Most Canadian families have been touched by the Second World War in some way, whether through a parent or grandparent who served in our armed forces, or a relative murdered by the genocidal Nazi regime.
But like all memories, our recollection of that conflict fades with time. People my age may try, but we cannot truly fathom its horror. Our connection to the past is through stories, passed down from generation to generation, not the visceral lived experience of our grandparents.
The existential threat of fascism that drove our relatives to put their lives in danger, storm the beaches of Normandy, sail into dangerous waters, is for most of us, a distant memory.
Most of our generation has been fortunate enough to have avoided experience with war. The stories passed down are told less and less as more veterans pass away every year. The memory of why they fought — and what they fought — recedes.
“Evil” is a term that’s not often used these days by serious people. It’s fashionable to think of the world as various shades of grey, and for the most part that is an accurate depiction.
But the notion that evil does not exist in our world is a delusion. The notion that reason and logic will always triumph is a fantasy. We hope that the fascist menace vanquished by past generations is gone for good.
Unfortunately, these illusions are beginning to crumble. We are starting to see that evil is still with us, and growing stronger.
We see it in the violence inflicted upon Jewish worshippers in Pittsburg, Muslims in Quebec City, women at a Florida yoga studio, and pedestrians on Toronto’s Yonge Street.
We see it in unprompted, unrelenting hatred spewed across social media, the swastikas spray-painted on synagogues.
We see it in the politicians around the world inciting their followers to violence towards fellow humans who look, sound, and act differently.
Our grandparents saw this evil too. Their response was not to surrender. It was to stand up and fight it, giving their lives to defeat it if necessary.
The veterans we honour today fought against a poison that turned neighbour against neighbour. They fought a fascist ideology that declared whole groups of people unworthy of basic dignity based on their race, faith, or creed.
The monstrous ideas they defeated did not disappear, they merely retreated into the shadows. Now they are re-emerging, and we are confronted with some simple but important questions: will we honour the sacrifice of our ancestors? Will we have the same moral determination and clarity that they had?
How we answer these questions will determine what sort of world we pass on to our children and grandchildren, just as those who fought fascism determined what sort of world we would inherit.