Perceptions of war

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Reflections of past and present Canadian involvement in conflict

Lest we forget, lest we repeat. / John Kapp

Lest we forget, lest we repeat. / John Kapp

The Graduate Students’ Historical Society put on an event titled Perceptions of War on Nov.10. The event featured five speakers – two veterans, a history professor, and two graduate students – lecturing on a number of topics relating to war and veteran affairs.

The evening started with Tyler Matthies, a veteran of the NATO mission in former Yugoslavia. Matthies told the crowd of mainly academics about his experience in Canada’s military apparatus and his role as a peacekeeper. Matthies spoke on his experience in Bosnia, the region of Yugoslavia in which he was stationed. Telling the audience about his living arrangements, his role in winning hearts and minds, Matthies displayed a great degree of confidence in the morality of Canada’s role in the former Yugoslavia.

The head of the history department, Dr. Raymond Blake, spoke next that night. Blake’s lecture focused on the role of veterans out of war following their deployment. Focusing largely on the First World War, Blake stresses that the Canadian welfare state would not be as it is without the struggles fought by veterans upon returning home. In the early days of Canadian foreign policy, Blake informed the crowd that there was little consideration for what was to be done with veterans returning from war. Blake described organized veterans of the First World War as, “one of the core groups contributing to the new idea of what the state should provide.” In this view, veterans of the First World War fought some of their hardest battles against the state for which they fought for years prior – there is something deeply tragic about this. Dr. Blake tied this mistreatment of veterans in the past to current controversies over state funding of veteran welfare programs.

Sessional fine arts lecturer and MA student Catherine McComb read a wartime letter from her grandfather to his brother as the third lecture of the evening. McComb’s letter provided a human touch to events too often sanitized by generations of historical writing. McComb’s grandfather was a machine-gunner with the First Canadian Motorized Machinegun Brigade. His letter reflected the chaos of trying to play the role of mobile fighter in a largely immobile war. Bogged down, under fire, abandoned by the imperial government, McComb somehow survived this and being shot three times before returning to Canada.

Sebastian Potvin is an education student at the University and second lieutenant with the Regina Rifles. Potvin focused on the different ways war can be perceived by those participating or not participating. The lecture seemed to focus on media images of war and how this affects perceptions of war.

The final speaker of the night was Rylan Betker, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Betker spoke to the nature of the soldier out of war. While Betker’s presentation was fairly informal, this informality was a welcome relief from the dryness of lecturing on a century old war. Betker’s story is that of the man who matures at war, or preparing for war. After returning from it, he has a renewed love for aspects of Canadian culture we may take for granted – specifically porcelain toilets and running water.

It was a great relief to attend this lecture series and hear lectures from veterans and academics from a wide variety of backgrounds. Expecting five lectures extolling the virtues of Canadian foreign wars, it was a great pleasure to hear five lectures explaining the lived lives of Canadian war veterans.

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