“A year from now half of you will be dead,” said Bomber Harris to my father’s RCAF squadron 408.
“He got our attention,” Pop said.
Clive Arkoll Bolton of Russell, Manitoba was the only one of Dad’s crew to die, when he took a flight with another crew. At every memorial service I attend, when we sing our national anthem, the words in my head are: “Oh, Canada! How could you possibly find it acceptable to send my father and his buddies off, fully knowing they had a 50 per cent chance (half Kamikaze) of dying?”
Young Clive, a wonderful, handsome character whom Dad was very close to, popular with the girls, lies in a cold grave in a British cemetery in Germany. After every bomb- ing run, Dad would look out over empty table after empty table where fellows he knew well had dined the day before.
It is a tragedy when someone is killed in traffic. It is murder when they’re pushed into it. Dad wasn’t drafted, but some were into the army. Canadian women waved white feathers under the noses of men on the street out of uniform – some of whom were home on leave – to goad them into war.
They died for us, but we killed them by asking, forcing, expecting or shaming them into walking, flying or sailing into certain grave danger; and we should feel guilty as well as grateful. Otherwise, Remembrance Day is just a celebration of the necessity and effectiveness of war; of human sacrifice – our ancient, ultimately cannibalistic lust – to lubricate the cogs of our “interests” abroad with expendable blood, gladly offered by those of both genders who will not shed a single drop of their own.
We should equally remember each November those we also killed on the other side. We don’t, but the veterans we solely honour do.
“I hope we never go to war with Germany again,” an old WWII soldier said to me. “You know why?”
“Because they’re too goddamn good at it.”
Long-time North Delta resident Arnie Knudsen, whom we lost just a few years ago, – a veteran of the Spanish civil war and an unappreciated “D-Day Dodger” (Italy WWII) – pulled a picture he always carried with him of a young German officer who looked like a really nice guy from his wallet to show me. Arnie took it off the man’s body after he shot him as he came around the corner of a building in an Italian town and lifted his rifle a little slower.
“Good-lookin’ fella, eh?”
WWI soldiers played soccer, sang, drank and exchanged gifts with the enemy between, and sometimes even in, each other’s trenches during short, unofficial truces at Christmas.
When Dad was stationed at 3 Wing, the RCAF station at Zwiebrucken, Germany, 14 years after the war, many towns still had large areas of crumbled brick from the Allied bombing he and his fellows had participated in. (Dad took part in the firebombing of many German cities, including Hamburg, and bombed several French towns after D-Day.)
The Germans we slaughtered millions of – whom had been our irredeemable, loathed, arch enemies – were to my naïve, youthful surprise wonderful people who freely accessed the air force base, skated at the base rink, inter- married and were already our close friends and allies.
And one of our most important and vital WWII allies – who lost many, many millions more than any other country in our joint struggle – was manufactured into our despised and equally “evil” – indeed Satanic – arch enemy almost the second we stopped killing Germans. Even as a kid, I knew there was something very wrong, contrived, and disingenuous about the way we carry out both war and peace at our colossal expense.
America’s next War President will be asking soon for our help. And almost certainly we will say yes.
Don DeMille, via email