I recently attended Capt. Bird’s presentation on the Battle of the Scheldt. It was his second historical review I’ve heard, the first one was about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. (Very interesting by the way, a lot of research put together, organized and enhanced with personal details and stories of local people. So if you ever get a chance to attend his presentations, I definitely recommend doing so).
And I can’t quit thinking about how different the approaches to military victories, achievements and celebrations are here and in Russia.
Here in Canada, Remembrance Day is something that unites people within the country and units Canadians with people from other Allied countries. I feel that during the days preceding the Remembrance Day people here pay tribute and try to demonstrate gratitude to those who with their lives paid for peace, freedom and prosperity for their families and generations to come. On this day here people celebrate the input of their ancestor into a big common cause.
It feels here, in the country that’s not built of muscles and weapons, but rather is a strong civil society built around particular values, that sometimes peaceful people are surprised with how much Canadian soldiers have achieved in the wars (just because the country feels quite peaceful).
On the other side, for Russia (and the Soviet Union before) any kind of military holiday is always a way to demonstrate muscles, threaten the world and show their weapons. But that military pride is also the glue that keeps people together. It becomes even worse during crisis times when past military achievements are used to take attention away from current problems.
Another big difference struck me when I was watching a movie, shown during the presentation, in which the author acknowledges the mistakes made by the Allies and the Canadian Infantry. The documentary was made in the '80s, and already by then mistakes weren’t covered and turned into confidential files buried in archives.
Russia hardly ever recognizes mistakes, even if they cost millions of lives. You probably heard that the Soviet Union lost from 26 to 42 million people (8.7-27 million combatants) to the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945, the USSR involvement with Second World War), while Nazi Germany, that time's aggressor and the loser in the Second World War, lost about seven million (3.2-4.7 million combatants). To me it sounds like something went seriously wrong there, but up to these days we mainly celebrate the fact that Nazis were conquered, and a lot of secret documents still haven’t been revealed or researched.
The war generation is almost gone. The faces on those old black and white pictures fade out of our memories and our kids don’t feel the connection to those who lost their lives so we could live.
There are less and less Second World War veterans around. Of course, none of those witnessed the first one. And as they are gone there is nobody to remember what they went through and the price the humanity paid for the life we have today. There is nobody to keep us from repeating the same mistakes, from getting greedy and hungry for power again.
It’s easier to thank your grandfather, than to be grateful to people you’ve never known. And I’m afraid once the big-war generation is gone, our remembrance will turn into empty words. What can be done? Despite all my controversial feelings about the Russian approach to war remembrance and victory celebration, one thing I find quite awesome.
They started the Immortal Regiment. It’s a new tradition that recognizes those who fought in the Great Patriotic War. On Victory Day (May 9 there, the day of the end of the war in Europe) millions of people all across the globe parade with portraits of their Soviet ancestors who fought in that war. I don’t know what exactly it is, but it does help to build that bridge between generations and connect younger people to the history of the 20th century.
But if you have a friend or a relative who still preserves the flashbacks from those heroic and scary military days, find the time and talk to them. Remember, be grateful that we have what we have today and do your best to not let it happen again.
I feel that’s the best way to exercise military pride.