He killed people. People tried to kill him. More than once, God literally broke through Mother Nature and saved his life to bring him home. It was war. He was a teenage man who fought for the Allies. I've heard the stories. The G.A.M Thomas — Murray Thomas, Grandpa Thomas — has become legend, as he was a man.
Every year now around Remembrance Day, I struggle. Pacifism is not a popular stand to take. I've been accused of being anti-troops, anti-Canadian, an ungrateful Christian, a coward, and worse. Yet the name calling aside, I've always wondered: Would Grandpa be proud of me? Him… a decorated war hero who survived the atrocities to come home and father four amazing children, one of whom turned into my godly, wise and incredible father?
You know what?
I think he would be.
Grandpa was a man of few words. Especially as the Alzheimer's took hold more and more each passing year, it became harder and harder for him to communicate as we understand communication to be. Since our part of the family lived on the other side of the country, my access to him as a child was even more limited. Yet I do remember my interactions with him. One encounter I remember vividly is when my parents saved up for us all to take the train across Canada back to Ontario to visit our families over Christmas. Uncle Joel and Aunt Joy lived on an acreage by a river then, so skating was popular in the winter and swimming was a delight in the summer.
I was 9. My little legs could not keep up with my older cousins. I remember my ankles hurting, and my knees aching, and my balance refusing to cooperate. Suddenly, up from behind me, there came a gentle hand on my back. Grandpa quietly came alongside me, put one arm around me, and held my other hand.
"It's okay," he said softly. "here's how we do it. 1…2…3… glide… 1…2…3…glide"
He matched his skating strides to my little ones and every step we took he counted softly: "1…2…3…"
And that's how I learned to skate.
A man of such quiet steady calm is a man of war?
I know and understand the Just Way Theory… the Redmeptive War theory… and the circumstances of "choice" when WWI and WWII were declared. Am I proud of Grandpa? You bet I am. Do I believe he would do it again?
I don't know.
Dad recalls a story of when he was a boy and they were all taking a vacation in Ontario's cottage country. Through a series of unfortunate events, certain people assumed that Grandpa's family was Jewish — his children being named Stephen, Rebecca, Joel, and Benjamin. Without giving way one way or the other, Grandpa is reported to have said: "Does it matter?"
And he took his family home.
From what I know of Grandpa and from what few stories he told me, I believe he would be proud of me for standing up against injustice, just like he did, yet doing so without bloodshed. He saw too much — including "enemy soldiers" reflecting the same look in his eyes: "Why are we doing this?"
The documentary Soldiers of Conscience describe how only 20% of the soldiers in WWII did 80% of the actual killing. Most men and women of both Axis and Allied forces simply could not pull the trigger. The sanctity of life on both sides was still so reverent that enemies began to find common ground in the futility of killing one another for a cause not their own. The documentary goes on to describe the brutal indoctrination tactics militaries of "free" countries use to that men and women do not feel such loathing when they kill another human being.
We want our citizens to lose their conscious? Deliberately?
Pacifism is not "non-action". Non-action would be laziness. It is rather active, deliberate, and hard working. It seeks peace through peaceful means, rather than war so that all parties may see, know and eventually come to accept one another without the taking of life. The misused "eye for an eye" phrase from the Bible becomes rationale for bloodshed, and yet… is our world in any greater state of peace than before WWII? Grandpa once said that the First World War was supposed to be 'the end', that the fighters said 'never again', but then he was thrust into a plane. It happened again.
I cannot imagine what he went through, but nor can I forget the questions he had about war and violence and all the tragedy it caused for all countries and ethnic groups. As he led me through forests, teaching me about trees, berries, birds and bird calls, his faraway look made me feel sad. Yet his steady presence made him a giant in my eyes.
Yes… I believe he would be proud of me. He would be proud because he found ways to create peace without picking up a gun again. He saw two futures: one where we continued to kill one another, and blood was on all of our heads (thinking of the time he shot down a civilian plane); and he saw a world without war when everyone laid down their machines of war.
This piece of artwork was posted by my cousin, Rachel, today. This is her interpretation of a famous family photo of Grandpa. It is beautiful, heroic, and brave… not just because of what he did during WWII, but also because of what he did afterwards and the legacy he left his family.