Editorial: Remembering 1939 like it was yesterday

Sam Colbert
November 15, 2012
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

A few weeks after Canada jumped to the aid of its allies in the Second World War, The Silhouette published issue number one in its tenth volume. On the front page of the Oct. 6, 1939 edition, there was a story about the opening of McMaster’s branch of the Canadian Officers Training Corps. Students were invited to register in the for-credit course. Passing the exams qualified them for the rank of lieutenant in the infantry.

Some things have changed since then. But other things are quite similar.

On the second yellowed page of Volume 10, I found an editorial, written by someone holding the job that I’m holding now. I’ve authored pieces about Halloween costumes, Woody Allen and bacon. This guy wrote about a month-old global war.

It wasn’t the article I expected. It could have been written last week. Wars don’t fix societies, or their economies, it said. Wars don’t create freedom. And while the winners of wars might intend to pacify and rebuild the losers, it usually doesn’t work out so nicely.

The Silhouette called on the United States to keep out of WWII. “Democracy might well fail to survive a completely worldwide war such as the last one,” it said, and America would be needed to pick up the pieces at the war’s end, restoring democratic values across the world.

Canadians of the 1930s weren’t ignorant as they headed into the fray against Germany. They weren’t brainwashed. Canada’s independence from Britain was too recent for it to hold back from supporting its ally, but its citizens had doubts.

But the doubts didn’t win after the war. For good or bad, America and its supporters are still overseas, pushing democracy on their adversaries.

Remembrance Day was last weekend. Veterans of the twentieth century’s great wars are becoming fewer and fewer. Some of us students might have stopped to reflect. Our grandparents or great grandparents went through hardships we won’t have to endure. We’re meant to be thankful, knowing full well that we’ll never understand what it was like to be young in 1939.

But remembrance isn’t always about acknowledging how our time is different than theirs. Sometimes, it’s about realizing how it’s the same.

So be thankful, but not dismissive. The deaths didn’t stop in 1945. We’re not here at McMaster to register in Training Corps courses, but we’ve got a lot to learn about the world.

 

An editorial entitled “About the War” was published on page two of the Oct. 6, 1939 issue of The Silhouette, less than a month after Canada declared their participation in the Second World War. The text of it appears below. 

Canada is at war. Probably you have heard about it. Now, no one in Canada can reasonably believe that war can solve the ills of the economic and social world. Nor can democracy really be saved by war. For the purposes of prosecuting the campaign the very principles of democracy for which it is fighting have to be scrapped, with an inevitable setback as a consequence.

But the British Empire has seen fit to register its active disapproval of Germany’s international tactics. Canada has thrown in her lot with the Empire, and no matter what our attitude may be toward the idea of war, it behooves us as citizens of the Dominion to lend our entire and unreserved support to Canada in her time of need. For the immediate present the need for university students as active fighting men is not great, but enthusiastic participation in the Officers’ Training Corps and earnest study in our academic courses, especially in the sciences, constitute our most effective contribution to the cause. Determined preparation should be the keynote of our immediate program.

This with the hope and the prayer that the victors (as it appears most likely the Allies shall be) will deal with the conquered nation so humanely and so rationally as to obviate the very causes of this militaristic socialism against which we are fighting.

But that is only a hope, and it may be dispersed at any time. An enemy blunder may at any moment arouse a blind hate that will seek to crush to extinction all that opposes it. May we express our sincere hope, then, that the United States shall keep out of the war. England and the Empire obligated herself to preserve the sanctity of Poland. We are fighting this war for honourable as well as for selfish reasons, and it is, therefore, our struggle. Much as the active support of the United States would help in our immediate crisis, the larger opportunity for it to help will come after the war is over. Democracy might well fail to survive a completely worldwide war such as the last one. It would be after the war is over that a great and democratic neutral power could aid the other great powers to re-establish soundly the principles of democracy throughout the world. We feel that the preservation of an enormous area of calm sanity and democratic stability is necessary in the cause of freedom.

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