreme urgency, can easily result in increased tensions.

Add to that a growing sense of nationalism and the conditions are right for violence.

Long before the first shots of World War II were fired, these conditions were developing in Europe, and over time the level of tension grew.

Could this tension have been calmed in the years leading up to World War II?

Was there a point, prior to Sept. 1, 1939, when war became inevitable?

These questions are not merely an academic or philosophical exercise.

Some of the same factors in place in the years leading up to World War II are playing out today.

One does not need to look far to see examples of people who are increasingly concerned about perceived threats, in Canada and internationally.

Over the past few years, I have been noticing harsh, emotionally charged responses from people who earlier did not speak out as passionately about causes or ideologies.

Something has changed in the tone of our dialogues.

And we are also witnessing the rise of nationalist groups around the world, including some militant nationalists.

So far, they are considered fringe movements, but their presence today is greater than even a few years ago.

Are we seeing the precursors to another war, on a scale similar to World War II?

Or is there a way we can, even now, calm the heightening tensions and possibly prevent history from repeating itself?

Questions such as these are why it is important to observe V.E. Day and other uncomfortable parts of war history.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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