Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Who Was He? Um… Ah… Um…

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Who Was He? Um… Ah… Um…

He was just another victim of just another war. This time, the Israelis versus the Palestinians. I saw him dead in a ditch in the hills high above Beirut. The scorching sun offered no dignity to the yellowing corpse whose tattered militia uniform became his death shroud. Alone and anonymous. A corpse with no name.

This gruesome, sad image flashed back as I walked past another symbol of the callousness of war. But I wasn’t in the hills above Beirut this hot, brilliant summer day. I was ambling down one of the few roads (speed limit 30kph) in my village of Dwight, in the Muskoka region of Ontario. Dwight has a permanent population of about a couple of hundred but in summer this explodes to the thousands, as folks from the big cities swarm to their cottages, many of which are flaunting goddesses of opulence; decadence posturing as mansions for millionaires.

On the crammed, white sand of Dwight Beach, pert-breasted women, flabby, SUV-humping husbands and babbling, baggy kids are accosted by bellicose signs that litter the shoreline.

No littering.
No loitering.
No lingering.
No dogs
No noise.
No fun.
No ORJYS (Orthodox, reverend Jews with yarmulkes.)
No ROCS (Raucous, obnoxious Catholics.)
No GALS (Gays and lesbians.)
No POMS (Pakistanis or Muslims)
No IOCS (Immigrants or coloureds.)

I walked away from these forbidden fruits and wandered up the hill. There, on the right, was our village’s new war memorial. It was eerily reminiscent of that scene in the hills above Beirut – reminiscent in a way I could never have expected.

The memorial sits in mournful grey next to our one-roomed post office. Behind it, a Canadian flag ripples at full mast. But it's the words on the memorial that fling me back to Beirut. Whoever wrote the inscription never knew what the word “veteran” meant but that's beside the point. It states: "Lest we forget To Honour Local Veterans in WW1 1914-1918 and WW11 1939-1945." That's all. Nothing more. As I have mentioned, Dwight is a tiny place. It would not have been a momentous task to inscribe the identities of those who died.

On that small hill in the village of Dwight, there was a chance to give the dead their recognition. The same kind of recognition denied the militiaman in the hills above Beirut. The chance to give each one a name. And respect.

It's said you can judge a country by the way it treats it marginalised, its poor, its weak, its enemies and its dead. That's not a great endorsement of Israel or Palestine. Or of us.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Scully

John Scully has been a journalist for almost fifty years and has covered stories in seventy countries for major international news and current affairs organizations. His book, Am I Dead Yet? A Journalist's Perspective on Terrorism, was published in spring 2008 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

Go to John Scully’s Author Page