Monday, November 10, 2008

November 11th

I’ve been feeling a little stressed and overwhelmed with life lately, for one reason and another that I’m not going to get into. In times like this I tend to turn to old friends. Old friends in paper format that is. This month, I’ve been rereading the Anne of Green Gables series. As coincidence would have it, I made it to the eighth and final book today. Rilla of Ingleside is the only book named for a character other than Anne, focussing instead on her youngest daughter. Anne and Gilbert are still there, but the story is told from the perspective of a teenaged girl. It takes place during World War I, and tells the homefront story of the Canadian experience in a way that I have yet to find paralleled in any other book for young readers. Perhaps this is because Rilla of Ingleside is the only book about Word War I written by a Canadian woman who lived the experience. I love this book. I’ve been reading it regularly for years, and it never fails to provide me with a good cathartic cry, and a realization that my minor trials are as nothing compared to those who have gone before, even in our own safe Canadian world.

Rilla begins the story as a spoiled fifteen year-old baby of a large family. She is attending her first party, and peevish that she isn’t treated like a grown-up, or more specifically, with the respect shown to her older sisters. In other words, what we have here is a typical fifteen year-old. In this, she differs from her mother. Anne was never a typical girl. Neither, from my experience, were any of the other Lucy Maud Montgomery heroines. I think Rilla’s very normalcy fits the tone and the subject beautifully.

When war is declared, Rilla’s oldest brother, Jem, signs on to the army immediately. The family is plunged into the war. At first Rilla wallows in her own feelings of despair. Then, in watching her mother, her sisters, Jem’s fiancée faith, and other older friends, she begins to realize the necessity of developing a level of strength and faith, and of working, even on the homefront, toward a successful conclusion to the war. It is a coming of age story, but more than that, it is a heart wrenching glimpse into the world of those left behind in war. Lucy Maud Montgomery was a master of the personal and the homey, and she brings that power to play in this novel. I’ve been trying to describe a moment or a section, but I cannot paraphrase and do it justice.
Reading this book again, I have been thinking about how much the experience of being on the other side of the world from war has changed. In this book, when the characters get word of a great battle they read of it in a newspaper, and wait anxiously for a telegram telling them their loved one has been killed. The waiting goes on and on for days and weeks, never knowing anything. It is a much slower, more drawn out kind of pain. Now, we are bombarded continuously with video footage of war, in almost real time. When soldiers are killed their names are broadcast on the world news. There is an overabundance of information. I am not sure which is worse.

I recently also read Daughter of War, by Martha Skrypuch. This is a story of several teens who live through the Armenian Genocide in Turkey during World War I. This is a new book, and, in my opinion, one of the best new Canadian teen books of 2008. The story is told in an impersonal third person, that fits the sense of loss and disorientation of the main characters.

Kevork and Marta were orphans in a missionary run asylum until the Turkish army arrived and took all of the older inhabitants away. Somewhere on the death march to the desert, Kevork and Marta are separated. They love each other, and had promised their hearts to each other, so each longs to believe that the other is still alive. Kevork winds up in a place where, if he pretends to be what he is not, he can live in relative safety. Marta finds herself in a Harem, where she is impregnated. Both suffer atrocities of their own, and witness worse – cold-blooded killing of children, tortures and other attacks. Kevork, working to assist refugees sees all the horror of death. Yet, in their hope of finding each other again there is an element of hope in the narrative.
The book is definitely educational, in that it patently sets out to tell us something about a tragedy that is largely unknown in the North American world. However, I never felt that it descended into didacticism. It was a well told story, a gripping read, and a glimpse into yet another of the many horrors of war.

As Remembrance Day arrives, I feel like there is much that needs to be said, and that I don’t have the words. We find ourselves in a world in strife. Iraq and Afghanistan are no closer to peace than they were a year ago. There have been more deaths, more devastation. Has there been any progress toward rebuilding life in those countries? I haven’t seen any evidence of it. The Democratic Republic of Congo is gearing up again. While there hasn’t really been peace since the peace accords were signed in 2003 after the last war, and while the ongoing war has been the deadliest since WWII, with over 5.4 million casualties, things are again heating up. Bands of fighters from the Rwandan desecrations have been wreaking havoc in Eastern Congo, poachers and others trying to get at a resource that is used to make cell phones, as well as other important natural resources are causing chaos, and people are fleeing their homes and towns in multitudes. Prior to this latest build-up of violence, 45,000 people in this country were dying each and every month. There were at least 1.5 million internally displaced peoples, and 47% of the deaths were children. Rape and sexual violence are more prevalent in the Eastern Congo than anywhere else in the world. Since August there have been more than 50,000 new internally displaced people. Aid organizations are having difficulty reaching them because of the nature of the fighting. Risk of various diseases such as cholera is becoming increasingly dire to the people who, constantly on the move to escape the fighting, are living in crowded conditions without access to clean drinking water.

Yet, there is very little focus on this crisis in the mainstream media. Doctors Without Borders have good coverage. Amnesty International have some coverage. There have been brief articles, short reports, but not enough. Not enough focus on the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are dying, that millions are displaced, that the UN peace keepers have been there since 1999 continually saying they do not have enough support on the ground, and that they cannot do their job without more support. As of August 31 this year, they had 18,434 total uniformed personnel, including 16,667 troops, 702 military observers, 1,065 police; 937 international civilian personnel, 2,168 local civilian staff and 552 United Nations Volunteers. This, in a country about a quarter the size of the U.S.A., with a population of about 66,514,504 (or about twice that of Canada).

The outrage of the lack of interest in this devastation is something that I can`t find the words to express. That we live in a world where this is happening, and where very little is being done to stop it. It is so thoroughly shameful. World War I was meant to be the war to end all wars. It didn`t. Neither did World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam, Desert Storm, Sarajevo, Rwanda, Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq... the first Congo War, the second Congo War, or this Congo war. There is a futility to all wars because the violence of them begets nothing but more violence.

This Remembrance Day I will be remembering, as always, those who laid down their lives in wars, and those who survived to remember. But I will also be thinking about the wars being fought now, as I type, and about the people whose lives are being torn apart by a senseless greedy violence, by a hatred born of ages of hatred that went before, of the hundreds of thousands of women being raped, of the children being killed, left as orphans, or kidnapped and forced to fight and kill themselves. I will be remembering that remembrance is not only for those things which are past, but for those which are yet to come.


Marsha Skrypuch said...

Thanks for the kind words about Daughter of War!

Maggie said...

Sorry you're feeling stressed, Jen. Hope things get better soon. *hugs*

MadJenny said...

Marsha - Thanks for stopping by! It really is great to see books being written on this kind of subject for a younger audience.

Maggie - Thanks!

Marsha Skrypuch said...

A YA audience is more open minded than adult, which is why I love writing in the genre.