Veterans are heroes: VE Day poll

The results of a new poll timed to the 65th anniversary of VE Day has the Historica-Dominion Institute suggesting there is increasing reverence for Canada’s Second World War Veterans but a troubling ambivalence about following their example.

Lance Corporal Kenneth Rowland

Lance Corporal Kenneth Rowland

OTTAWA — The results of a new poll timed to the 65th anniversary of VE Day has the Historica-Dominion Institute suggesting there is increasing reverence for Canada’s Second World War Veterans but a troubling ambivalence about following their example.

A clear majority of younger Canadians say they would not have volunteered in 1939 to help liberate Europe and defeat Nazism, according to the poll.

The survey, provided exclusively to The Canadian Press, shows a significant divide between older Canadians and those aged 18 to 35 when it comes to assessing Victory in Europe Day, 65 years after the end of the most significant human conflagration of the past century.

The poll, which comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper attends a ceremony Thursday celebrating the liberation of Holland at a cemetery near the Netherlands-Belgium border, is in some ways paradoxical.

“You have on one hand praising (and) honouring the veterans — which we didn’t do for many years,” Andrew Cohen, the president of the Historica-Dominion Institute, said in an interview.

“And then we ask the question: ’But if you were in similar circumstances, would you go?’ Well, yeah, there is a high number generally of Canadians, but the younger you get, the more persuaded they have to be.”

Over three quarters of 1,025 respondents in the Ipsos-Reid online panel agreed that “the men and women who served in the Second World War deserve to be called ’the Greatest Generation,”’ a term famously bestowed on their American counterparts by broadcaster Tom Brokaw.

More than 94 per cent of respondents said Canada’s war veterans deserve to be called heroes.

The association that oversees polling in Canada has taken the position that online polls can’t have a margin of error because of they are not random.

A clear majority, 58 per cent, said they would sign up to serve (including 23 per cent who responded “definitely yes” and 35 per cent “probably yes) if it were 1939 and they were 20 years old. But that total was skewed upward by older respondents.

“If you’re between 18 and 35 — who are the people who would do the fighting, after all — four in 10 said they’d sign up to serve,” said Cohen.

Between 1939 and 1945, more than a million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the Second World War out of a Canadian population of between 11 and 12 million citizens.

The annual celebration in Holland, among other European countries, still elicits deeply moving expressions of thanks for Canada’s critical military contribution.

Cohen would like to better understand why 60 per cent of adult Canadians below age 35 say they’d reject serving.

“Do they know enough?” he says of a conflict whose lasting scar on humanity remains the Holocaust. “Do they know what this conflict was all about? Having learned what we think they should know, do they still believe that?”