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Grieving dead not celebration of victory, nor normalization of war for government purposes

To the Editor:

This letter is addressed first to the two soldiers of Canada who’ve served in Afghanistan and spoke to me at my one-man protest  Remembrance Day.

I want to thank them for the conversation and say why I half-agreed with their request, to the extent that I moved a half-block away.

To readers, civilians like myself: I still must speak messages against war and our government, and I do not apologize for taking advantage of a public assembly to be more visible. But, I was persuaded by the two soldiers – one in particular, whom I met for the first time – to alter my action.

Soldiers back from combat are not like you and I. The experience of killing other people, by intent and by accident, and of seeing friends killed and wounded, must surely set a person apart from others. The bonds of combat will not be understood by those who are not within them. That is one insight I’ve had.

So, when the youngish warrior with the forked beard spoke to me eye to eye, saying “This is our day, this is for soldiers, it is not a day to protest politicians and their policies” – I had a chance to open my mind to a different way of thinking. I never intend to be closed-minded. I wish not to be ideologically dogmatic; I can change my opinion when new information forms a new perspective.

Put simply, I moved, as I was asked to, because otherwise I would just be another politician using Remembrance Day for politics. But — politicians were present at the ceremony, and politicians’ goals are served by how Canadians remember our war dead. War is a Government policy, not a natural event.

Governments like Mr. Harper’s would prefer us not to think about how war is chosen for hidden purposes we are not told about. He prefers us to think we fight for goodness, justice, truth, and the Canadian Way. We would never fight for ignoble reasons.

Civilians at Remembrance Day get a not-subtle message that war has served us. It “preserved freedom.”  Our freedoms, as any good history book attests, are owed to struggles of men who died facing army bullets to expand voting rights, by suffragettes who died for women’s rights, by workers who died for unionizing rights, and by people of colour who died for civil rights.

Once we put those freedoms in our institutions, we the people had earned them, not our soldiers.

WWI was not about saving our freedom from the Kaiser — no matter what propaganda then and since has tried to tell us. WWII, the necessary war, was not fought to save Jews, as some schoolchildren now believe.

Hitler was just exactly the kind of villain we feel good about fighting, but his evil is rare in the extreme. He was a result of WWI’s severe damages to Germany and the German psyche. It was the world war that easily could’ve been avoided, and it could have been only a European, not global, war.

Britain, as many historians have noted, could have opted out of WWI. A Franco-Russian defeat would not have been catastrophic for the Empire, and America too would not have fought. But England’s ruling class had capitalist motives to defeat German imperial rivalry.

Our Mother Country commanded us. We fought Germany in Europe; we would not fight for Empire in India, Africa or Ireland.

Canadians ought to be told, again and again as part of our glorious war history, that in WWI our army shot and killed our Quebecois fellow-citizens who were protesting the draft in 1917. Somehow, outside Quebec, this horror of our history is not taught to schoolchildren in any memorable way, whereas Vimy Ridge etc. are hero tales.

War is again commonplace in faraway lands, and Canadians are ready to send troops to fight for Mr. Harper in Afghanistan, Libya, Iran and other imperial interests.

Before, we never did this — go to lands colonized by England or America to fight insurgents. Now we do; our media didn’t bat an eye as we took this path. Still, Remembrance Day is objectionable to me for good reason — its propaganda value for war.

But I do now understand that this day, for soldiers home from combat, needs their special rituals. I wish only soldiers would gather at cenotaphs on Nov. 11, and civilians stay away. That is the ideal way to prevent confusion:  grieving the dead is not a celebration of victory or freedom, nor normalization of war for devious government purposes.                                                                                                                  Charles Jeanes, Nelson