After war: finding a common humanity

What is the impact of war on you and your children?

Do you find yourself torn about war? When is it right and okay? If it’s ever right and okay? You’re not alone.

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As a Jewish person, Rebecca Van Der Giessen says that she’s torn.

“On one hand, I stand for peace not war. On the other hand, I feel that Hitler needed to be stopped, otherwise there would possibly have been more genocide of the Jewish people and tragic circumstances world-wide.

“My father was in the Navy and was sent to Hawaii after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Wanting to spare me and perhaps himself the horror of those memories, he was always reluctant to speak about his war time experiences. As a teenager living in New York, I was part of the anti-war movement in the late ‘60’s and protested America’s participation in the Vietnam War,” she says.

I have found, too, that for different reasons I have a dilemma with war. My parents and grandparents, loyal Canadian citizens, were amongst the 21,000 people (including families from Bowen Island) wrongfully incarcerated by the Canadian government.

As a child, I was taught in school that war was necessary and that Canadians were part of the heroes and heroines of the Second World War and on the “right” side.

When I reflected on history and the circumstances of my family, I realized that I had family members on all “sides” of the war. My own family were loyal citizens of Canada and I had relatives who were loyal American citizens who were also wrongfully incarcerated after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And as Americans, they had figuratively dropped the bomb on their family in Hiroshima. My grandfather’s youngest brother was within 500 metres of the hypocentre of that bomb and survived, as did his family. I began to question what being a citizen meant, whether war was ever the “right” action. My family circumstances gave me a different perspective on war.

A few years ago, Rebecca and I were brought together at an event held annually on Remembrance Day on Nexwlélexm(one of the original names of Bowen Island before colonial times). It is an event for people who want to remember those on all sides who died in all wars and to take a stand for global peace. 

I shared the story of my family. Rebecca shared the story of her son in law’s village, Deline on the shores of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. The Sahtu Dene men mined and transported radioactive uranium from their land. Unbeknownst to them, Canada sold that uranium to the US for the creation of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. As a result of their participation in breathing in and handling the radioactive materials, almost all the men from the village died of cancer, leaving the village without fathers and grandfathers. Many women and children have also died.

Despite their own tragic circumstances, in a remarkable display of their compassion, empathy and belief that all are brothers and sisters in humanity, the Sahtu Dene of Deline travel to Japan meet survivors of the Hiroshima bomb. 

At an upcoming event called “War, Remembrance and Reconciliation: Creating a Peaceful Future for All,” this award-winning and inspiring film, “Village of Widows” chronicles the Sahtu Dene’s struggle to come to terms with the impacts of the war on them and their traditional homelands. It will be shown on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Belterra Common House (by donation), followed by  community discussion on how war has impacted each one of us and what can be done to heal our past and move forward to create an exciting, bright, peaceful future.

Everyone is welcome at what promises to be a powerful evening of insight, inspiration and healing.


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