It was 1947 and Mrs. G. was proving to be a sullen, uncommunicative Toronto neighbour. As a young child moving with my family into a house next door, I wondered why she never said hello to any of us. Weeks later, my father explained that Mrs. G. had lost her only son, a young man killed in that August, 1942, raid on the French port of Dieppe. She had become locked into her grief and self-isolated from the neighbourhood; some part of her must have died with her beloved boy that terrible day on a faraway foreign shore. This reality became my first personal exposure to the tragedy of war. I know that I must have pondered why countries had to fight one another, but I lacked the vocabulary then to give voice to my questions.
In midlife, I began studies for the ministry. In academia, I found answers both in the Bible and in the writings of two of the church’s early theologians, Augustine and Aquinas. James writes:
Where do you think all those appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? —-You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. (James 4: 1,3, a paraphrased translation–The Message, Eugene H. Peterson.)
Writing from North Africa in the turbulent declining years of the Roam Empire (c400 CE), Augustine recognized the importance of personal pacifism, but also the legitimacy of war under certain conditions. Over eight centuries later, Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Italian scholar, expanded the philosophy of what both men called “a just war.” For Christian nations, armed conflict was justified to protect the innocent. Rationale for such a war would be based on these criteria:
—Is the proposed war being declared by lawful, authority?
—Is there a valid cause worthy of fighting and sacrifice?
—Will the proposed conflict be limited in scope, proportionally matching the level of the threat, doing only what is necessary to succeed, but not beyond?
—Is this war coming about only as a reluctant last resort when all diplomacy and negotiations fail?
On June 6th, Canada will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy and the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe. In every sense, this was surely a critical and essential chapter in a “just war.” On that fateful morning, 150,000 Allied soldiers stormed ashore along a 100Km front, catching the sleepy German defenders completely off guard. About 14,000 Canadians took part in the assault, with the capture of Juno Beach being their targeted objective. Offshore, 110 ships of the Royal Canadian Navy, manned by its 10,000 sailors, supported the attack. Overhead, fifteen squadrons of RCAF fighters and fighter bombers softened up Nazi defensive positions and drove away marauding
Luftwaffe planes. Paratroopers landed behind enemy lines to wreak havoc. (The Canadian Encyclopedia—Richard Foot.)
On the first day alone, our soldiers took 1074 casualties, including 359 dead. In contrast, in that first failed assault against the Atlantic Wall at Dieppe two years earlier, Mrs. G.’s son was among the 5,000 Canadians who launched the raid and then was among the 907 who fell in battle. A further 2,462 were either wounded or captured, an appalling loss. Historians generally conclude that while Dieppe was certainly a military catastrophe, lessons learned there led to improved Allied preparation and tactics for D-Day. (Wikipedia)
I never learned the name of my neighbour’s lost son nor his age. One can assume that, like many who died at Dieppe or Juno, they were likely still youngsters, perhaps eighteen, nineteen or twenty; young lads who, overnight, became men. Their sacrifice was not in vain. On June 6th, we must pause to remember in gratitude. Mrs. G. certainly never forgot.