Debate over armoured vehicle stems from lack of education, historian says
'They are green, they are menacing. And in the case of the Cougar, it has a turret and it has a gun'
Debate over whether a Cougar AVGP should stand in Sackville Memorial Park could reflect a lack of education about Canadian history, a Fredericton military historian says.
The controversy arose after Sackville council voted to accept the armoured vehicle as a gift from 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise's). It is to be installed in the park this summer.
But some residents are opposed to putting the vehicle on display, calling it a liability issue and "an upsetting symbol" for people who have already experienced war.
"One of the curious things about teaching Canadian history is nobody knows it," said Marc Milner, a professor with the University of New Brunswick's Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society.
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But discussion about Canadian history is one of the only ways to fix an issue like this, Milner said. And if people knew more about the history of the First and Second World Wars, they wouldn't see the Cougar monument as a glorification of violence.
For years, Milner has been leading students on tours of battlefields in Europe through the Canadian Battlefields Foundation, which promotes public awareness of the country's role in the two wars.
The fact that modern generations in Canada have no experience of war is really what everyone should strive for.- Marc Milner, military historian
He visited the battlefields in Normandy, France, on the 60th and 70th anniversaries of D-Day. Most recently, he took a group of New Brunswick high school students to mark 75 years since the Allied invasion.
"It's always a revelation for me when I take students off to battlefields or even get students in my classes at the university, how little they know about their country."
He also said the recent debate could be a generational issue, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"The fact that modern generations in Canada have no experience of war is really what everyone should strive for," said Milner, who grew up in Sackville.
While he understands people don't want to glorify war, he feels that wouldn't be a war veteran's intent either.
But these types of concerns arise frequently when people want to put armoured vehicles in memorial parks across the country.
"They are green, they are menacing. And in the case of the Cougar, it has a turret and it has a gun.
"It's very warlike."
According to the the 8th Canadian Hussars, the incoming Cougar was not used in war, but people who served and died used machinery like it.
Vandalism at memorial site
Meanwhile, RCMP are investigating obscene graffiti someone painted last weekend on a smaller armoured vehicle already on display at the park. RCMP are still investigating whether the vandalism is connected to the controversy over the other vehicle.
Although Milner doesn't believe anyone opposed to the Cougar would vandalize the current memorial site, he's still disappointed by the act.
"It's pretty infantile," he said.
Milner said an act of vandalism shouldn't "mar the debate whether or not the Cougar goes there."
During the Second World War, he said, Sackville had one of the highest enlistment rates in Canada.
Cougar or no Cougar?
Milner remembered Remembrance Day ceremonies in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when a parades would stretch half a kilometre and include a large contingent of veterans from the First World War.
"Life moves on," he said. "The sacrifice and the commitment of soldiers from the region … has always been the focal point of the commemoration and the memorial park. It's a problematic and difficult for the town to deal with and the town council.
The town will be holding a special meeting to discuss concerns about the Cougar next Tuesday.
Milner said it will be difficult for the town and residents opposed of the armoured vehicle to come to any kind of middle ground.
"Either you're going to put a Cougar in there or you're not," he said.
With files from Information Morning Moncton