JR'S Free Thought Pages
My Reflections on Remembrance Day
November 11, 2008
All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.
During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. (From 1984)
– George Orwell
War is a racket. It always has been. - Major General Smedley D. Butler
For what did they die?
November 11. I’m sure many people not totally ignorant of history would probably think of this date as the anniversary of "the day that changed everything". It is also Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States. It was once called Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War I, the "war to end all wars". It’s ironic how these empty declarations can seem so impertinent and vacant over time. I’ve always felt uncomfortable, even as a young teenager, with joining in rituals such as singing Oh Canada, God Save the Queen and other patriotic banalities that had no meaning for me. The Bible readings we had to endure and the national anthems at every school function I found painfully boring and void of any real significance. Now I know why.
Unfortunately Remembrance Day is devoted to the perpetuation of a lie. The government, the mass media and our history books all embrace the myth by referring to the needless slaughter and maiming of millions of our young men over the centuries as “sacrifice” and “”dying for our freedoms.” Does anyone who reads real history - not the ethnocentric patriotic feel good hooey we were taught in our high school history courses - and cares about evidence and fact, believe this anymore? Sadly many do. The credulity of many is stretched to the point whereby they even believe the empty platitudes and rhetoric about the most recent atrocities, the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do I need to mention the Vietnam War?
We are urged to wear poppies to honor the sacrifices that Canadian soldiers made in WWI, WWII and the Korean War to protect our lives and freedoms. The uncontested premise is that their sacrifices were made to protect our freedoms. But an objective view of history, untainted by nationalistic rhetoric and slogans, casts a huge shadow of doubt on that premise.
The truth is that the numerous wars fought outside our country had nothing to do with sacrificing lives for our freedoms and everything to do with power and greed. The genuine “sacrifices” and “dying for our freedoms” happened right here at home over the past two centuries. Anyone who knows anything about the history of the labor movement, the fight for women’s liberation and the rights of indigenous people and the civil rights movement know this.
Ask a Japanese Canadian who spent time in a World War II internment camp and whose family was stripped of its property whether his or her "freedom" was safeguarded by the efforts of Canada's soldiers. Ask one of Canada's indigenous people, many of whom enlisted and died in World War II, but still were not allowed to vote in elections as a result of his or her "Indian status" whether he or she felt free at the conclusion of the war. Then ask any of the hundreds of leftists, labor leaders and communists who had their offices and libraries broken into, who were harassed, beaten by the RCMP, charged with bogus “crimes” and thrown in prison for as long as two years – all justified by the lame excuse of “security” and the War Measures Act – much to the delight of conservative elites and corporate leaders. Anyone who wants to know about this sordid Canadian history can consult Dangerous Patriots: Canada's Unknown Prisoners of War by William and Kathleen Repka. Fascism of course, unlike the Communist Party, was not declared illegal in Canada at any time before, during or after the War. Our freedoms were won right here on our own soil with people striking for civilized wages and working conditions, protesting and marching in the streets often at the risk of being beaten up and yes, killed by corporate thugs and the RCMP.
The legislature, the executive, and the judiciary have not pushed our nation forward. They have always strived to maintain the status quo of wealth, inequality and privilege and have only acquiesced with popular movements kicking and screaming. It was not any of the three branches of government that led to the advances in voting rights, labor rights, or the end of slavery, it was mass popular movements. It wasn't Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson or Pierre Trudeau in Parliament nor Woodrow Wilson, FDR, John F Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson in the White House, it was rather people like Frederick Douglass, Tommy Douglas, Martin Luther King, Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Philip Berrigan, Pete Seeger and social activists like them that secured the vote for women, civilized wages, unemployment insurance, rights for indigenous people, universal health care and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Outside America we can mention icons such as Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. It was people on the street marching and fighting for a more equitable democratic state. It was many of those same people like John Kerry that brought about the end to the Vietnam War, not the mainstream media or any of those famous politicians mentioned above. It is this very misperception, the creation of dubious heroes or mythological political leaders that leads to the second danger: disempowerment. We are left to exercise our “democratic right” to vote among a limited choice of conservative multi-millionaire politicians based on a blind faith that they are serving our interests and will make things better.
My father’s older brother was a Spitfire pilot during World War II who was shot down and killed at Al Alemain, North Africa in 1942. To the best of my knowledge the family still has his log book and the letters he sent my Dad informing him how horrific it was overseas, pleading with him not to join up. My father’s older brother obviously had it figured out by then that The War had nothing whatsoever to do with the worn out propaganda mantra of “fighting for our freedoms”. My Dad joined the RCAF anyway and became a wireless air gunner on Lancaster Bombers, miraculously surviving dozens of missions including the Dresden Raid in which the city of Dresden was fire bombed, killing an estimated 200,000 innocent civilians. The raid was ordered by Winston Churchill as revenge for the 400 or so people who were killed by the Luftwaffe on a raid on Coventry in 1940. My Dad came back traumatized and was a despairing alcoholic for all the years I knew him up until his death in 1991.
Here is a letter my mother wrote to MacLean’s magazine yesterday:
After reading the letters in the current MacLean's magazine of November the 10th , I feel I must respond.
My husband, a Canadian Airman in WW2 made numerous night flights of 12-14 hours over Germany. I can tell you that He never recovered from the quilt of killing civilians (re- Dresden etc.) The whole crew were really only "boys" really. He was 23 when He joined Bomber Command in England and the oldest in his crew. When He returned home, he couldn't even talk about it (It actually would have been shameful to admit that you had a problem) That was the mentality of the times and there was absolutely no help for their mental stress. It affected our whole life together and the lives of our children. It bothers me when I hear that they are looked upon as "killers of innocent civilians". They thought they were doing their duty and following orders. War is unforgiving and why we haven't learned something by now, I cannot understand. The killings of innocent civilians and the losses of our wonderful youth continues. Will we ever learn? Whatever happened to "Never Again!
A Canadian Airman's Widow, Evelyn Rebman, Prince George, B.C.
When my father discovered after the war what he and others had done on the bombing raid at Dresden he was devastated and ridden with guilt. War is stupid and barbaric and throughout recorded history has never had anything to do with fighting for freedom or bringing democracy to anyone. It’s all about greed and power of the rich by the rich and for the rich - but fought by the poor and working classes. Any thinking person who doesn’t realize this by the time they are out of Junior High School and still believes the rotting bullshit of duplicitous politicians and power elites is delusional and suffering from acute cognitive dissonance.
The War to End All Wars (World War I) was all about colonialism and how the resources of the Third World were to be divided up among the greedy imperialistic European Powers. Thirty million soldiers were killed or wounded and another seven million were taken captive in that war. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter – and for what? Since then we have learned nothing! At the 1919 peace conferences at Versailles following the Great War the victors invoked the nefarious Old Testament dictum of “an eye for an eye”. The victors punished the vanquished indiscriminately, creating an economic and social environment ripe for totalitarianism and fascism in both Germany and Italy. World War II was a complex conflict steeped in the context, complexity and political blunders in the resolution of World War I. Although that context gave fertile soil to one of the most notorious examples of malevolence known to history - Hitler and the Nazis - the resulting conflict was more a continuation of imperialist rivalries and nationalistic competition than it was a Manichaean battle between good and evil, as it has been characterized in the Remembrance Day propaganda that has come to dominate November 11th. George W Bush used the same inane dichotomous slogans when referring to the War in Iraq – so nothing has really changed.
Fascism could have been stopped in the Spanish Civil War (see my essay on the event) but the Western Powers of Britain, France and the United States abandoned the Republicans side in Spain who fought alone to save their short lived democracy for three horrific years (1936-39) against Franco and his allies Hitler and Mussolini (and the complicit Catholic Church of course). Even our Canadian Prime Ministers during that period, R B Bennett and Mackenzie King were admirers of Hitler and closet fascists, as was the obsequious British Prime Minister and Hitler lover Neville Chamberlain. The young Spanish Republic did get some help from the Soviet Union in arms but the embargos that the French and British imposed and the Nazi submarines made sure most freighters with much needed supplies and arms to the Spanish democratic republic didn’t get through. This didn’t stop American corporations from sending arms, money and supplies to the fascist Franco. Corporate leaders such as Henry Ford were big fans of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco and sent supplies and helped finance the Franco cause. Pretty sick eh? Canada, second only to France, had more men volunteer per capita for the International Brigades in Spain to fight for the Republican cause. Many Canadians joined the fight for democracy with the republican cause in Spain, much to the chagrin of Mackenzie King who did everything in his power to circumvent it.
The Communists Party of Canada, led by Tim Buck, was instrumental in recruiting men to fight fascism for the Spanish Republic. The Communist Party was declared illegal in Canada, but not the Catholic dominated fascist National Socialist Christian Party, led by Adrian Arcand, which was prominent in Quebec. In 1934, Arcand established the Parti National Social Chrétien (National Social Christian Party), which advocated anti-communism anti-Semitism, promoting the deportation of Canadian Jews to Hudson Bay, an idea that was inspired by his friend, noted British Rhodesian fascist Henry Hamilton Beamish, who suggested sending the Jews to Madagascar. Even then, R. B. Bennett secretly hired Arcand as his chief electoral organizer in Quebec for the 1935 federal election. Arcand’s party statutes called for the following oath to be taken at the beginning of every party meeting:
"Moved by the unshakable faith in God, a profound love for Canada, ardent sentiments of patriotism and nationalism, a complete loyalty and devotion toward our Gracious Sovereign who forms the recognized principle of active authority, a complete respect for the British North America Act, for the maintenance of order, for national prosperity, for national unity, for national honour, for the progress and the happiness of a greater Canada, I pledge solemnly and explicitly to serve my party. I pledge myself to propagate the principles of its program. I pledge myself to follow its regulation. I pledge myself to obey my leaders. Hail the party! Hail our Leader!"
Arcand never wavered in his belief in Adolf Hitler, and, in the 1960s, was a mentor to Ernst Zündel, who became a prominent Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi propagandist in the latter part of the 20th century.
When a Republican delegation from Spain toured Canada on a recruitment tour for the cause, their meetings were regularly disrupted by Arcand’s fascist thugs, much to the delight of Premier Maurice Duplessis and prominent Catholic clerics. These are the same swastika uniformed hooligans who regularly marched through the Montreal Jewish communities threatening Jews and smashing up their businesses while the Montreal police stood idly by, refusing to intervene. During this period both provincial and federal governments in Canada used the illegality of the Communist Party as an excuse to raid the offices of labor leaders and leftist groups, many of whom ended up in prison for extended periods on trumped up charges.
The United States supported the dictatorial Franco regime from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until Franco’s death in 1975 because he permitted US air bases in Spain during the Cold War. They did this in spite of the fact that Franco’s secret police and fascist thugs imprisoned or executed anyone in Spain who was a former Republican, a leftist (rojo), an atheist or a free thinking intellectual for years following 1939. The current socialist Spanish government under José Luis Rodríguez Zaptero is now finally starting to break the code of silence since Franco’s death and dig up the thousands of shallow graves of some 300,000 “rojos” (Reds) who were executed and hastily buried in them by Franco’s henchmen.
Holidays like Remembrance Day wouldn't be needed in a nation dedicated to peace, but only for ones committed to perpetual war for an unattainable peace that dishonors its youth in life and disingenuously honors those who died in imperial wars for conquest and plunder. Nations waging wars only guarantee more of them in an endless cycle of militarism, imperialism, violence, brutality and shameless inhumanity for those made to suffer and die in combat theaters - so the wealthy and privileged who get to stay home can profit from them.
People don't want wars but can always be made to support and fight in them using the proven method of choice that always works - fear based on shameless lies and deception by governments with hidden motives unrevealed because who would go along with them if they did. Here’s an expert on the subject, Herman Goering who, during the Nuremburg Tribunals, offered the following:
"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship ...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger."
If people knew the wisdom of iconic investigative journalist I. F. Stone, they'd understand in times of war, or events leading to it, truth is the first casualty. He told young journalists that "All governments are run by liars and nothing they say about anything should be believed, and on another occasion shortened it saying, "All governments lie." What is truly astonishing is how easily people seem willing to believe them. How could anyone my age – who has lived through Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs, Johnson's Vietnam, Nixon's Watergate, Reagan's Iran-Contra, Clinton’s extramarital excursions, the lies to the United Nations by Colin Powell and the Bush I and II Wars in Iraq and the so-called “war on terrorism” and take any assertion by the government at face value? The lap-dog corporate media, as usual, have suspended their skepticism in favor of playing the role of propaganda ministry for the government both in Canada and the United States.
Remembrance Day is the quintessence of hypocrisy and therefore warrants special denunciation. The holiday symbolizes an unashamed legacy of endless wars and bogus patriotic glorification of them including the so-called "good" one that there was nothing good about at all as Ben Franklin knew and once said "There was never a good war or a bad peace." Choosing days to honor the dead who sacrificed everything is a sacrilege and failure to note they died in vain on the altar of power and privilege for the few. Their deaths assure an unending cycle of violence and killing with legions of nameless, faceless grave sites ahead only to be known by those who'll experience unconscionable loss.
These commemorative days stand above other federal holidays as symbols of a nation's depravity and ultimate crime against humanity and wasted lives and dreams of young men and women it has taken. They ignore what Lincoln hoped for at Gettysburg in November, 1863 when he said "we here resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." He knew the horror of war and understood they must end. He also feared they would not and had to reflect that future wars would take their leaders to new battlefields in an endless cycle of death and destruction wars always guarantee. And let us recall John Kerry’s plea for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam in 1971. “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake” he told the Senate Committee who looked absolutely staggered by the fact that anyone would have the audacity to utter such an obvious truism.
Remembrance Day should then be an act of contrition and path to redemption, honoring the living, and taking a sacred oath of non-violence promising to stand by it for all time. It should be a solemn dedication to egalitarianism, equality of opportunity, compassion for our fellow human beings and social justice for all in a state of peace renouncing wars and hypocritical holidays in their honor. Perhaps one day they'll be no more wars because young men and women no longer will fight in them.
I can only speculate that if Hitler had won the Second World War and taken over the world, we would be encouraged to celebrate that conquest on some day of remembrance, perhaps "honoring" the soldiers of the Fatherland and the sacrifices that they made as the Third Reich spread its "benevolent influence" over the world, heralding an age of democracy, prosperity and racial purity. On the other hand, they might have developed a pithy slogan to represent their abominable cause, perhaps ones like “sacrifice” and “dying for our freedom". Either way, I wouldn't wear a swastika on my lapel on that day. Although I buy poppies, I don't feel comfortable wearing them on my lapel on Remembrance Day any more than I would a swastika.
There was an excellent letter in this morning’s Sun that essentially told the ugly truth about war, Remembrance Day and the vacuous rhetoric that surrounds the event. I’ve included it below.
What we owe the dead is the truth
Today is Remembrance Day, a day to remember, not glorify, wars. What we owe the dead is the truth.
Soldiers don't fight for freedom. Soldiers fight for money, for their fellow soldiers, to stay alive, to defeat the enemy, to secure territory. Those are their jobs in wartime.
Social and economic justice in Canada, the rule of law, our civil rights, the rights to assembly and free speech, and the rights of minorities have all been decided here, not in foreign wars.
Canadians have been beaten, imprisoned, killed and blacklisted fighting for these rights and freedoms in Canada. Our quality of life has been hard won by blood, suffering and persecution inside our own borders.
Wars are fought for property, power and profit. They aren't fought for the sake of soldiers. To suggest that war is all about supporting the soldiers is an emotional button-pushing propaganda ploy.
Dead soldiers are not sacrificed; we aren't the Aztecs.
Dead soldiers are not fallen. They didn't slip on a loose rug.
Dead soldiers have been killed in war, just as other working Canadians are killed on the job.
War is a tragedy. The cycle of the natural order is brutally disrupted as the old bury the young. This we should remember.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008