a visit to juno beach

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Children kicking a football around, kites taking flight. Sunshine, blue-green sea and stretches of sandy beach. Juno beach is almost just like any other stunning seaside day spot except that for Canadians it marks an important historical event. It is the beach where the Canadians landed and fought in Normandy on D-Day in WWII. In school we were taught about Canada’s involvement but it wasn’t really a topic in our home. No one in my family volunteered for the cause. Canada for them was this promised land of peace where they found refuge from violent persecution in Eastern Europe not that long before. One of the cultural values they (a very general “they”) held was pacifism – the belief that killing is wrong, no matter what. Canadians also do not traditionally jump into war very lightly. What hope did I have but to develop a moral compass that questions the right for me to value my life above someone else’s by taking theirs from them? Surely peaceful resolution is more desirable if at all possible.

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While at the Juno Centre I read about WWII very differently than I did when it came from words in a textbook. My french teacher in secondary school used to tell us stories about how she had travelled France and met people who loved Canadians because of their involvement in liberating their country. Being here, the stories come alive … and I think of my own pacifism. I don’t think I could take a life intentionally, even if mine was in danger. It isn’t war that I find difficult. It is the attitude behind so much of it that I hear in people around me – my life, my family, my culture deserves to live more than you do. You are worthless on this earth and would be better off dead.

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They say that the victors write the history books. I have learnt that everyone has their own view of history, usually making their own culture look good. What I appreciated about today was that although Canada put together the material for the memorial, they did not paint our nation in a perfect light. It speaks about the failed attempts and the high ratio of death (60% chance you would have died that day). It also shows what was learned from those mistakes that resulted in adapted strategies for success. Canada is not portrayed as the flawless hero.

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I still struggle with war. As I looked out over the beaches of Normandy and saw the recreational playground that exists so peacefully where there was once so much death I was challenged with what to think about the morality of it. Most wars do not end with pristine playgrounds where battlefields once were.

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