On November 11th Canadians commemorate the fallen, the lost lives of the men that have been killed in service to the nation in World War 1 as well as wars since then. We thank them for what they have done in their efforts to preserve freedom and democracy.
Remembrance on its own however isn’t enough. It isn’t enough because the mentality that has pushed millions of men into trenches to mindlessly slaughter each other 100 years ago is still in place. Moreover, the war to end all wars has started pretty much every war since that time; World War 2 included.
In 2014 We need to become more objective and critical when it comes to war. Through history, the individual fought on the side he or she was born on, more or less. The state demands it.
World War 1 was not about either freedom or democracy. It was about power and wealth. In fact, Germany had universal male suffrage at the time. Britain qualified about 40% of males to vote. At that time, the United Kingdom brutally ruled the globe at the point of a gun. This is not to suggest German imperialism was better or worse; both were employed by very wealthy people aiming to maximize profit and this factor is war's genesis; it is the reason why all this carnage occurred and still occurs. The nature of empire is a nature of violence and oppression and to the extent we bolster that tradition and mentality with Remembrance Day celebrations, we should examine and analyze these processes very carefully. If Remembrance Day ceremonies militarize the population and shore up future support for offensive war against other nations, we need to critically examine what we are doing. If it is truly about reflecting on the deaths of so many, then we should do so.
Remembrance Day must be more than a day to support unquestioned support for the state, for the powers that make war happen. Unquestioning the motives of the state is more than dangerous, it is immoral. This should be a day to actually remember and analyze the mistakes of the past to not repeat them. If waging war is a mistake that results in the deaths of thousands or millions of human beings, it is not merely a mistake. It is a crime of the highest order and we, the cannon fodder for future wars, must do the analysis. The people that actually send us to war will not.
Bush’s apparent mistake by waging war in Iraq occurred in a climate of nationalist jingoism and insecurity after 9 11. Mistakes like that may occur when a population is in fear, when a population is desensitized to the plight of foreign individuals, and when popular media notes all the reasons for going to war while burying the myriad of reasons not to. Although Bush’s push to war was not as much a mistake as it was a planned and thought out bid for oil control as well as America’s strategic placement on the world map, it was a mistake in the analysis of the population. Otherwise, popular opposition may have interfered with war planning and possibly stopped an invasion. This venture has only resulted in far more instability and carnage than could have been possible otherwise. As we can see in 2014, that war is far from ending.
One Thread of Legacy
With an upheaval as massive as World War One, it would be impossible to list the threads of legacy that have spun from that carnage. Perhaps the most relevant one that is impacting people today is the ongoing Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. That legacy runs this way: the Balfour Declaration in 1926 set scaffolding for the Israeli state, the Treaty of Versailles set up a frightened and dangerous mood in Germany. Germany, under Hitler, killed 6 million Jews and many more including communists, socialists, gypsies, gays and so on. Naturally, the Jewish people wanted their own state and security for themselves as a people. Today, the people of Israel do not feel secure; they are not.
War feeds on insecurity and fear and in turn, creates more of the same. World War 1 created acute insecurity among the German people; a very dangerous condition. Germans became suspicious and frightened of everybody and xenophobia ran high. Conditions like this empower the state to its dangerous and violent extremes.
Jewish people had been living in Palestinian lands prior to 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel. They lived with some tension with local Arabs but both populations managed to get along. Western powers callously created a state that is based on religious or ethnic attributes necessarily creating a society of exclusion as opposed to working toward inclusion and peace. The exclusion or lowering of the status of the local people that had been living there all along is itself is an act of violence, of war. As a result, the people of Israel live in a sea of hatred where individuals and groups of individuals would like to eradicate the state of Israel and individuals living as Jewish people in Israel. It is an extremely volatile and ongoing situation and it is directly tied to the war to end all wars; World War 1.
The current bombing of ISIS may not tie as directly to World War 1 but the artificial drawing of boundaries throughout the Middle East by Western powers has set up conditions for conflict and mutual distrust. This, along with a widespread acceptance of dominance by imperial powers is a certain recipe for disaster. The latter point is a crucial in terms of remembrance. It is the end we collectively hold up.
What is it we bring to mind when we remember? The reality is; not much. If we did we would stop repeating the same mindless carnage over and over and over again. Today, in 2014, Western powers, led by the USA are dropping bombs on ISIS after the USA intervened in Iraq and upon their departure, set up certain civil war between the Sunnis and the Shia by stripping power and wealth from one population and handing it over to the other. The British did exactly the same thing to Protestant and Catholic populations in the British Isles.
The West and NATO have attacked and bombed Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya in recent years with an aim to overthrow those dictatorships. A kind and forgiving attitude toward Western intervention would need to admit, at least, that these regime change ventures have created more terrorists and have increased hatred against the West and against Israel. They have boxed many millions of ordinary Muslim citizens into a corner where they have little choice but to fight against violent domination by foreign forces. We are creating not only terrorism but turning whole populations against the West. This reaction will extend to an unknown extent to include antipathy toward Western style democracy, individual freedom, and legal frameworks based in rationality. We are not only perverting modernity, we are turning people against it and against ourselves as people in the existing unwieldy climate of fear and violence.
Cavalier About War
Unlike Europeans and much of the world, North Americans have not seen war directly on American or Canadian soil in living memory. Perhaps this explains the cavalier attitude about war that fills media and political circles. That same attitude is well established within the population. And from North America, war is pushed through the world. Allies are pressured to take part, to join in with what Washington calls, ‘the community of nations’.
Unlike 1914, war today is directed toward civilian populations. The dropping of bombs in settled areas is the ultimate act of cowardice, not unlike terrorist bombings of civilians. It is meant to collectively punish disobedient or resistant populations. The Sunnis in Syria and Iraq are the latest enemy suffering under this ongoing war crime. ISIS are slaughtering innocent people that even hint at defiance. Civilians have paid a heavy price as a result of vague targeting of leaders of Taliban, Al Qeada, ISIS; collateral damage is the euphemism intended to sterilize indiscriminate carnage. The Western Frankenstein known as ISIS advertise their brutality like a badge of honour. They are not unique in this regard.
The commencement of bombing on CSIS is met with the same apathy as when Libya was attacked by NATO. Stephen Harper starts a war and it barely raises an eyebrow. Obviously we are not remembering much. We are at a point where the start of a war is received with a collective shrug of the shoulders or, a cheer reminiscent of a great sports event. Then on November 11th we stand in parks and monuments to remember. The world is getting ugly and we are at a point where we need to ask ourselves: What are we remembering?
Do we remember 158 Canadians that have died in Afghanistan? Those that know them remember them but what about the rest of us? What is it we are supposed to remember?
Perhaps when we remember those that died, we also remember political mistakes or planned conspiracies to start wars. We must remember the death and carnage and the destruction of whole societies. We remember the lies that have been delivered to us through media and political sycophants. We should remember the way war veterans have been treated and the way they continue to be treated. We must remember the millions of lives lost on and off the battlefield and we should remember that armies have lined up against each other for thousands of years with a willingness to kill those born on the other side of the border should some Dear Leader demand it. Maybe we are not above the barbarians we aim to kill. Perhaps if we really remember, we will put an end to it.