Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Last Saturday there was a military parade and funeral in Vancouver. Yes, in this most non-militaristic city of a non-militaristic country, people turned out along Burrard Street to honour Sgt. Ernest "Smokey" Smith, the longest-surviving Canadian holder of the Victoria Cross. The ceremony honoured, not only the man, and not only his exploits during W.W.II, but a whole generation, what some have called "the greatest generation."

Since I'm writing a novel set during W.W.II and plan other novels set during that period, watching Smokey's send-off made me think about respect. How can one write a mystery or thriller set during that period and still show proper respect for the people who sacrificed in one way or another for what they perceived as the survival of democracy or of "our way of life" or even of civilization itself?

My parents were of that generation. My father, because he already had two children (no, not me!), was not eligible to be drafted at the beginning of the war. Financial obligations and health problems kept him from volunteering. His younger brothers, my Uncle Albert and Uncle Ernie, were in the Navy, and I remember seeing a wistful look in my father's eyes when they reminisced about "the war." It was the only time I remember him being silent when stories were being told. To be a man of that generation and not have gone to war was a heavy burden, a secret shame from which my father never quite recovered.

So how dare I write fiction set against the backdrop of that war? Especially light fiction. I'm not writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. (Yes, I know that takes place during the Spanish Civil War.) Or The Caine Mutiny. (That does take place during W.W. II.)

I guess I dare because all fiction has to take place somewhere and sometime. Setting we call it, right? Whether it's on a space station in the future or in Egypt during the second battle of Alamein, a story is anchored in a where and a when. I can't not write a story because someone someplace might not like the where and when--anymore than I'll not write a story because someone might not like what my characters might say about religion or politics or some other topic.

What I promise is to be respectful of the facts that underlie that setting. I will make clear that my characters and their actions are fictional, but that real events were transpiring and that real people were taking part in those events.


That's all I can offer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say respect is all you can offer.

And yet respect is the most important of all. Everyone wants respect and the men and women of that generation certainly deserve it.

My father and uncles were also of that generation. What struck me most was they really didn't talk about their experiences very much. Heck, it wasn't until a few years ago when one of my uncles died that I learned he was a WWII Hero, with all sorts of medals. He never talked about his war experiences, even his own sisters didn't know he had those medals.

8:14 AM  

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