Every year, the Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum holds the Aquino Tank Weekend for veterans, servicemen, historical restorers, and military enthusiasts to commemorate, honour, and reflect on Canada’s military history. On September 18, 2021, I attended this event, witnessed a live WWII re-enactment of a Canadian flanking victory against the German army, saw various 20th-century tanks and vehicles in action, and photographed an inspirational memorialization of history.
My passion for history and advocating peace incited my interest in such events because I saw it as an opportunity to get closer to history and the meaning of war. While my credentials of history and war are not coming from direct experiences, many of us have the privilege of seeing and ‘experiencing’ war through a filter lens which is why my goal is to highlight the importance of remembering history and bringing awareness to the meanings of war.
If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.John Lennon
What Causes War?
Instability. Humans don’t like change; therefore, when an abrupt shift occurs or there is a looming threat of change, it causes unrest. While this is an incredibly simplified statement, history shows that wars have broken out due to assassinations of famous leaders and fears of unpredictable powers and outcomes.
World War II was the result of Germany’s economic and political instability provoking their desires to be free from post-WWI Allied oppression. Adolf Hilter preyed on Germany’s desperation for liberty, giving him ample opportunity to promote the German race as ‘pure’ and campaign for their ‘superior’ race to expand their “Lebensraum” (living space).1
In 1939, Hitler and Joseph Stalin signed the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, declaring that the two nations would not incite military action against the other for the next 10 years.2 Not only had Germany violated the Treaty of Versailles, but they also now posed a threat to the Allied powers as WWI had left them unable to protect many of their occupied countries and regions should Germany and the USSR invade and attack.
How Does War End?
It doesn’t. WWII began because of the effects of WWI. While WWII ended with a surrender from Germany and the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, it bled the threat of communism to the Western world, causing a psychological war to begin between the United States and the Soviet Union.3
While we declare the ends of many wars, history does not allow us to simply forget the horrors of the past, even though some try to ignore it as a way to feign innocence. As much as we want peace, the end of war boils down to why humans fight.
Why Do We Fight?
Because we’re human. It’s in our nature to fight for our survival, yet that does not mean it is worth waging war. We fight as individuals to serve our best interests, and, in theory, we fight as nations to serve the peoples’ best interests.
However, the reality of national interests is that they need a greater incentive to unify their interests. In most cases, freedom is used as a unifying interest and justification of a nation participating in war because it is a provocative human right – no one is against freedom.4 When a nation’s stability is unbalanced by the act or fear of violence, leaders will justify their decisions of war as a means of securing freedom and portraying it in the best interests of the people.
In reality, leaders and governments have ulterior motives for waging wars that involve military dominance, social superiority, and financial gain. During WWII, US President Eisenhower’s farewell speech warned Americans about the military-industrial complex, a socioeconomic concept wherein businesses become entwined in social or political systems or institutions, creating or bolstering a profit economy from these systems.
While a defense-induced prosperous economy may not seem bad to all, the justifications of war are dismantled. War is no longer about fighting for freedom and democracy; it is about the interests of higher powers using our treasured liberty as a mask for their ulterior motives.
What Do We Do?
Challenge and question the actions of leaders with a strong understanding of history and well-informed knowledge of current events.
We cannot ignore the past (it has already happened); therefore, we should embrace its existence with an understanding that can help us inform our present or future decisions. While an understanding of the past may not change the presence of war, it can help us understand the true justifications of war and who is benefitting from its violence.