Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To represent your country...

I got involved in an online discussion last night, which centered around people wearing the Maple Leaf when traveling abroad. The initial post was made by a young, linguistically-challenged fellow from Ontario. In his initial rant, he was attempting to call out Canadians who traveled to Europe and wore the Canadian flag "just so they can get free stuff", to use his own words. He went on to say that they had no right doing so, mentioned something about our military's service over there and finished by stating that he was "aware that a lot of people do it, so they should just stop".

One bright young lady (who could actually spell, mind you...), joined the discussion and asked him where he was getting his facts, as it seemed to be a somewhat serious blanket accusation. Obviously, there was no response from the other end. I decided to join in with my take on this matter, which is actually based on many years of travelling around through Europe and not simply on speculation.

I opined that many Canadians wear our flag when they travel to Europe and that it was their right to do so. I pointed out that as Canadians, we did not "receive free stuff", as this one young lad seemed to believe. I did state however that we were treated courteously and with respect, because unlike here in Canada, the children of these European countries learned about us in school. They were taught how Canadians traveled across the sea, to fight and liberate their country from tyranny. These people have taught this history to each successive generation of theirs. These are the same people who tend our war cemeteries, with such devotion and loving care. It is their way of acknowledging and remembering, the blood shed by Canadian troops, so that they might have their country and their future back.

I reminisced about one occasion in Belgium, when I was ashore in uniform. It was perhaps the moment when I was never more proud to be Canadian. I recalled how I had been approached by survivors of those war years. With tears in their eyes and love in their hearts, they embraced me and shook my hand, wanting to thank me personally, for what our ancestors had done for them, so many years gone by. All they saw was the word "CANADA" emblazoned in gold thread on my shoulder and that was enough for them. I became the recipient of their gratitude and affection.

I came to understand that they were perhaps not thanking me personally, but they were thanking the country which I represented. That moment remains frozen in my memory. I never forgot that incident and it forever reminded me that as long as I wore the uniform of my country, to all these people and their children, I truly did represent Canada. Whenever I was abroad in uniform, I strove to conduct myself in a manner which would reflect credit on myself and my country.

I also stated that I did take exception with people who traveled abroad, wearing the Canadian flag and who were NOT Canadians. In the past, these were normally American civilians, but Europeans quickly caught on to this and the charade does not normally last long. You cannot pass yourself off as a Canadian, if you're not from here. Let's face it, it's pretty bad when you're ashamed of advertising your country of origin. The cure for that is not wearing the flag of another country, it's education and proper behaviour when in a foreign country. Briefly put: not being an ignorant and/or obnoxious asshole.

Whether we recognize it or not, when we travel as civilians, we share that same responsibility. We should always be mindful that when we wear our country's emblem openly, with pride, our words and actions will be associated with the country we represent. We already know how some other countries are perceived abroad. Let's not let ourselves fall into that category...

There is a recruiting ad which runs occasionally (on the Military Channel), for the US Marine Corps. The monologue is simple, to the point: "In this world it's not who you represent... but what." The shot then pans outwards, showing a young black Marine, dressed in his No.1s (ceremonial dress blues), the very picture of sharp, crisp, military perfection.

I for one, second that thought...

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