Futile controversy around new KofC uniform

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My father made his entry in the ranks of the Fourth Degree of the Knights of Columbus in 1978.

Earlier this month, the board of directors of the Knights of Columbus voted for a radical and welcome change to the uniform of the Fourth Degree (the patriotic degree of the Order).

As a member of the Knights of Columbus and its Fourth Degree in his forties, let me tell you why I applaud this long-overdue decision, which is notably based on:

“[…] consistent reports that the old regalia presented a barrier to Fourth Degree membership, especially among younger men.”

I’m one of those people who felt uncomfortable – and let’s admit it – very unhappy with the old regalia. I use the word “old” on purpose.

Historically, Knights of the Patriotic Degree wore their regalia with great pride and purpose. I will always remember with great joy those occasions when my father got ready to dress up with his cape, his beautiful hat and his sword. Ah, the sword, that’s what made us all Catholic boys dream of becoming members of the Fourth Degree when we got older.

But you see, times change. And people too. I became a proud member of the Third Degree right after I turned 18. I got involved, walking in the footsteps of my father. But I always felt itchy about taking the next step. Dressing up like my father no longer appealed to me, because I found it too folkloric and not very humble. How many parish priests did I hear complain the color guard was just too much? How many Brothers of the Third Degree felt uncomfortable to the point of not joining? I know, because I was one of those.

Make no mistake. I have absolutely nothing against history and traditions. As a historian and military buff, I’d be the last guy on the surface of the planet to criticize any form of belonging reflected in uniforms, regalia, medals, etc. The same understanding makes me observe that, over time, uniforms and outfits have changed in different organisations. For example, the British soldiers are no longer dressed as they were during the Seven Years War or the Napoleonic period. The infantrymen of the Civil War era certainly would not recognize the current uniforms of the US servicemen and servicewomen. The same applies to Canadian soldiers, who abandoned the soup bowl looking helmet since World War II.

Of course, there are some who run to the barricades to condemn that change and threaten to quit the ranks. That’s very unfortunate. I don’t need a colourful uniform to show my patriotism. What I need is to be proud, vigorous and consequent with my beliefs. In a true spirit of humility and service. In other words, I don’t need to be dressed like my father was to be committed to the Church, my fellowmen and my country. Such is the true sense of being a member of the Fourth Degree.

Besides, don’t you think that a beret conveys more patriotism than an old fashioned chapeau?

Forgive me saying so in a blunt way, but if you want to quit the ranks because you are unhappy with a decision taken by the chain of command, you might reflect on why is it you joined first?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but nobody changed the basic principles of the Patriotic Degree. They just said “OK, guys, now’s the time to think about the future and the best ways to engage the new generations.”

That’s why I’m comfortable pursuing my involvement in a changing world while always being animated by the same core values. The values my father taught me, those I’m teaching my sons.

Over time, the vast majority of members will salute the visionary leadership of the board of directors’ decision.

Give it time. Blessings are often disguised as wrong turns.

At the going of the sun, we will remember them

cenotapheThe days leading to Remembrance Day are always a privileged moment to think about the sacrifice of these men and women who, throughout the ages, have sacrificed so much for our societies and our world. Remembrance should not occur exclusively in the morning of November 11th. It should be a daily exercice. That’s why I was so happy to take a picture of this King & Country figure, FW162 “The Last Goodbye”, last night in front of the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Ontario.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

How Foch became the Victor of 1918

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Marshal Ferdinand Foch

One of the things I love the most as a military history enthusiast is to read articles published in the British Journal of Military History.

In its last issue, the Journal featured a fascinating article about Ferdinand Foch – the unsung hero of the First World War – by Australian historian and author Elizabeth Greenhalgh.

She writes that, in 1916, on the occasion of the Battle of the Somme, “Foch learned much about alliance warfare and worked hard to build a relationship with [Field Marshal Douglas] Haig that benefited him as Generalissimo in 1918.” Without question, that year was a difficult one for the French General. He was overruled by Joffre in his choice of the sector where he would intervene, he knew he did not possess the required resources to achieve success and the Battle of Verdun reduced the role of the French army on the Somme. To cap it all, he was sacked from his command of the Northern Army in the middle of the month of December. Things could hardly get worse. But what could have been the end of the road for many was a learning curve for the future Marshal. The success of 1918 was forged in the difficult moments of 1916.

In sum, a fascinating article that you can’t miss if you’re interested in military history or World War I.

And since the whole content of the Journal is free, you have no reason to miss it.

Happy Birthday, Duke of Wellington

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King and Country item NA256 resting on the second tome of Rory Muir’s biography of the Duke of Wellington, with the Union Jack flag in the background.

Happy Birthday to the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, victor of Waterloo. An extraordinary figure whose unparalleled contribution helped saved Europe and the world from Napoleonic hegemony and tyranny. He would be 247 years old!

Ukrainian Police and the Holocaust

“The last Jew in Vinnitsa” source : http://bit.ly/1JE9ciV

When you talk or read about the Holocaust nowadays, there is a despicable tendency, among many people, including historians, of putting the blame solely on the back of the Nazis. As if they had accomplished their evil business alone. But the truth is different, for they had willing collaborators and executioners.

An article written by historian Yuri Radchenko and published in the most recent issue of Yad Vashem Studies provides a sad but revealing example of that situation, detailing the collaboration of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police with the Nazi hordes. After detailing the various aspects of this deadly collaboration, the author concludes:

“[…] the involvement of the Ukrainian police in the Holocaust was not limited to the purely “technical” roles of escorting and guarding the Jews, as had been claimed by several modern Ukrainian historians. The Ukrainian police proved its effectiveness in the task of exterminating Jews, both under German control and on their own. Obviously, the German military and security bodies bear the primary responsibility for killing the Jews. However, without the cooperation of the Ukrainian policemen, who were familiar with the lay of the land, knew the local language and dialect, and had frequently lived in close proximity to Jews in the prewar years, the Nazis would have been unable to carry out their genocidal project on such a vast scale.”

Very revealing, notably in light of the revisionist currents who seek to downplay or deny the role of various local populations in the execution of the Holocaust.

“Most of the Holocaust survivors were saved by the Red Army”

The Soviet War Cemetery in Warsaw, May 2015.
The Soviet War Cemetery in Warsaw, May 2015.

There is a sad tendency, these days, to rewrite history for political purposes.

In a recent book, French historian Philippe Richardot writes in his introduction: “The deciding factor of World War II is what occurred on the Eastern front” (my translation). And there is ample academic evidence to support this statement.

Alas, because of the current geopolitical context, in which many world leaders are opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is hard for many to resist the temptation to equate this situation with the intention of rewriting history.

Fortunately, there are people who are holding these revisionists to account.

Take for example this Israeli man who was interviewed by the Russian radio.

Here are two revealing excerpts of his interview:

“Most of the Holocaust survivors were saved by the Red Army. And they are live witnesses up until now. So it never happened in Israel anything like in Europe, nothing undermining the Russian part in the Second World War.

[…]

There are 39 memorials commemorating those who were responsible for this great victory, 39 memorials for the soldiers of the Red Army primarily. You don’t have anything like this in any other parts of the world. So today together with the Holocaust there is a memory of the great victory in Israel combined together.”

Scoring easy political points on the back of a leader you dislike is one thing, distorting history and betraying the memory of those who fell to ensure victory of barbarism and Nazism is another one. And it is unacceptable.

The Red Army deserves credit for the 1945 victory and we should never shy away from being grateful.