Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Choosing our war heroes


It is, I suppose, an indication of how lucky I am to have been born in the mid-Fifties in Canada it is only this week that I realized that boys I have watched grow up could soon go off to war.

Little guys whacking away with hockey sticks on the outdoor rink in North Hatley, barely able to stand on new skates, their noses running from the cold and from the effort of staying upright.

They're six feet tall now, soldiers in the regular forces and the reserves, but in my mind I suppose they'll be boys forever.

This realization was, I know, an early and a common one for people of my parents' and grandparents' generations. But I've lived nearly half a century in blissful ignorance of this particular fear and pain: boys from the village, marching off to war.

I'd felt pretty hawkish about Saddam Hussein up until that point. I think the world will be a better place without him in Iraq. But getting rid of him means that boys from somebody's village or neighborhood will have to walk into the worst of what the Butcher of Baghdad can throw at them.

I wouldn't make much of a commander my resolve about taking Saddam down wobbled considerably midweek at the thought of asking the kids from the local peewee hockey team to do the deed.

But maybe that's exactly what we need in our commanders.

I once read an account of the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War. The author talked about how famous the Southern general George Pickett became for his murderous charge up a Union-occupied hill with his massed forces. His casualties were terribly numerous. But everlasting glory has been Pickett's in the minds of many admirers.

Much less celebrated in history's eyes was a quiet Vermont general on the Union side. George Stannard had positioned his soldiers carefully on the hill and dug them in as quickly and as deeply as he could. He kept their heads down and waited until just the right moment when he launched a flanking attack on Pickett that turned the tide of the battle and, some would say, the war.

His Vermont volunteers suffered minimal losses by Civil War standards in spite of their inexperience and the sustained viciousness of the fighting that day. Stannard's peers recognized his brilliance and his troops adored him.

But history remembers the deadly dash of General Pickett leading thousands to their deaths, not the Vermonter who used all his skill to keep his men from harm's way as much as possible and yet to bring victory in the end.

I'd like to think that generals cut from Stannard's blue serge cloth lead the Canadian Forces. And I'd like to think that we can still dodge this one and the boys who learned to skate on our village rink won't have to march over the sands of Iraq.

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