Herb Peppard as a teenager.

It is my belief that my generation, as children, were being lead down the garden path to be slaughtered.

It is my belief that my generation, as children, were indoctrinated, indoctrinated to fight and, if needs be, to die for king and country.

The terrible revelation of this indoctrination came to me at a very crucial time in my army career.

It was May 29, 1944. My unit was in the vanguard of the drive to liberate Rome from the Germans. We had just taken a hill from the Germans and, during the fighting, I was severely wounded. The medics patched me up as best they could, but they had to take out the more seriously wounded first. They said they’d be back for me in a couple of hours.

So, I was left on my own. As I lay in a shallow fox hole, my mind began to wader. Forgotten was the war, the machine guns, the explosions, the shouting. I just lay back and let my mind wander. And my mind went back to my hometown of Truro, to my parents and family. Then my memory flipped back to my school days. It was then that terrible revelation hit me! They had been preparing us for war when we were little kids! When we were eight and 10 years old.

I remember very well, in Grade 3, there was a framed poem on the wall of our classroom. Every time we went in and or out of this room, we were faced with this stirring reminder – reminder of past heroes and their sacrifice for king and country. Along with this poem was a picture of the British Union Jack, the flag we recognized at that time.

And this is how the poem read, referring to the flag:

It may be a small bit of bunting,
It may be an old coloured rag,
But thousands have died for its honour,
And shed their best blood for the flag!

What earthly reason was a poem like this in a classroom of eight-year-olds? Was this the start of brain washing? Indoctrination?

Many poems in the following grades were about war – dashing heroes and self-sacrifice. These poems were drilled into us because we were encouraged to memorize them. And this was a very impressionable time in our young lives!

What young boy of my time could ever forget Alfred Lord Tennyson’s dashing poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”?

This is what Tennyson wrote:

Flashed all their sabers bare,
Flashed as they turned in air,
Sabering the gunners there
Charging an army
While all the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery smoke
Right through the line they broke
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the saber stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back
But not – not the six hundred!

 

Reading this, we as young boys, in our mind’s eye, were galloping along with these gallant horsemen.

Granted, in school we did have other poems. We were not encouraged to memorize these but they were beautiful none-the-less. One was by William Wordsworth called “The Daffodils”. And this is part of what he said:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
Continuous of the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way
They stretched in never ending line
Along the margin of the bay.
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Why weren’t we encouraged to memorize a beautiful pastoral poem like this? I feel it was because it didn’t evoke patriotism and blind obedience.

Next, came a poem that showed how important indoctrination was. And how the minds of young boys can be channeled to follow a certain course all their lives.

It went like this:

There’s a breathless hush on the field tonight
Ten to make, and a match to win
A bumping pitch, and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man’s in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat
Nor the selfish hope of a season’s fame
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote:
Play up! Play up! And play the game!
The sands of the desert are sodden red,
Red with the blood of a square that broke.
The gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,
The regiment blinded with dust and smoke
The river of death has brimmed its banks
England’s far, honor’s a name,
But the voice of the school boy rallies the ranks
Play up! Play up! And play the game!
This be the word that year by year
While in her place the school is set
Every one of her sons must hear
And none that hears it dare forget
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame
And falling fling to the host behind
Play up! Play up! And play the game!

 

Yes, so many of our poems were patriotic – self-sacrifice for king and country!

Were our elders justified in this indoctrination? I’ve agonized over this question many, many times. At last I’ve come to this conclusion – given the time and circumstances, I believe they were justified. When Hitler, with his cruelty and barbarism, threatened to engulf the entire world free people had to stand up and be counted. Tens of thousands of Canadians rushed to enlist, and no doubt back of their minds poems of childhood began to surface. Poems like “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “Play up! Play up! And play the Game!”

But let’s get back to me. Lying along, in a shallow fox hole, in a little pool of my own blood. It was a terrible feeling. I was scared, I was hurting, I was lonely. However, I was certain of one thing. I knew the medics would be back to carry me out. How could I be so sure they would be willing to run the gauntlet of machine gun and mortar fire to rescue me?

That was simple to explain. They were about the same age as I was. They had gone to school about the same time as I had. They had been exposed to the same heroic poems that I had. They, too, had been indoctrinated. I would bet my life on it! I knew for sure – these heroes would come!