Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Heroes and victims

Being troubled by patriotic zealotry and glorification of war, I feel vaguely discomforted by Remembrance Days, particularly when craven politicians take centre stage at memorials. While struggling to find words that conveyed my reservations, I read Stephen Lautens. He mastered the expression that eluded me, offering indisputable truths with Wars, Freedom and Liberty.
"…politicians still describe WWI as a war of freedom and liberty, it wasn't in the same sense as World War Two, when a truly evil government was bent on conquest and enslavement. …It was a war about access to markets and raw materials and the personal rivalries of royal cousins, their generals and politicians…

"…politicians who revel in a resurgent militarism repeat tired phrases long since discredited, because no one will fight for corporate economic interests or the vanity of politicians, but you can still make people fight for freedom and liberty.

"…None of this takes away from the tragedy and sacrifice of the common soldier who inevitably pays the price for war, or our duty to remember the fallen. We simply owe it to them and future generations to be honest about what they made the ultimate sacrifice for and not hide it behind a false politician's slogan of "freedom and liberty".
One piece of school learning remains fresh in my mind despite passage of 50 years. Long ago, I sat in a sparsely populated theatre (Saturday 8:30 am lecture) as a UBC professor of International Studies described an event of 1918. I paraphrase,
As the war that introduced machine guns, flame throwers, poison gas and mechanized armies writhed toward armistice, English officers believed it fitting to end the campaign with a glorious cavalry charge. Instead of honours and accolades, the mounted soldiers were met with an unbroken barrage of machine gun fire from incredulous Germans.
Travelling backroads of Europe, I felt unsettled as we encountered innumerable monuments and memorials that celebrate offerings to the gods of war. I couldn't help but feel the commemorations were there to encourage future generations to be available when more lives were to be expended. If the offer of glory didn't work, militarists ensured that pacifists who cared not to serve as potential cannon fodder were ostracized. British writer Gareth Platt, in World War 1 100th Anniversary: Remembering the Heroes who Refused to Fight, wrote,
"…it took more courage to stay at home than go off and fight. The jingoistic bally-hoo of the early days saw millions of young people flock to the recruiting halls, lured by the promise of glory and adventure. Those that strayed from the flock were forced to look at guilt-tripping recruiting posters everywhere they went, and taunted with white feathers by women in the street."
All reasonable people understand that war may be morally justifiable, as a last resort. However, human experience demonstrates those situations are rare.

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  1. We wear poppies while our CF18 pilots murder "suspected" bad guys and everybody around them in our name. Not me. Will we ever learn?

  2. Many thanks for the kind words about my small article.

  3. I agree. Keep in mind that German soldiers fought to preserve their freedoms. They believed the homeland was threatened, even surrounded, by enemies. They were right, too.

    War is often claimed to be about protecting unchangeable principles. Yet, over time alliances change. Germany was an enemy of Canada for half the 20th century but a friend and ally for the other half. Canada was hostile to China for about 50 years, then saw it as a desirable economic partner, money lender and acquirer of this country's resource rich lands. Young Americans were ordered to bomb and kill Vietnamese until 1975. Now, the order is for Banh Mi and Pho.

    1. I meant Germans were right about being threatened by enemies before and during WWI. Although WW2 was partly an outgrowth of the "Great War," German leadership was collectively insane in the 1930s and 1940s and, if there is an afterlife, they ought to be burning there now.

  4. What I find so amusing, is while the politicians are out and about with their photo ops and great warrior or hide in the closet P.M. mumbles on about great sacrifice, etc. P.M. hide in the closet has yet to establish Remembrance day as a national stat. I guess there are his corporate friends and their profit margins to consider.

    All these commercials and speeches are nice but lets get real, the majority do not care about the Veterans. If they did, the Veterans would have adequate health care so they were not killing themselves, at the rate they have been. If the government cared about Veterans they would not have ripped them off by changing how they were paid after injury. No, the glorification of the Veterans is actually all about the glorification of the politicians and their photo ops.

    Now if P.M. hide in the closet really cared about the Veterans, he would can the commercials and put the money into services for the Vets.

    Why this Remembrance Day is so special is beyond me. Prior to being killed, no one knew these 2 soldiers, much less cared. They both were killed by mentally ill people, and we have a national cry in.

    A military is a necessary evil which most countries require. Those who serve ought to be compensated for their work and their sacrifices. They ought not to be used and trotted out by politicians when it suits the politicians.

  5. The "Eye" helped his father during the 1970's, running the local "Remembrance Day's services for the Legion.

    In 1973, barely 60 people turned out to the service, which from what I can recall, was on a cold wet dreary day; even the local MLA was elsewhere and party hack was sent as a stand in. In fact the local MLA only appeared if an election was near. The MP for the area was there as well as a CAF major (who lived in the area and was cajoled to take the salute) and my dad, being 6' 4", was the standard-bearer in the parade, MC for the services, and again carrying the flag back to the legion, where he retired for the day having "tots" and talking about the war.

    As an aside, most war stories my dad and his compatriots told were about military incompetence, not actual fighting.

    As the 70's progressed, my dad turned a fragmented and ramshackle service to a fairly well oiled machine and when he did his last '11th in the early 80's, attendance was near 500 people and three bands! If the MA did not show up, embarrassing queries were sent to Victoria, the party leader and to the press (my doing, haha!). Our MP always attended services.

    I was the go-for, making sure power was not interrupted, laying out wreaths, setting up chairs, etc., etc.

    What I detested most was the bull-shit speeches from politicos about freedom, etc., because most didn't care and would rather be tucked up in a warm bed than standing in cold November weather.

    Herr Harper, the consummate politician is using the assault on Parliament Hill to further his fascist agenda for his cronies, rubbing their collective hands to get rich on the back of the Canadian taxpayer.

    As e.a.f. states; "Why this Remembrance Day is so special is beyond me." I tend to agree and the only answer is a collective embarrassment by many for not caring about foreign wars, foreign policy, the military, or even the mentally ill, caused many to attend this years services.

    As for me, I don't go, as a protest against the Legion, because as my father was slowly dying of an incurable disease,(which being in the Navy, may have caused it) and going to the local legion to inquire if their was any benefits my dad could avail himself of; was fobbed off with a mind numbing excuse from the branch president; "What the hell has you father done to deserve anything?"

    Let's see now, serving with the RCN in a U-boat hunter killer group in the North Atlantic in winter, for one.

    Even those who repeat ad nauseum, "Lest we forget", forgot!



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