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Lest we forget

Friday marked Remembrance Day, and once again, despite the weather, Bermuda’s war veterans marched and were honoured for their sacrifice and for the sacrifices of those who went to war and never returned.

Each year, the number of veterans from the Second World War dwindles, and the time is not that far off when Bermuda will have no more veterans from that great conflict. It is therefore more important now than ever before to remember the men and women who went to war in both the First and Second World Wars, because their contributions made the world we live in now.

To be sure, we honour the veterans of the wars that have followed, including Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands, Afghanistan and the two Gulf wars. The sacrifices in those cases were the same and there are Bermudians who risked their lives, and in some cases were wounded. Certainly, they bear the scars of conflict in the same way their predecessors did. But no conflict since the Second World War has had the moral clarity of that terrible conflict, and none had such a clear-cut result. The Second World War was truly a fight between good and evil, between democracy and dictatorship.

Some of the allies in that war may have been truly imperfect, notably the Soviet Union, and the democracy that existed in 1939 was much narrower than the one that exists today. The idea of self-determination too was not fully realised, and depended much more on the colour of your skin and where you lived than it does now.

But the Second World War was fought by the democratic allies for those ideals and values, and once fought, the returning veterans, in Bermuda and elsewhere, were right to argue that the ideals that were fought for had to be applied to all, as they eventually were. So in that sense, the war made Bermuda a better place, and for that Bermuda should thank those members of the military who fought for a freedom that not all of them fully enjoyed. And even then, it was a better alternative than that avowed by the racial supremacists of the Third Reich and the militarists of Imperial Japan.

The great miracle of the Second World War was the rehabilitation of Germany and Japan and the conversion of those defeated dictatorships into fully functioning democracies that were also successful practitioners of free market economies.

That event alone made the world safer, despite the onset of the Cold War, while the creation of the United Nations and the move to self determination and the break-up of the European empires are also direct results of the war, and have also made the world a better and more secure place, despite the small conflicts that continue to erupt. There has been no worldwide conflagration in 66 years.

Even today, the Arab Spring has its roots in the Second World War, and not just in Libya where the reappearance of names like Benghazi and Tripoli to the headlines hearkened back to the North African campaign of the earlier war. More importantly, not only did countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt become independent as a result of the principles of the Second World War, but the ideals of at least some of those who have overthrown dictators share the democratic ideals that were enunciated and defended in the Second World War.

It is dangerous to make direct comparisons between historical events of course. The creation of Israel, the legacy of the Cold War and the rise of militant Islam are all genuine factors today. But the march towards democracy and justice continues, in North Africa and elsewhere. And for that, we owe an incalculable debt to the men and women who started that march, many of whom did not return, in the two World Wars.

Leading Seaman Ivan Whitney Tucker points to his name on the War Veterans memorial following the Remembrance Day parade held on the Cabinet grounds. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published November 14, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 14, 2011 at 9:31 am)

Lest we forget

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