The Courage to Not Take Up Arms

grandfather hauk 2011 06 24 121

On Remembrance Day, amid all the photos posted on social media of grandfathers who fought in the wars, I would like to honour my grandfather, the deserter. He held some sort of minor rank in the Russian army that allowed him to see early that the Czar was sending troops out horribly under-equipped for war. He sent his men home and fled the country with a price on his head.

Remember that scene in Dr. Zhivago? It’s just drama, of course, but somewhere in there is a story like my grandfather’s.

Twice now I have seen a TV show about ancestry with interviews of famous people who were ashamed to find out their forefathers chose not to join “the Patriots” who won the violent conflict that established the direction their nation took. Instead their great great great grandpappies (or their surviving families) also fled to Canada. The famous peoples’ reactions upon discovering this news puzzled me. In Canada their forefathers’ choices are not a source of shame. They are called United Empire Loyalists. In Canada they are heroes, ancestors who are honoured, not sources of embarrassment.

That’s the way it is with war. Often you can’t tell heroes from villains, loyalists from rebels, patriots from deserters, until the history books are written, and even then it depends on who writes them.

Grandfather’s son grew up to fight in WWII in the Netherlands. Uncle was overwhelmed by their genuine expressions of gratitude when he visited Europe 40 years later. He knew he had done the right thing.

Sometimes courage is fighting for the King or for the President, and sometimes courage is laying down your arms in the midst of a stupid, pointless conflict and dismissing your men, even if it means risking standing in front of a firing squad yourself. The man in the photo spent the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, but he also knew he had done the right thing.

Thank you, Grandfather.




4 thoughts on “The Courage to Not Take Up Arms

  1. Seems like courage was on both our minds today: You are absolutely right, Charis, courage does not always look like the stereotypical kind we see in movies or on TV. There are people around us every single day displaying courage, often facing things unknown to us, or making unpopular decisions and being judged negatively for doing so. The world is full of unsung heroes known only to God. Thankyou for having the courage to post this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your poem!
      Thus far this is not proving to be a popular post. ha ha! Who else would choose to honour a deserter on a day set aside for honouring those who obeyed orders, but one whose avoidance of crowds gives her a perspective that is often quite out of step?
      Good viewpoint for observing the unsung though.
      I admire the courage and integrity of those who forge on despite being misunderstood.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. As one who has been regularly judged for not obeying orders I really resonated with your Grandfathers Story. He was a man of great mercy in sacrificing himself for his men and could so easily have paid dearly with his life and I’m sure he didn’t find leaving his beloved homeland easy either however necessary. Well done for being brave yourself for posting this on such a day! eshet chayil!


    1. I hear you. It can be lonely.
      My grandparents came from a part of the world that saw new marauders every few years. As a matter of fact it has just been marauded again. I’m glad my grandparents did leave though, although in those days it meant never seeing family again — and not being able to call them from the airport on a mobile phone to tell them they arrived safely either. I can’t imagine. When Stalin came to power even the letters from the old country stopped. He didn’t like their ethnicity. Then Hitler’s troops followed and 1/3 of the population of Grandfather’s town was executed in one day -for being Jewish. The Red Cross told my grandmother that they could find no surviving family or friends. Our entire extended family in Eastern Europe was wiped out. When I look at posting a little thing like this? I am not so brave.


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