Editorial: 100 years later…

THE WAR IS OVER – There was a different front page planned for The Leader on Friday, November 11, 1918. The inside pages of the November 11th issue continued to report the usual “war news” with headlines only too common over the last four years: Canadians Under Heavy Fire. British Line Holding. Counter Attacks Begin With Success. Pages two and three carried Conscription notices and calls to purchase Victory Bonds. Ads still in place asked citizens to create care packages for “our boys in the trenches.” But on November 11, 1918, just after 5 a.m., word was hastily telegraphed to North America. Minutes later special Royal Dispatches arrived in Ottawa. Within hours, officials and international reporters contacted papers like the Leader. The editor of the Leader hurriedly scrapped his planned front page. So urgent was the news that there was no time to remove the every day ads already set in place. Only one headline mattered on that Friday, November 11, 1918: THE WAR IS OVER – Editors were in so much of a rush that no one corrected, or apparently even noticed, the misspelling of that crucial headline.

One hundred years ago on November 11th, 1918, the guns fell silent along the crucial 245 mile Front. The “war to end all wars”, the Great War, was over. Some chose to call it a “global conflict centered in Europe” that would, once and for all, finally end the battles between European powers. And surely, given those terrible four years, the carnage, the destruction of the world as it had once been, surely there could never be another such conflict.

The military and civilian casualties on both sides of the 1914-18 conflict combined totaled over 37 million people. Over 16 million of these actually died. Canada’s population in 2018 is almost 37 million people. Viewed in perspective, the numbers become even more staggering. But that price paid was not enough. The promise of peace in 1918 did not last.

Barely 25 years later, the world would become embroiled again in global conflict, struggling against the forces of fascism, imperialism, and tyranny. Between 1939-45 an estimated 50-80 million more were killed. The “war to end all wars” seemed, by then, to be little more than a “fool’s dream”.

But maybe the wars had a legacy that few expected. Part of Canada’s identity, and of our emergence as a nation, were forged on the battlefields of Europe. After the two world wars, this country’s ability to keep the peace, or create peace, further shaped, and continues to shape what it means to be Canadian. From Korea to Cyprus, Kosovo to Afghanistan, and most recently into Mali, Canada has worked to keep the peace.

Remembrance Day may not just be a time to remember the fallen, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Perhaps it is also a time to honour the fallen for those precious things that they saved with their sacrifice: freedom and democracy, the right to be whom you wish to be, to practice your faith, to speak openly and freely, to choose how you will be governed, and by whom. We owe a debt to those who freely paid the ultimate price to preserve this great nation of Canada.

This November 11th, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, remember those who served, and those who died. Honour them. Then live up to the causes for which they died. Once they had dreams too.

We were daring young men
With hearts of gold…
And most of us never got old.

From Billy Bishop Goes to War – John MacLachlan Gray