Like many children during the Second World War, my father was evacuated into the countryside for much of the war. But he returned to London during the last couple of years of conflict and had many stories to tell about what he saw. One of the stories he told was of an occasion in which he and his mother went together to the market. While they walked there was a massive explosion a couple of streets away. The impact was tremendous and they felt its intensity even from a few hundred yards off. The explosion had been caused by a V2 rocket, many of which had been raining down on London for weeks. The government had attempted to deny the existence of the V2 because they were afraid of wide-spread panic. The V2s came in faster than the speed of sound so unlike the V1, or so-called 'flying-bombs,' you couldn't hear them coming. Instead, you would just be sitting there and suddenly you and your whole street were more or less vaporized. The government tried to tell the story that the explosions from the V2s were nothing but gas-line eruptions but rumours of a new, more dangerous, weapon, spread quickly. My dad's father had actually seen a V2 come down and thus he knew that the government was lying about what was going on.
Anyway, my dad watched the smoke rise from the explosion and he knew that people had just died and there were probably many laying about badly injured. But his mother, after taking a few moments to compose herself, took his hand tightly and they continued on their way. Even as a kid my father was struck at that moment how even amid apparent chaos, life continued on more or less normally. He and his mother went into the market and she bought fruits and vegetables and talked with other women about the high price of bread, the inconveniences of rationing, and the latest film at the cinema. My dad sometimes felt kind of bad about his childlike attitude during much of the war. For him, not having lost anyone close to him, the war seemed somewhat exciting much of the time. It broke up routines and made life seem more interesting. He loved to see the dog-fights over London which he watched a number of times from the roof of his apartment building, and he knew all the different planes on sight, even the ones that were bombing and killing his fellow citizens. But at the moment of that explosion things changed for him. Life suddenly seemed out of joint as he realized that there was real killing and dying going on while other people just went about their business.
Thinking about this story reminded me of the time I lived in El Salvador. During my time there rumours of a military coup were rife and for a while there they seemed credible. A friend of mine who worked as a health-care worker in the countryside had actually seen large numbers of troops massing on the Honduran border and he had been on a bus that was stopped by soldiers. The bus's riders were taken out and forced to lay face-down on the road and he really thought they were going to be shot execution-style. One day during the height of the rumours I was sitting on the porch of the house were I was living and a jet fighter came roaring over the house only a couple hundred feet in the air. Anyone who has experienced this knows how frightening and intimidating this can be. Those planes are unbelievably loud and can shake the very ground underneath you. The plane headed straight for the Presidential Palace as though it were going to bomb the place. During those few moments a lot went through my mind. I wondered how I would get out of the country in the midst of a coup or whether events would deteriorate into civil war. Then I thought about my friends who had been in the war which had only ended a year or so previous to my arrival there. My good friend Guillermo Iglesias who was only twenty-one had been compelled into the war when his village was so terrorized by the government troops that he felt he had nothing to loose. He had been shot more than once and had watched many friends die. Yet despite these events, he seemed remarkably 'normal' and was just a young man with the same hopes and fears that we all have.
The jet fighter didn't bomb the Palace. It just flew very near it a number of times in what was obviously a show of intimidation toward the government. The President went on TV that night and claimed that it was all part of a military exercise etc. The next day my partner and I went on a trip to the Gulf of Fonseca. We had planned it a week before and people told us to go despite the rumours because it was a relatively safe road and not generally a dangerous part of the country. As we drove along I watched the people of El Salvador working in their fields, playing with their children, eating at roadside restaurants, and all the other stuff that people do. And I thought that even at the height of the brutal civil war all these same people were doing many of the same things.
Cut to today as I drove down a freeway in Ottawa to pick up one of my daughter's playmates who is here for the weekend. It occurred to me how even as it becomes apparent that our present government has been actively exercising voter fraud, we as Canadians go about our business. This government has shown itself to be willing to do anything to get and maintain power and not only has it broken many laws, if one has listened carefully over the years it has hinted more than once that it would be willing to keep the government by force if necessary. And yet, like the citizens of London during the War, or the people of El Salvador, people in Canada go merrily on with life. Until someone you love dies, war feels much like peace, only noisier. Countries often slip into tyranny slowly and if you ever wondered what it is like to live in a dictatorship, you already know, it feels the same as a democracy until you fall victim to the power that you have ignored.
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