Back in the 1970’s I lived for a time in Oxford, England. While there I supplemented my lack of income by working as a bookkeeper/receptionist at a boat yard located on an idyllic little spot beside the Thames, just outside the city. The yard rented canal boats for those that viewed drifting around the inland waterways of England as a vacation not to be missed.
Before working at the boatyard I had no idea that so many rivers and waterways throughout England were connected and that it’s possible to travel around most of the country on a small boat. Vacationers would rent the boats for anything from a few days to multiple weeks. Handling your boat through locks, taking your meals at riverside pubs and looking for the perfect secluded spot to spend the night is part of the adventure in this unique way of discovering Britain.
I was in the office taking the particulars from a gentleman from Holland when the door opened and a tall fellow stepped in and, with an obviously Germanic accent, asked if this was the place to pick up the canal boat he’d reserved. The Dutch fellow went silent and walked away from my desk, his face like a stone as he stood off to one side and glared at the intruder. When I finished answering the German, I sent him out to collect his boat. The door to the office had no sooner closed behind when the Dutchman came back to life, looked at me and, in a voice that could have scorched the walls, said, “Those fucking Germans still think they own the world.”
This was close to thirty years after the war and a stark reminder to me about the difference between a North American’s experiences of war compared to those whose country’s soil was soaked with blood. We sent our troops overseas and felt the loss of loved ones. Britain had the Nazis knocking on their door with bombs and missiles, suffering direct loss of life and endless deprivations. Worse still were the European countries that had Nazi troops on their soil, grinding the population under their boots as they looted everything in sight while rounding up Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and opponents for one-way trips to extermination camps.
As appalling as warfare is, the period between 1939 and 1945 reminds us that war is not always avoidable. The mass destruction caused by WWII is small compared to the devastation that would have been unleashed if Hitler had achieved his goal of world domination.
It’s November 11th. Let’s remember that the Nazis and their modern equivalents weren’t beaten by words – they were beaten on the battlefields with the hope that we could have a world where no one supports power mad megalomaniacs as leaders of their countries. It’s November the 11th.
It’s a time for remembering.