rough notes

air raid sirens.

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(in no way do i mean to trivialize the dead this evening.)

Two weeks ago, The CBC radio news reported on events taking place in Jerusalem to mark Yom HaShoah, the Day of Remembrance for Holocaust victims. Amidst the drone of silence cut by the drone of air raid sirens, I found myself once again grimacing at the thought about Israel that always goes through my head when I hear news broadcasts such as these – that here is a nation-state which was founded on the near-eradication of a stateless nation.

Before going any further, let me state that I know full-well that the zionist movement began long, long before the world witnessed any atrocities seen in the second world war. I also know that the “more famous” Balfour Declaration has nothing to do with the foreign affairs of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, et al. but is actually Britain’s ‘agreement in principle’ for a jewish homeland. And I understand, and believe that sooner or later a modern state of Israel would have been formed regardless of what the west witnessed and inflicted between 1939 and 1945. Yet, I can’t help but think that the state of Israel lives and breathes by the deaths of so many others. Its Day of Remembrance is so unlike our Armistice Days, Remembrance Days, and Veterans Days, because on this Day of Remembrance, one must remember and recall a people who never knew Israel. Our domestic Remembrance Days mark all the fallen brave Canadian lads who fought for Canada, all the boys were drafted or called themselves into duty and fought for “King and Country”. However, In Tel Aviv, Jersusalem, Haifa, etc., one is compelled to remember the millions of Jews who never even knew Israel and never reached Zion. One must remember millions of people who never had a memory of Israel themselves. It’s an awfully one-sided and depressing concept. It’s an annual punch in the stomache. And it hurts hard.

I grew up on the banks of an important shipping canal on the Saint Lawrence Seaway. My cousin and I used to ride our BMX bicycles from our homes down Lakeshore Road to Lock One to watch the ships pass by. We could have walked out our back doors and slipped through a small wood and over a ditch to reach the lock in no time at all, but we preferred to ride our bikes instead. When you’re six or seven or eight and the summer days are long and the sun is high, your bike is not just a Canadian Tire annual special, but an exploration machine. The bike can’t transport you anywhere, but it does give you the means to travel where ever you want, so long as you’ll make it back in time for dinner. In those days before bike helmets and unleaded gas, we’d ride where ever the neighbourhood would take us. The neighbourhood kept us safe with its loose network of sidewalks and adjoining trails. Sometimes the neighbourood would stretch as far down the canal as Lock Three, but most times it would not go any further than the midpoint between lock one and lock two. We could, and did ride on further, but it took too much time away from the real fun down on the beach, kicking it in the water, or playing on the playground meant for kids littler than us, the playground just beyond the sand, in the elm trees which were closer to the parking lot and the change rooms than to the water or our homes.

Every now and again, that neighbourhood would also stretch across the bridge, on to the other side of the lock. My cousin, who is two years older than me, had more courage than I to cross the bridge. The sidewalk was not divided from the road, and only a small piece of sheet metal divided it on the other side from gravity’s pull to water the below. That drop, depending on the time of day and whether the lock’s water level was raised or lowered, was either about 20 or 80 feet. There was nothing for me on the other side of that bridge but the torment of having to cross it one more time to get back home. That was the worst part of crossing – you always had to get back to the other side to get back home.

About halfway between my home and the lock, along Lakeshore Road, was an air raid siren. This siren was tested on a regular basis when I was a child, and I have distinct memories of hearing its wail on my way to school and when playing in the woods near the sand piles. The Seaway was a vital shipping lane and important part of an international trade and transportation system. The Seaway did not just bring boats to my door and give sailors the opportunity to throw foreign coins to the kids like me on the ground. The Seaway was vital to bringing wheat and steel and iron (for food and guns and more ships) from the interior of Canada and America to the coasts and the borders and the oceans and eventually to other continents much further away. By law, the Seaway had to test those sirens on a regular basis in order to always be at the ready to warn the community of a pending attack. It seems that my life was always threatened by the infrastructure that developed the neighbourhood I lived in.

Much later in life, in high school, I learned about the Cuban Missle Crisis. I learned that those communist birds would never have made it this far north, but the nuclear fallout might. I also learned about the DEW line. I learned that the real threat, the communist planes intercepting our lands over the frozen arctic north, had little chance of making it this far south without being shot down by one of our jets. Our jets travel faster than their jets. But their jets make tighter turns than our jets can, and they’ve got long-range missiles like we’ve got long-range missiles. They’ll never get this far, but it still could be a match to the end. That’s how the west was won, and sure we had won it, but once you win it, all you can do is defend it or lose it. So the Seaway, in accordance with the Canadian Forces, and under certain provisions of certain federal laws and statutes, regularly tested the air raid siren lest our jets did their job but didn’t do it good enough or fast enough and didn’t defend but actually lost the west.

But the air raid siren was innocuous. It blared from time to time, and it was part of my day, but it was part of my day in the same way that the garbage truck was part of my morning once a week. One gets used to air raid sirens when they do nothing but test for emergency preparedness. Especially when one is six or seven or eight.

I don’t know if the air raid sirens I heard on the radio still have any operative function. Israel is a constant police state and a war zone almost always at war or just about to go to war, so the sirens could be useful. But they say nowadays (really, they’ve said this for years) that if you actually hear the siren and it’s serious, then you’re as good as dead. I don’t know what it’s like to live in Haifa, so I don’t really know if the sirens blare when mortar fire or rockets fill the air anymore. But I do know that the air raid siren I heard on the radio a couple weeks ago sounded too much like the air raid siren from my youth. It was too close for comfort. It was too troubling, partly because it announced to us listening on the CBC that all of Israel were taking a moment to remember those who could not have any possible memory of Israel. But it was also troubling because that sound, which for one moment on the radio was a harbinger of despression and sadness, and has the potential to be the harbinger of vast destruction, was just a part of my everyday childhood.

Written by mitchellirons

May 6, 2008 at 11:02 pm

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