There are certain shitty acts that rise above the general hubbub of antisocial imbecility and manage to be peculiarly, painfully upsetting, even though far less severe, objectively, than the murders, rapes, child abuse and so on that usually grab the headlines. They shouldn’t hit you so hard, really, not given what you’re generally prepared to absorb and shrug off, but they catch you unprepared, and thus penetrate through chinks in your armour.
Just today, for example, I thought I’d cheer myself up by watching a YouTube video on Quokkas, those amazingly cheerful and guileless Australian marsupials that I blogged about a few months ago – a proven grump reliever – only to learn from the clip that tourists have been viciously harming the little creatures, playing a cruel trick they call “Quokka Soccer” when the unsuspecting animals approach, full of their usual good-natured curiosity. “Quokka Soccer”. Can you imagine? It hurts just to hear about it, doesn’t it? See, the news of the latest killing downtown ricochets off the defensive plating, you’re ready for it, but some yobbo kicking a friendly little Quokka to death? Nope. Didn’t see that coming. It blasted right through the armour, in through the front and straight out the back, right where the Rhino got the javelin.
Just a couple of hours later I get this bulletin from my home town:
Halifax naval memorial vandalized with anti-war slogans, anarchy symbols
I suppose the vandals, apart from enjoying the usual thrills and delights of an especially heartless act of desecration, would claim some kind of point was being made, some sort of attack on the banal glorification of war that such monuments are often said to represent. Or something like that. They did write “Fuck the wars” with their spray cans, waxing philosophical. Well, “fuk”, actually, they misspelled it.
Yeah, well, I’m sure they’re young and all, and you know how it is, when you’re young and full of new ideas, you think you have it all in the proper perspective, right, and it’s only natural at that stage to feel withering contempt for everything that was ever done or believed in by all those poor misguided slobs who came and went before you finally arrived and figured it all out. Remember that feeling?
No? No, probably you don’t. Me neither, not quite like that, though I was not unimpressed with myself as a young man.
The monument defaced last night commemorates the maritime casualties from both World Wars, but particularly those sailors who were killed during the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII. It faces out towards the infinite sea from its location on the shore of Point Pleasant Park, where it’s been in its current form since a couple of years after I was born. We were always on our bikes in the Park during the summer, and we probably saw the memorial four or five times a week, with its tall cross, and the brass panels inscribed with hundreds upon hundreds of names. I can remember pausing many times at its base, it was a nice spot to stop, and sometimes we read the names, many of which matched the familiar surnames of kids who went to school with us. There they all were, able seamen, stokers, signalmen, engine room artificers, over 3,100 names in all, I just read today.
Halifax is a navy town, and I was always fascinated with the history, and the key role my middling but strategic home town played in the longest battle of the most catastrophic war in history. The Battle of the Atlantic lasted the duration, almost six full years, with constant, ongoing hostilities stretching pretty much from the first day of the war to the last. Like the much less lengthy Battle of Britain, it was a campaign upon which everything turned. To lose the battle for the sea lanes of the North Atlantic was to lose the war in Europe to the Nazis, and in the throes of preventing that horror, Canada eventually assembled the third largest navy in the world. With the sole and debatable exception of what went on in Hell-scapes like Stalingrad, the long, dangerous North Atlantic convoy escort missions carried out by the corvettes and destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy were the most miserable and debilitating duty imaginable, with the surrounding ocean more dangerous than the wolf packs of U-Boats. There are so many ways to die at sea.
They were just kids on those warships, sometimes ninety or a hundred of them packed into cramped, dark, smelly, rolling, heaving, yawing spaces that might accommodate forty with a certain level of human comfort, and they were seasick, ill-fed, afraid and unspeakably tired – but the convoys had to get through. They had to, or Hitler would win. It was that simple, that stark, the stakes were really that high; everybody knew what was on the line, so everybody gave everything they had. Little Canada, in this most crucial of battles, punched way above its weight and did way more than its share, yet it was, for all that, a narrow victory. Yes, we were beating them soundly by the end, and by the time we had the system down you were better off in a bomber over Berlin than a German submarine, but boy, it was grim for a while. They came within a hair’s breadth of severing the link between the Old World and the New. Churchill went on the record later that the U-Boats were the one thing in the whole war that really frightened him.
I guess that knowing such things, which most of us back then did by the time we were teenagers, changes the way you approach the object. I remember how I felt, looking at all those names, a little later in my adolescence when I had a bit more of a grasp on what it all meant. I felt glad it wasn’t me. I felt relieved that nobody would ever have to rely upon me to pass the test those kids all passed. I felt certain I’d never really understand what it was like to live at a time of such awful possibilities, a time ended so recently, when guys like me could be more or less assured that at some point, their turn would come.
I don’t know what lens through which the desecrators of the Maritime Memorial view life. Maybe they’re just punks. Maybe they fancy themselves social justice warriors of a sort. I’m hoping the latter, actually. Maybe then it might occur to them some day that those whose names are recorded on the defaced monument were social justice warriors too, fighting against the most terrifying threat to anything just and humane that our blighted world has ever seen, and that’s saying something. I’m going to choose to believe that some day, some of the kids who took their cans of Krylon to all those names will think a little more about what was done by the thousands of youngsters who died out there on the cold grey ocean, and realize that not all armed conflict is futile and wrong, not all sacrifice meaningless and empty.
I’m also going to move forward in the belief that nobody is ever again going to harm a Quokka for the sadistic fun of it.
I’ve decided that a certain amount of denial is a necessary thing.