Thursday, March 17, 2011

By Don Butler, Postmedia News March 14, 2011.

Most young Canadians know little or nothing about most of the wars and peacekeeping missions their countrymen have served in, according to a survey done one year ago for Veterans Affairs Canada.
While a bare majority of the 13-to-17-year-olds surveyed claimed to know at least a moderate amount about the Second World War, their knowledge fell off rapidly beyond that.
More than two-thirds said they knew very little or nothing at all about the First World War, and nearly as many were equally unaware of Canadian peacekeeping efforts since 1960.Their ignorance peaked with the Korean War, about which 82 per cent said they knew nothing or very little. Even for the best-known conflict, the Second World War, 37 per cent of the youth said they knew very little, and nine per cent knew nothing at all.
The 514 youth were surveyed last March by Phoenix Strategic Perspectives as part of a $47,600 project for Veterans Affairs designed to assess Canadians' awareness, engagement, and satisfaction with Remembrance Day programming.
"It's discouraging that young people don't know a lot about the events of our past," said Jeremy Diamond, director of development and programs with the Historica-Dominion Institute. But he said there's a real opportunity to use technology to bring these events back to life.
"We can do a lot more now, sharing those stories, than we could a generation ago. I think we're going to see that tide turn a little bit with young people's knowledge of Canadian history."
In the past 18 months, the Historica-Dominion Institute has recorded the stories of more than 2,000 Second World War veterans, Diamond said. It's the largest oral history project of its kind ever in Canada.
Students and others can listen to podcasts of the interviews at, Diamond said.He added they can also invite veterans to speak at their schools, which provides a personal connection between veterans and young people.
As well, the approach of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, in 2014, provides a "great opportunity" to help young people learn — perhaps for the first time — about that conflict's important events and individuals, Diamond said.
The Phoenix survey found about eight in 10 of the youth participants expressed at least some interest in learning more about Canada's veterans, though their interest was likelier to be moderate than strong.
About 80 per cent said websites were a good way for them to get information about Canada's military history. Significant numbers also mentioned books, libraries, talking to people, newspapers or magazines, television or radio and social-media sites.
While the survey therefore cannot be considered representative of the youth population, Phoenix tried to ensure that the sample mirrored the regional, linguistic and gender characteristics of Canadian youth.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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