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The year of the war anniversary

By: David Haas

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 06:00 am

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The frequency of war in humanity's past affords event anniversaries pretty much any day. This year has significant centennial and decennial occasions.

As a CBC broadcast reminded me, 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812. Formally that is. The peace treaty was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814. However it was not fully ratified until the following February, and in a world before electronic communications, word was slow to get around. The last fighting between regular forces of the former combatants took place in May 1815. The war was the second, and last, unsuccessful American foray seeking to take over Britain's northern colonies regardless of their inhabitants' wishes.

The great observance this year is the 100th anniversary of the First World War, on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and bombarded Belgrade. The conflict rapidly spun out of control. By November members of the Canadian Army Medical Corps were deployed in France. Many more Canucks were to follow. In discussing the world before the war, historian Barbara Tuchman said evocatively in 1962 that the cataclysmic conflict, “lies like a band of scorched earth dividing that time from ours.”

June 6 will mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day in northwest Europe, the invasion of the Nazi-held continent. After 11 months of brutal fighting the armies that poured through the gradually expanding bridgeheads met up with the Red Army on German soil. A special edition of the Canadian Army's newspaper The Maple Leaf proclaimed Germany's surrender with a front-page-filling single word in all capitals: KAPUT.

Less noted perhaps is the 60th anniversary of the fall of Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954. The French military strongpoint there had been established late the previous November. The Viet Minh took until mid-March to filter in an attack force, then unleashed an onslaught that in seven weeks crushed the French army and ended France's domination of Indochina.

Colonial subjects elsewhere got the message – their foreign overlords could be taken out. When British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan made his famous Wind of Change speech nearly six years later he was speaking of Africa, but Vietnam's valley of Dien Bien Phu has a good claim to being where the breeze picked up speed.

The carnage and devastation of war are oft decried. Yet the stark choice frequently offered was well put by Abraham Lincoln in 1865, late in America's Civil War, as lying between those who “would make war rather than let the nation survive” and others who “would accept war rather than let it perish.”

Canada did not ask for America's liberation effort in 1812, nor did Belgium seek German invasion and occupation in 1914 nor again in 1940. Then there are the wars of national liberation – in 1954 the French had no business ruling Indochina. Each time, as Lincoln observed, “the war came.”

Writer David Haas is a long-term St. Albert resident.


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