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
Thoughts on Remembrance Day (formerly "Armistice Day" and currently "Veteran's Day" in the USA)
By Johnny Reb, November 11, 2014
Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori - Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
Many are perhaps unaware that Remembrance Day was once called Armistice Day, commemorating the peace agreement that ended the "war to end all wars". The phrase "war to end all wars" was a slogan of hope by the oppressed masses of the world for a future peaceful existence; but alas, it was not to be. So why do we continue to have endless wars? Remembrance Day has since gone far beyond the mere observance and expectation of peace because imperialism and its offshoot war serve the interests of certain conservative power elites who deem them commercial enterprises, vital components of the global capitalist system.
The nauseating annual ritual of insidious patriotic and nationalistic verbal vomit that spews from our pathetic politicians and obedient corporate media is now upon us. The sight of veterans on television marching robotically in memory of pointless past wars with medals plastered on their uniforms, awarded for killing in the name of imperialism and profit is an appalling shameless spectacle. I refuse to participate in anything associated with this macabre "holiday" in which the vast majority of primarily working class people are deemed mere cannon fodder in the interests of profiteers.
I'm sick of this annual farce when hypocritical politicians of every stripe and their lackeys in the media pretend that they care about the men and women they send off to fight and die in barbaric wars of political expediency and profit. Save for the duplicitous ritual of "Remembrance Day", they completely ignore these naive young men and women for the rest of their lives once they return home, many of whom have been traumatized, suffering from PTSD and life-long disabilities due to horrendous wounds.
Remembrance day, like so much of our cultural tradition, has been hijacked by conservatives, reactionaries and militarists in both politics and our corporate controlled media. Let's cut through the vile horse crap that's been drilled into our consciousness since childhood! A good start might be to replace the poppies with "ban the bomb" pins. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I, resulting in the pointless slaughter of millions of young men and the decimation of an entire generation in many countries. During the war in Britain reporters then were rewarded and knighted for their silence and collusion. At the peak of the slaughter, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George confided in Charles Prestwich Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth] the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don’t know and can’t know.”
It’s about time we knew. So let's ignore the vacuous rhetoric of our conservative political and economic masters; the two world wars of the 20th century were wars like every other throughout recorded history. The vicious game of war is exploitation and mass murder in the name of greed, power and profit. The notion that an 18-year-old from an under privileged background signs up with the resolve to sacrifice his life for the abstract concepts of freedom, God and country is an egregious fraud. War is the quintessence of human stupidity, a need for dominance and monstrous crime against humanity. Full stop.
Throughout history was has been a source of wealth with most wars being little more than adventures for dominance and looting on a grand scale. Similarly, in our own time, wars are dressed up with rhetoric and slogans about principles or causes which have little or no meaning or relevance to the masses. The case of the Christian Crusades, which continued their pillaging and orgy of killing, on and off, for centuries, springs to mind. Before the late 19th century or so, soldiers and sailors were not motivated by their paltry pay and austere conditions it being understood as a condition of service in any campaign that they would enjoy a share of the bounty pillaged, including rape of the enemies women.
War remains a source of wealth, only on a scale which could not have been imagined a few hundred years ago, but the spoils no longer go to state employed soldiers or mercenaries in a professionalized military using deadly technology undreamed of even 100 years ago, they go to those wealthy elites and their political pimps responsible for the war, often in forms not easily recognized, as with special rights, entitlements, concessions and clandestine arrangements. The justifications for war presented to the people, the devious forms of vacuous manufactured consent such as "fighting for democracy and our freedoms" generally have nothing to do with the real raison d'être.
As in the case of the Wizard of Oz, appearances can be deceiving. Ordinary people need to invoke a critical scepticism to detect the devious forms and customs such as patriotism that have been constructed by elites over the centuries, forms and rituals which create impressive effects much like the green smoke screen and thunderous pronouncements of the Wizard of Oz, a bucolic old man who operated from behind his curtained control room, pulling levers and hitting buttons to propagandize, convince, and coerce by creating intimidating effects. Most unthinking citizens in our faux democracies continue to be impressed and bamboozled with the smoke and thunder and cheap magic tricks, requiring some dedicated effort to shake off well-done illusions and lies. But families today, with both partners working extremely hard long hours in their jobs, live a kind of marginal existence trying to subsist by on low wages or part-time work, either of which situations leaves little time or inclination to question what government and the wealthy financial elites who finance and elect them is really doing and for whose benefit. The belief that wealthy people donating millions of dollars to political candidates expect nothing in return is not even worth discussing. The "national interest" is invariably not your interest; were the informed consent of the governed genuinely and directly involved in decisions to launch bloody imperialistic wars and escapades, they most likely would never happen.
The grim two decade aftermath of World War I* and the tragedy of the punitive Treaty of Versailles were, among other events, contributing factors to the emergence of Hitler and Mussolini and ultimately the Second World War**. These two fascist thugs could have been staunched in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. But the conservative politicians, military hierarchy and big business elites in the capitalist countries of the Western World (primarily the powerful influences of Britain and the USA) made sure that the Popular Front of the newly formed Spanish Republic that tried to take Spain out of the dark ages of theocratic and monarchical feudalism was abandoned. France, under the socialist President Leon Blum, sincerely wanted to help the new democracy in Spain against the reactionary fascist rebellion that erupted but were subjected to daunting pressure from Britain and its conservative royalists such as Winston Churchill. Rather than the democratic republic of Spain, he and other powerful conservative forces in Britain supported the fascists and other draconian extreme right wing forces in Spain under the leadership of the monarchist, militarist and Catholic General Francisco Franco. Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini supported their fascist pal Franco financially and militarily, using the war as a testing ground for their growing military might and combined air and ground blitzkrieg stratagem that they later used so effectively in attacking Poland, France and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
World War I, like all others, was not a conflict about democracy. None of the combatants, including Britain would qualify as democracies under any criteria that define a democracy. With their restrictive voting franchise and government structures and political order that heavily favoured conservative entitlements and privilege. The senseless war was based in greed, a power struggle by Europe's colonial empires whose populations such as India and those in South East Asia and Africa, had no voice whatsoever. Adam Hochschild's 2011 book To End All Wars is one of the best on the war, focusing on the efforts of those who tried to put a stop to the insanity.
From Vancouver to towns and cities throughout the world town squares are decorated with memorials to local men who "sacrificed" themselves for God and Country in 1914-1918, and statues and plaques honouring the war’s leading generals can be found from Edinburgh Castle to Pershing Square in Los Angeles. But virtually nothing similar celebrates those who served the cause of peace. The Polish-German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, who argued against the suppression of free speech both in the Kaiser’s Germany and in Soviet Russia, spent more than two years in a German prison for her opposition to the war. The American labour leader Eugene V. Debs, imprisoned for urging resistance to the draft, was still in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta in 1920, two years after the war ended, when he received nearly a million votes as the Socialist Party candidate for president. The French socialist Jean Jaurès spoke out passionately against the war he saw coming in 1914 and, due to this, was assassinated by a French militarist just four days before the fighting began. In a subsequent trial, the assassin was found innocent because his was labelled a “crime of passion.” Against the opposition of their own governments, the pioneer social worker Jane Addams and other women helped organize a women’s peace conference in Holland in 1915 with delegates from both warring and neutral countries. And in every nation that took part in that terrible war, young men of military age - thousands of them - either went to jail or were executed for refusing to fight.
The great British philosopher, logician and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) ended up in prison in 1916 for merely writing a pamphlet against the mass slaughter, imploring young men to not join the military. But he used his incarceration productively, writing an excellent book on the philosophy of mathematics, a book like so many others he wrote, that is still relevant today. Apart from killing about 20,000,000 people, mostly young men, the war rendered countless others disabled and crippled and left a huge swath of destruction throughout Europe.
One war inexorably leads to another as a supposedly "intelligent" species refuses to learn from past debacles and disasters. Russell remarked that the desire of the European monarchs to crush the French Revolution led to Napoleon; the Napoleonic wars produced German nationalism that itself led to Bismarck, the French defeat at Sedan and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. That in turn fuelled French revanchism that gave rise, after World War I, to the Versailles Treaty, whose inequities gave a strong boost to fascism and Hitler. Russell ended the story there, but it continued unabated. There was the Spanish Civil War in which Hitler and Mussolini supported the Franco and fascists, leading to the defeat of the democratically elected popular front Republic and ultimately, World War II.* Hitler’s defeat gave rise to the Cold War and the creation of Israel, the Korean War and the horrific atrocity and slaughter in the Vietnam War and its aftermath. The four decades following the Second World War led to the clash of ideologies and the ultimate Western “victory” in the Cold War that in turn led to the current desire to crush Russia once and for all. Then came the two illegal and immoral invasions of Iraq, leading to the endless wars on "terrorism" that persist today in the Middle East.
*There are many other causal factors that led to the Second World War, but it certainly could have been prevented. The causes of the First World War were also varied and complex but it was primarily about the behaviour of greedy Western European countries and their endless disputes about how their colonial empires were to be divided up. Hermann Göring was second in command in the Third Reich, founder of the Gestapo and commander-in-chief of the German air force during the Second World War. Consider his views on War: "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... 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 tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
The way the end of the Cold war was interpreted in the West, as an unilateral victory of Good versus Evil, led to a total disregard for international law or even for caution and diplomacy in the West. This Biblical idea was a consequence of the ideology of human rights and of the right of humanitarian military intervention that was developed by influential Western neo-conservative intellectuals, starting from the mid 1970’s, who were generally fervent supporters of Israel, which ought to seem peculiar given Israel’s human rights record. US intervention is multi-faceted but constant and always violates the spirit and often the letter of the United Nations charter. Despite claims to act on behalf of principles such as freedom and democracy, US intervention has repeatedly had disastrous consequences: not only the millions of deaths caused by direct and indirect wars, in Indochina, Central America, Southern Africa and the Middle East, but also the lost opportunities, the “killing of hope” for hundreds of millions of people who might have benefited from progressive social policies initiated by people like Arbenz in Guatemala, Goulart in Brazil, Allende in Chile, Lumumba in the Congo, Mossadegh in Iran, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or Chavez in Venezuela, who have been systematically subverted, overthrown or killed with full Western support. The primary impetus for such interventions has been to staunch the people's socialist movements in countries and protect capitalist exploitation and American corporate interests which is prevalent in almost every Third World country. This policy can be traced all the way back its policy of "manifest destiny" and the invasion of Mexico in the 1840s, the result of which was the annexation of the top half of the country.
The views expressed in this essay are shared by millions of people in the West and elsewhere but is unfortunately not reflected in our corporate controlled conservative media. In the recent frenzied anti-Russian rhetoric and campaigns, our media seem to have totally abandoned the critical spirit of the Enlightenment that the West claims to uphold. The human rights ideology, which portrays a Manichaean us versus them, good versus evil, has the characteristic of all monotheistic religious faiths, and is particularly bellicose, vile and fanatical. Let us not forget, among all the criticisms I have expressed here, that in both World War Wars and most wars throughout history, the combatants from each side claimed they had God on their side, although, a far as I know, the Almighty (whoever or whatever that might be) was not caring enough to let us know which side he favoured. Perhaps he, she or it was too busy ushering up to heaven or hell the "souls" of the soldiers who died invoking their chosen deity.
Some people think that all this ideological rhetoric, propaganda and warmongering is a function of rational economic calculations and cost-benefit analysis by cynical predatory profiteers. I think this view is too narrow and optimistic and ignores, to cite Bertrand Russell, "the ocean of human folly upon which the fragile barque of human reason insecurely floats”. Wars throughout recorded have been waged for all kinds of non-economic reasons, such as religion or revenge, or simply to from a psychopathic need for power.
Recently in the United States there have been merciless cuts in food stamps and other social programs for the chronically poor, but not a single dollar has been cut from the bloated military budget that includes supporting over 700 military bases throughout the world. The military in the United States accounts for about 50% of the government's annual discretionary budget. Add the militarism, endless imperialistic wars and massive military expenditures to the tax concessions for the rich and big corporations (and their evasions via offshore tax havens) and it's no mystery why the country is technically bankrupt.
War is a lie and always has been a lie.
It's heartbreakingly depressing to realize that every year there is a steady stream of credulous young men prepared to engage in legalized murder, falling for the same worn-out propaganda, rhetoric and deceit about lofty opaque notions of "honour", "duty to country", "courage", "fighting for our freedoms", "defending democracy", and so on. After 70 years of listening to this offensive patriotic rubbish year after year, to say the least it's wearing a bit thin. The most disturbing fact is how easily people believe this bullshit. As a kid I could never understand these vacuous slogans and the purpose of mindless rituals such as singing "Oh Canada" and "God Save the Queen", pledges of allegiance and waving the flag. Now I understand only too well. When will a politician or religious leader (perennial cheerleaders for every war) with enough intestinal fortitude and honesty stand up and say: "ENOUGH!" Even our parents had the guts to tell us Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were lies. The acceptance of the fact that war is a lie is long overdue.
It's become a truism that "the first casualty of war is the truth." This perceptive statement can be traced back to Samuel Johnson who seems to have had the first word on the deceit and lies about the justifications for war: "Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages." (The Idler, 1758)
In every war, working class men are bribed and goaded into murdering other fellow working class men they've never met by being called "cowards" and "traitors" if they don't fall for the lies. I first learned about this duplicity and treachery reading All Quiet on the Western Front as a young teen. These primarily working class men are coerced and shamed into enlisting often due to economic desperation, planned and implemented by a psychopathic plutocratic elite. The war game is played out by convincing or coercing the working classes to kill other men of their class, dying or being grotesquely maimed in order to inflate the profits of multinational corporations and the military-industrial complex. But do the rich business bastards and the phony politicians they control and who profits from these wars ever fight in them? Not a chance! Chicken hawks such as Stephen Harper, George W Bush and Tony Blair would never put on a uniform and place themselves in harm's way. After hearing the first shot they would be calling for the diaper brigade.
War has become much like our atomized over-burdened and cluttered personal lives that have been computerized and subjected to a technological nightmare of surveillance and self-lobotomizing technological gadgets of mindless distraction such as i-phones and i-pads. Our politicians and their military minions now can kill their enemies real and imagined from a computer terminal the size of an i-phone with increasing efficiency, often with apparent precision, but still not without widespread collateral damage. One of the latest killing devices is called a "drone". What are drones? They are small scale tactical nuclear weapon cocktails served up to brown skinned children with distended bellies by well-manicured entitled barbarians in citadels and mansions by their servants in corporate boardrooms and military war rooms with equally distended bellies.
Can anyone name a single war that was not in the interest of inflating someone's bank account?
In addition to "Remembrance Day", "Armistice Day" or "Veterans Day" being turned into a celebration of war veneration, militarism and mass murder, Mother's Day was originally established by the mothers (from both the North and South) to memorialize their sons who were killed in the American Civil War. But it too has been transmogrified into something else, an annual ritual of gratuitous consumerism.
So, I repeat myself: let's cut through the bullshit. Yes, we need to remember the impressionable young men who needlessly sacrificed their lives in barbaric gratuitous wars and the countless others who were maimed and disabled by horrific wounds - but for what purpose and for whom? Cui bono? Untold numbers of other young men who made it back home were often psychologically traumatized by the experience of war and when they did return rarely received the medical attention they so desperately needed. Many of these confused and tormented men turned to alcohol, drugs and other palliatives to ease their confusion, anger, nightmares and pain.* My father, an RCAF wireless operator on Lancaster bombers, was one of them. His only brother, an RCAF fighter pilot, never made it back. He was killed when his Spitfire was shot down in November, 1942 at the battle of El Aleman in the deserts of North Africa. What remained of his body was buried there.
*I might add that homelessness, which is today an epidemic within the general population, has been increasing dramatically among war veterans in Canada, as it has in the United States for decades. According to a recent survey conducted in Toronto, 16 per cent of homeless people in the city had served in the military at one time or another. We live within an austere uncaring global socio-economic ideological political order in which certain classes of people are deemed disposable. Our military veterans are such a class of people. A report on the grim conditions and shocking numbers of homeless American vets of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq can be read here.
I could elaborate on the teenage men from my grandparents on both sides of the family who were needlessly slaughtered in World War One, but I won't distress the reader any further with endless stories of pointless carnage. Most of you reading this have similar stories. To all young men and women I implore you: regardless of your economic condition, REFUSE TO JOIN THE MILITARY for any reason. It's one way of saying NO to state sanctioned murder called "war".
Mohandas Gandhi was once asked by a journalist what he thought of "western civilization". His response was: "it would be a good idea". My appeals to young men and women to avoid the military as a state institution of injustice, violence, oppression and death are based partly on sentiments expressed by Gandhi. I can't recall his precise wording, but Gandhi once said: "By your beliefs, moral sentiments and acts, be the change you want to see in the world." If you want a world of mutual understanding, fair play, cooperation and peace, one cannot use violence to achieve them. In challenging the brutal British colonialism in his country, Gandhi proclaimed: "In the end they will walk away because 100,000 British military personnel cannot control 350 million Indians if those 350 million refuse to cooperate."
We can apply this advice in our own so-called "democratic" Western countries which are controlled by a tiny wealthy elite and corporatist financial plutocrats. A small minority cannot control an uncooperative dissident majority. Like Gandhi in dealing with the colonization and exploitation of his homeland, just say no to non-democratic corporate tyranny and the venality and corruption intrinsic to the political process in our own country. The ruling elite minority must be challenged, distracted, divided and yes, even intimidated and forced, into compliance by the majority.
We have a long way to go before we can think of Western Christian culture as "civilized". In fact one could quite convincingly argue it is we who are the real "savages", not the millions of indigenous peoples whose land we stole, enslaved and slaughtered from the time of Columbus - all in the name of our precious Christianity and Western Civilization. We need to start this democratization and civilizing process at home.
Thanks to Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, Canada, once a rare voice of peace, civility and sanity in the world, has now become mired in the illegal and immoral imperialistic quagmire of the Middle East, joining the United States and Britain in the blood for oil savagery.
Eugene Debs, Socialist Party candidate for President of the United States during a rare era of progressivism in US history, stated in 1915:
"When I say I am opposed to war I mean ruling class war, for the ruling class is the only class that makes war…I would be shot for treason before I would enter such a war….I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; I am a citizen of the world…I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the world- wide war of the social revolution. In that war I am prepared to fight in any way the ruling class may make necessary, even to the barricades."
For this and other assertions against the US planned participation in World War One, Debs was charged with sedition by the Woodrow Wilson government and sentenced to five years in prison.
A few years ago I wrote a piece called "Reflections of Remembrance Day" that expresses many of the aforementioned sentiments:
Check out this testimonial by an Iraq War Vet:
If I had to recommend just two books they would be:
War is a Lie by David Swanson
To End all Wars by Adam Hochschild
A few favourite anti-war movies:
Paths of Glory (1957) with a brilliant performance by Kirk Douglas
Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Catch 22 (1970)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
November 11, 2014
This is What War Does
A Glimpse of Carnage
By John Chuckman
A Canadian photographer named Bryan Adams (yes, the rock singer) has done something extraordinary in publishing Wounded: the Legacy of War, a book of photographs of what war does to soldiers. The wounds of his subjects are not covered with gore as they would be on the battlefield. His pictures are clean studio shots. The subjects sometimes even are smiling. Their wounds are healed, at least as much as such wounds can ever be called healed, but the surrealistic sense of the pictures says something profound story about our society. We’ve done these savage things to our own young, and then left them to spend the rest of their lives struggling with the results.
For an institution which quite literally dominates human history, it is a remarkable that the real face of war is never seen by most people. The press goes so far in avoiding it that it creates a fantasy picture, in many respects resembling those beautifully done dioramas of lead soldiers in famous battles. It’s the same psychology at work when caskets containing the blasted remains of soldiers are draped with bright, cheery flags. And when war is over, there’s the home town parade with flags and drums and high-stepping baton twirlers in cute little sequinned outfights, with no sign of death or gore to be seen.
A few times in my life a bit of the truth has leaked out. During Vietnam, the first major war in the mature television age, the public was exposed to some of it. Not a great deal, mind you, but it was enough to provide governments a harsh warning on the effects such images have upon the public’s support for war.
Fairly early, television showed us Marines dutifully torching the thatched homes of peasants, I’m sure never giving a thought to someone’s doing the same to Mom and Dad’s farmhouse back in Indiana. But still we never saw a hint of the wholesale slaughters of a war which extinguished three million lives. We saw the distant flashes and puffs of smoke of bombings, including the instantaneous infernos of that hellish stuff, napalm, ripping across a landscape, but never a single frame of the resulting incinerated bodies. No newsreel ever showed close-ups of a village or city after American carpet-bombing by B-52s. We did see the odd distant shot of a prisoner falling from a high-flying helicopter but never the preceding close-up scene of his being hurled out by American Special Forces or intelligence operatives unhappy with his answers to questions.
I recall an American deserter speaking at a public meeting in Toronto of his raping a young Vietnamese woman and then emptying his rifle into her, an atrocity which is reported to have been repeated many times over the years. After all, what do you think happens when young men, often from the most marginal backgrounds, are dumped in a foreign place they cannot understand and often hate, armed with powerful weapons and under no normal restraints? Young men, especially under stress, are capable of almost any savagery, and you do have a responsibility to consider that reality before sending them off to terrorize others.
Early during Vietnam I recall another young man briefly interviewed on television whose face had been turned into a molten-looking mass, perhaps from napalm, his mouth consisting of a hole into which a straw could be inserted. What purpose could possibly be worth that sacrifice? I’m not sure, but I know it wasn’t a dirty colonial war in Vietnam started by cheating and lying to the people who had to fight it.
When Britain went to war in the Falklands, the warning of Vietnam was heeded. All the British people saw were selected, cleaned-up images of another dirty colonial war, images like a stalwart Maggie Thatcher waving off the Falklands fleet, and who on this planet could better play the role of a stern and impressive god of war than Mrs. Thatcher? She gave Winston Churchill himself a run for his money.
I did read of one instance of a dead or dying invading British soldier having been photographed on the beach with bowels torn open and spilled out, but the image was suppressed.
Some very heroic cameramen from the Middle East did obtain shocking images of the savagery of America’s war in Iraq, a war in which cluster bombs were heavily used but also white phosphorus and depleted uranium shells. I recall images of horribly mangled children, burnt smudgy corpses, a woman virtually smashed into the ground, and others, but they were only a small sample of America’s destruction of a million or so souls.
The images were found on not-widely-known sites on the Internet, even Al-Jazeera itself being then not familiar to most Americans. The images never made their way onto the pages of The New York Times or the evening news on NBC where they would have been seen by the millions of ordinary Americans in whose name the atrocities were committed. The American military does appear to have made an effort to target foreign journalists trying to capture some truth, killing the messengers, as it were, in the spirit of vicious boys ripping the wings off butterflies.
There were still other images from Iraq on the Internet, and these came straight from America’s own dear “boys in harm’s way.” There was an Internet site, briefly, which provided young American soldiers with free access to raw pornographic sexual images in return for their submitting raw pornographic war images, as from cell phones and the like. There were reportedly large numbers of takers on the offer, sending in their snaps of things like bloody boots with bits of leg sticking out or of a human head half turned into beef tartar before Pentagon matrons dedicated to decency in war closed the operation down.
America’s horrors at Abu Ghraib were heavily censored. According to America’s best investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, we saw only the most innocuous images of degrading treatment, the frat-boy pranks with naked humans, dog leashes, and shit. We did not see the hard-core stuff of torture, rape, including of children, and death, pictures which did in fact exist but were suppressed. The stuff from Guantanamo was along the same lines, images of degrading treatment, men in jump suits and chains kneeling in tiny cells – just enough for the folks back home to say “Good, it’s what they deserve,” but not enough to shock or terrify Americans about what was being done in their name.
I recall an image from Israel’s first savage assault on Gaza, one killing several hundred children and more than a thousand others, an image of a narrow street running with a small river of blood and desperate people trying to pass without stepping into it. Such images are rare because Israel allows no one access to document its filthy work. Even after the savagery is over, various organizations and officials generally are refused entry even on humanitarian missions, as is the case today after a second mass murder in Gaza killing even more children than the first.
War is such a time of fearful darkness and chaos that great horrors can be hidden easily under its cover. In Afghanistan, three thousand prisoners were “disappeared” by one of America’s war lord allies by being taken out in sealed trucks into the desert to suffocate, their bodies then dumped into mass graves. This occurred shortly after American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a shameful Nazi-like public statement that the large numbers of Al Qaeda prisoners being held in Afghanistan should either be killed or walled away for the rest of their lives. This war crime was committed right under the noses of occupying American soldiers and clearly with Mr. Rumsfeld’s secret blessing, and it has never been featured or investigated except by a British documentary film maker.
It is invariably human nature to show others our work, of any kind, when we are proud of what it is that we have done. The great irony of war is that we invariably are ashamed of what we have done, and yet we repeat, some of us, the work again and again.
Another great irony of war is that it is almost never about defending ourselves, although that is what the propaganda never stops telling us that that is what it is about. That is why America uses the term Department of Defense, and Israel calls its army the Israeli Defense Force.
What was America defending in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Serbia, in Afghanistan, or in Iraq? Only its right to tell others what to do, a right based solely on the concept of might makes right, the slogan of the bully. So too for its many violent and destructive interventions using hired thugs into the affairs of others, whether in Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Iran, Syria, Ukraine, or other places.
What does Israel defend in its endless assaults upon its neighbours, none of them remotely capable of seriously threatening Israel much less destroying it, and its ceaseless hectoring for even more war in the region? Again, nothing more than the right to tell others what to do, a right based only on might makes right. And what of the countless assassinations in half a dozen countries and interference into the affairs of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Iraq and other countries?
I notice something in what I’ve written. While I started with war’s effect upon soldiers, almost all my words deal with civilians; that brings us to the greatest irony of modern war: soldiers are just a tiny part of those killed and brutally injured. It cannot be otherwise with missiles, heavy bombing, and other indiscriminate weapons. Modern war is mass killing of civilians, always and everywhere, a practice which evolved in World War II and has done nothing but progress in that direction since. Even when they aren’t the actual targets, as in America’s nightmarish assassination-by-drone project, large numbers of dead or mangled civilians are the unavoidable consequence. Well, if you’re in for killing mere suspects as in the drone project, I guess extra civilians don’t mean much, do they? “In for penny, in for pound,” as they say.
We’ve even developed special language for the realities of indiscriminate killing. Israel, at the very least, always is said to be killing “militants.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a “militant,” and I doubt I’d be able to recognize one walking down the street. But our clever press instantly recognizes them when they are shot full holes by Israeli soldiers. You see, Israel simply can never be wrong in our press, so if it hasn’t killed terrorists, it has to have killed “militants,” and that’s surely almost as good.
As for the tens of thousands maimed and slaughtered by America’s hideous bombings in many lands, well, they are called, right on the evening news by announcers in pancake makeup with blow-dried hair in momentarily subdued tones just before moving on to the sports scores, “collateral damage.”
Mohammed Ali - see Dave Zirin's "The Terror Dome"
Herman Goring on War
"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... 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 tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
(1) Ninety-one year old veteran Harry Leslie Smith (b. 1923-) is taking his last stand.
I just received my order from The Book Depository in London (cheapest I could find) of two books by Smith, 1923: A Memoir and Harry's Last Stand. I' almost finished the first in one days reading and can't wait to get at the second. I'll definitely be ordering his other two books available at The Book Depository. These books ought to be available in your local library.
In 1926, Harry Leslie Smith's sister died of TB in a workhouse infirmary, too poor for proper medical care. In1948, the newly elected Labor Party brought in the National Health Service in England finally put a stop the injustice and unfairness of medical care for only the rich. Poverty and wealth are generally inherited states today as they were back then.
In an extract from his new book, Harry's Last Stand, posted on The Guardian web site, he describes his despair at the Labor Party sellout to neo-conservatism under Tony Blair and the current coalition's dismantling of the welfare state. This man has had an amazing life, a life of dire poverty, desperation and struggle most would never have endured or survived.
At 91 years young Harry is as radical and unrepentant as ever as he was a kid trying desperately to survive the poverty, destitution and family dysfunction of the Northern English working class that he was born into. Harry is still fighting the good fight for social justice, decency and civility for the working class into which he was born. He presently lives in Canada.
Here is Harry featured on The Guardian newspaper:
Many more posts by Harry at The Guardian web site. Check him out. What a gem.
"As one of the last remaining survivors of the Great Depression and the Second World War, I will not go gently into that good night," says Smith, 91, who was born in a coal-mining town in Britain but immigrated to Canada and now lives in Belleville, Ontario.
Smith is the author of the new book Harry's Last Stand, which, in his words, is "a rallying cry to a younger generation" to fight for a social safety net "that allows every citizen the right to decent housing, advanced education, proper health care, a living wage, and a dignified old age free of want."
Many of these post-war gains, achieved by his generation after the Second World War, are being clawed back, with the poor and middle class losing more and more ground in the face of growing inequality, says Smith.
"I am not an historian, but at 91, I am history, and I fear its repetition."
Here's Smith in his own words about the austerity agenda, leaving "the young [to] endure the harsh realities of joblessness and diminished prospects."
“Countless worlds, numberless moments, an immensity of space and time. And our small planet, at this moment, here we face a critical branch-point in history. What we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants. It is well within our power to destroy our civilization, and perhaps our species as well … But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth, to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet.”
Listen to him here. Here are two of his excellent Guardian essays on Remembrance Day. Conduct a search on You tube for some excellent talks by Harry. "My life was not like an episode from Downton Abbey", he says in a talk here. What an inspirational great man who speaks the truth about the downtrodden and destitute that, sadly, are still with us.
(2) Listen to the timeless foreboding words of the late Carl Sagan, spoken in the midst of the Cold War in 1980 in contemplating the vastness of the cosmos:
(3) Have any of you tried to read the first great war story of the western canon, Homer's The Iliad? Homer explains the war's arbitrary, senseless and chaotic nature by appealing to the gods, not unlike our present political leaders. George W Bush started the Iraq War because "god told me to strike at Iraq and I did". Unlike in The Iliad, It wasn't Zeus who intervened and decided on the victor, a god no believes in any longer.
(4) The First World War was not a war to end all wars, as a slogan of the time claimed. If anything, it was a precursor for a great many wars to follow, and, most importantly, it was a powerful and important cause of World War II.
It also was not a war about democracy since none of the participants, including Britain, would qualify as democracies by any reasonable reckoning with their heavily limited voting franchise and government structures stacked in the interests of old and privileged orders, quite apart from their holding empires whose populations enjoyed no franchise at all.
The war was also one of history’s great instances of mass hysteria, particularly among the young men of several countries. In Britain, there have been many laments over the loss of some fine and promising young men who rushed to join up. In Germany, it was no different, and we note one young man, then of no importance, by the name of Adolph Hitler rushing to join up, much as his British contemporaries, to share in the “glory.”
Today, we pretend shock that young men sometimes go abroad to fight for a cause, religious or otherwise, but compared to the mass insanity of World War I, what we see today is truly petty. The authorities everywhere then made great efforts to push young men, using songs, marching bands, slogans, shame and social pressure in many forms, and countless lies. The nonsense about the Kaiser’s troops bayoneting babies was one example, a lie served up again decades later with a slight twist by George Bush the Elder’s government as it desperately wanted support to invade Iraq, the babies the second time around supposedly being ripped from respirators.
World War I made absolutely no sense. It achieved nothing worth achieving, and it did so at immense cost. Apart from killing about 20,000,000 people, the war left countless crippled and disabled and created a great swathe of destruction across Europe.
If Germany had been allowed to dominate Europe for a time, it would have made comparatively little difference to the lives of most people. Indeed, today, that is the situation we find in the European Union.
(5) Remembrance Day surely is not about the sacrificial loss of life, as we're told by conservatives members of elite power structures. That's because the only way to hold those or any lives sacrosanct is for those who propagate this sacrificial myth not to send them off to war in the first place.
The unsavoury truth is that governments are generally run by career motivated narcissistic men with inflated egos. They are men whose power is supported by the status quo of entrenched wealth and privilege, thereby desiring to maintain and expand that entitlement. These elites make decision for imperialistic wars in comfortable corporate boardrooms and government offices largely on the basis of primitive capitalist instincts, instincts motivated by greed and power. They are inspired by notions of being first and not letting a competitor gain an advantage, or just nebulous and often opaque male no nonsense ideas about being resolute, standing your ground and maintaining a Winston Churchill stiff upper lip.
In a line that is reminiscent of the Red Scares and red-baiting that followed the First and Second World Wars, one American politician, in a play on an infamous quote by George Wallace, said no one would ever “out-commie” him again in an election. Such was the thinking of reactionaries like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and, perhaps even Lyndon Johnson, in making the fatal decision to expand the US military presence in Vietnam since 1954, to start a major war in Southeast Asia. On just such testosterone-laden sentiments hung a decade’s brutal fighting and the deaths of at least 3 million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians.
The real reason for the ceremonies, national anthems, military presence, parades and propaganda speeches about men who "died for democracy and freedom" is to ensure that young men, at their governments plea and will without a thought, will enlist in the military to kill and die for glorious opaque causes. There is no group of humans beings more subject to shoddy emotional appeals about glory, guts and courage than naive young men, as we see, ad infinitum generation after generation. The real heroes were those who resisted such fraudulent appeals.
One could conceivably argue that humans are little more than chimpanzees with slightly larger brains. If there was an omnipotent loving God, surely he could have made us more intelligent and moral. Those marginally larger brains seem to have merely enabled us to immeasurably enhance the power of the blood lust instincts of those sociopathic and psychopathic types who love power and control over others, a fact we seem determined proudly to display every Remembrance Day.
(6) Rafe Mair 2014 Essay: What We Forgot on Remembrance Day
Where is the democracy our brave soldiers fought and died for?
At our Remembrance Day ceremony in Lions Bay, we heard a great deal about sacrifices made in two world wars for democracy and freedom -- a pretty constant theme, I dare say, right across the country.
This troubles me greatly. Those who died for Canadian democracy -- indeed all those who served -- must be bitterly disappointed at the legacy they see.
What triggered this thought was when Finance Minister Joe Oliver didn't give his pre-budget speech to the House of Commons but to a group of political supporters in a private lunch and then on New York television. The Commons, with the basic obligation to approve the budget or not, was ignored as if it was irrelevant to the process -- which, as I will show, it is.
Then, my mind went back to Prime Minister Stephen Harper proroguing Parliament to avoid a non-confidence motion.
I started to think about the prime minister having been found in contempt of Parliament.
My thoughts moved to just how the House of Commons, the repository of our democracy, actually works.
I thought of the committees of the House of Commons, which descended from a similar process at Westminster, designed to hold the government accountable. They are intended to hold hearings to test ministers' policies and be critical of legislation that troubles the members. Instead, they are appointed by the prime minister and anytime he gets a sniff of criticism coming from a committee, he changes the chairperson or members of that committee accordingly.
Then I went back to a favourite theme of mine -- a favourite because it is so vital. Members of Parliament have absolutely no power whatsoever.
In theory, of course, MPs can topple the prime minister and his cabinet. This has happened once, when there was a majority government, back in 1873 during the Pacific Scandal when Parliament voted no confidence in Sir John A. Macdonald. This, it must be noted, was before there was the ironclad party discipline that prevails today.
Without members of Parliament having a real and constant power, how can there be democracy?
If there is no one to hold the prime minister to account, how is there democracy?
While MPs do have theoretical power, in reality the prime minister personally is in charge of everything including the appointment of cabinet, all junior positions, even deciding which MP sits on which parliamentary committee and which good little boys and girls go to that useless conference on a tropic isle during the Ottawa winter. He takes his advice, if he takes any at all, not from elected members of Parliament, but from unelected party hacks.
Where, then, is that democracy that our brave soldiers fought and died for?
It's not hard to see how we got into our present difficulties. Because, in theory, the government (being the prime minister and cabinet which he hires and fires) depends upon the consent of the Commons to rule, it became obligatory for survival that the PM control it. Why take chances? (He could, of course, rule by consultation and consensus but prime ministers, with majorities, see no need to go to all that bother.)
Absolute power is achieved by a PM by a combination of the carrot and the stick.
One carrot is the power to promote.
As Napoleon once said, "every foot soldier has a Marshall's baton in his knapsack." So it is with government backbenchers for whom the all-consuming thought is that they, like that foot soldier, could replace any of the cabinet and probably, for that matter, the prime minister.
If backbenchers behave properly, perhaps they'll get on a committee that travels to neat places; perhaps they'll be chair or vice chair of a committee and make more money for doing what they're told; maybe it'll be a parliamentary secretaryship, with increased money and prestige; or maybe a deputy whip or even the whip himself -- again more money; perhaps, just perhaps, they'll make the next cabinet shuffle, with big bucks, car and driver, first class travel and all the trimmings. Maybe, if they behave themselves, and are loyal foot soldiers, good things will happen. What's certain is that if they're not, they won't.
The PM's stick is a lethal weapon. He can turf an MP out of caucus, meaning he'll be expelled from the party and lose its support in the next election. They all know how difficult it is to be elected as an Independent. Moreover, the PM has the statutory power to refuse any nominee the right to run for the party, even though his constituency organization is 100 per cent behind him.
This combination of the stick and the carrot renders the prime minister all powerful and the MPs into eunuchs.
I recommend a book Irresponsible Government by Brent Rathgeber, MP, Edmonton-St. Albert, elected as a Tory in 2008 and re-elected in 2011, who left the Conservatives to sit as an Independent. It's a horror story if you think government backbenchers have a soupçon of power. Rathgeber relates how they all have their Commons speeches written for them by the Prime Minister's office as well as powder puff questions to put to ministers in question period, both of which they are expected to give verbatim -- no personal thoughts, now!
The PMO always prepares comfy (for the PM) agendas for committees and even obligatory speeches and press releases for MPs to use in their constituencies.
Rathgeber emphasizes the point that Tory MPs consider themselves as part of the government (which they are not), and that being a government cheerleader transcends any obligation to constituency or constituents.
It's a hell of a read and will lay to rest all notions you were taught, and badly want to believe, about "responsible government."
(I wait with patience but I fear in vain for a point-by-point response from my Tory MP or any other for that matter.)
Land of make believe
Sadly, MPs, in order to justify their well-paid, phony existence, pretend they really do have influence and truly are an essential part of running the nation.
My MP, Tory John Weston, peddles this rubbish while his record shows a 100 per cent pandering to every government decision no matter what it is. In reality, he's reduced to handing out cheques to municipalities and organizations that would get them anyway, and making PMO approved speeches to chambers of commerce.
For example, in my constituency, a major issue is a proposed LNG plant in Squamish. Weston supports this plant unconditionally even though the majority oppose it. Obviously on instructions from above, he arm wrestled the West Vancouver Council into changing their opposition to this facility. There was a hell of a public reaction, and with a municipal election imminent, Council promptly reversed itself and is once more opposing the plant!
Weston's plight is repeated right across the country with government backbenchers who all understand the advice of the late U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn that "to get along, one must go along."
Stephen Harper has become dictatorial in the extreme because he can be. He has contempt for the House of Commons because he doesn't have to have respect for it. He runs parliament just as a tin pot dictator runs his legislature.
The entire system has become a land of "make believe."
We should be able to look up to and respect our members of Parliament as people with power and dignity who represent our interests at the seat of power. Of course they don't and haven't the guts and sense of honour to do a damned thing about it. What, lose that MP designation, all that money, and possible promotion to cabinet?
You must be mad!
How can we be true to all those valiant men and women who put themselves in harm's way and too often died for us, if we permit this façade of the democracy they held so high to continue?
We mouth the right words on Remembrance Day, but in truth, we repay sacrifice, sometimes the supreme sacrifice, with hypocrisy.
We, who owe so much to these brave people we rightly honour every November 11, ought to be ashamed of ourselves.
On another note
Forgive me for making a short reference to my last column on the fall of communism and the severe limits to the apparent victor capitalism. A flurry of comments held that I should've done something about this when I was in political office.
Of course I should have, and I fully intended to.
Unfortunately, I ran into some bad luck.
You see, the Berlin Wall didn't fall until nine years after I left politics, the Soviet Union collapsed two years later.
Drat! Just bad timing kept me from political immortality.
Militarism degrades, disrupts and destroys democracy
Under Stephen Harper's war mongering reactionary regime, Canada has become an international disgrace...
By Matthew Behrens | NOVEMBER 26, 2014
It is instructive that Generals speak of modern warfare as taking place "in theatre." It reminds those who are watching the government-supplied videos of aircraft taking off and bombs being dropped that, like audience members at the local movie house or attending a live performance, we must be quiet for the duration of the performance. We cannot stop it midway through and ask questions or protest without the risk of being booed. As in the neighbourhood multiplex films, the wars are all pretty much built on the same good guys versus evil script that has not changed for centuries. Indeed, as Ottawa author Stephen Dale points out in his excellent new book Noble Illusions: Young Canada Goes to War, an examination of the propaganda used to indoctrinate young men to join the ranks of the First World War, militarist tactics stay pretty much the same over time, with only changes in the casting.
The main movie Canadians are now seeing, in limited release, is the ISIL/ISIS charade, which, according to latest figures, has included over 100 "sorties," delivery of close to 1 million pounds of air fuel, and overall operational "success," as described at occasional War Department briefings featuring costumed characters wearing medals and epaulets. Like reasonably trained actors, the commanders spout a script of euphemisms straight out of a video game, recalling with fondness their various operations over the past few years. For example, recent briefings reminisced about Operations Odyssey Dawn and Op Unified Protector in Libya, human rights disasters supported by Canada's three major parties which unleashed the chaos of sectarian violence that has ruined the country and destabilized the region. No one points out that some members of ISIS were in fact allies of Canadians during the Libyan campaign. During these "technical briefings," reporters fall over themselves to thank the Generals for taking the time to speak their well-studied lines, and even when a serious question is asked, it is batted away with the bafflegab that earns military-speak the deserved title of Orwellian.
Canada kills civilians
Indeed, Colonel Daniel Constable, Commander of Joint Task Force–Iraq, told reporters November 13 that "I'm very confident to report that we have no reports on any civilian casualties, no collateral damage" (a dissimulation that means any reports that DO confirm such casualties don't make it on his reading list). Yet a mere 30 seconds later, he contradicted himself by stating, "as we've talked about in previous briefings of this nature, we're not really doing a casualty count at all." In this movie, the civilian deaths are lowly extras who don't get named when the final credits roll. As General Tom Lawson also stated in various media interviews, Canada WILL be killing civilians, but just not at an "unreasonable" level. Media have failed to ask what constitutes "unreasonable," and the Generals likely would not respond even if they were challenged, probably falling back on the claim that revealing such details would aid the enemy by getting into operational procedures.
The role of the media, especially Postmedia's Matthew Fisher, is to write love letters to the military that link the current bombing campaigns to the alleged glory days of prior wars. Canada's extreme right wing conservative newspaper , The National Post gushed over Canada's first air strikes against ISIS like fathers chortling with cigars over their newborns. Fisher calls the CF-18 bombers "venerable" and then quoted a military source: "We are all proud of the first [bombing] strike."
The Canadian military has over the past two decades dropped bombs on human beings in Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and Libya. It has directly and indirectly tortured human beings in Somalia and Afghanistan. It has continued to scoop up the largest annual share of discretionary federal spending at the expense of veterans, the homeless, the mentally ill, children without child care, women without shelter from male violence, First Nations on boil water alerts, and so many other vulnerable populations. But it always gets a free pass. That slavish devotion to the men and women in uniform (the latter a group that is also subject to an epidemic of sexual assault from their male comrades in arms) perhaps explains why it was so easy for an imposter to dress up in war regalia and play a role inside the heavily guarded Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa. Moving freely amongst the dignitaries and sharing sound bites with the media was easy for this individual because, unlike those who wanted to lay a white poppy peace wreath, he would not have been the subject of state security surveillance that day. He appeared to be a soldier, and that was good enough for Ottawa police and the RCMP.
In a society that increasingly glorifies martial values -- sales of the first-person combat video game Call of Duty top $10 billion, with Quebec's Assassin's Creed creeping up in sales -- those who carry a gun can do no wrong, from the police who get off easy after beating up arrestees to the RCMP who racially profile and trade with torturers. Those at the top needn't be accountable to anyone. The Canadian War Dept. is the only federal institution that can start a new war without having to go to Parliament to approve the open-ended spending spree. Costs of the Ukraine mission are secret and, we are led to believe, will not be released until the end of March 2015. The cost of bombing Iraq/Syria is similarly being withheld.
Radicalized Canadian veterans
Meantime, a handful of Canada's Afghanistan veterans who appear to have become "radicalized" are heading overseas to fight on the ground against ISIS independent of the Canadian military. Although these men will be working alongside forces that have also committed human rights abuses, it does not appear that their passports are being seized or that they will face charges should they return to Canada. No, they get interviews on the CBC and admiring profiles in the print media. They are "our" soldiers.
Indeed, the fact that he made no apparent reference to Islam perhaps explains why one Canadian Forces veteran did not make national headlines when he pleaded guilty to firearms and explosives offences after allegedly planning a major attack against a Calgary office building that housed a Veterans Affairs office. When the vet was arrested last January, RCMP found on his premises tactical equipment, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, bomb-making materials, and a variety of deadly chemicals. The man, whose identity is protected by publication ban to protect his wife and child (a courtesy never extended to Muslim suspects), was apparently planning an assault on the building. Unsurprisingly, the cause of his anger was mistreatment as a veteran. The case came to authorities' attention when the man's wife called for help when he appeared to be suicidal. The Calgary Herald reported that officers found the man's car "was packed with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, seven loaded magazines (five of which had been illegally modified to hold 20 rounds), night-vision binoculars, body armour, a range-finder for long-distance shooting and a laser sight for close-range targets."
While it is a possibility that angry veterans will take up arms against their government when they are refused the benefits they deserve, this potential threat does not appear to be high on the federal government's list of safety priorities. (Notably, we learned last week that Veterans Affairs has also held back over a billion dollars worth of funding for vets' services). Rather, they continue to hope veterans will give up and just disappear. The idea of the wounded and disturbed returning soldier does not fit with the script of glory and honour. That is why the Harper government, like Liberal governments before it and, in fact, all governments throughout history that have sent soldiers off to kill and be killed, mistreats veterans, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder and similar "readjustment" problems. Their frail humanity does not match the recruiting poster of the happy soldier who bravely goes overseas and commits heroic acts while vanquishing the "enemy." We don't want to know that, as former Canadian General (and current Justin Trudeau adviser) Andrew Leslie recently pointed out, a quarter of Ottawa's homeless are military veterans, and some no doubt sleep underneath the War Department near the Rideau Canal.
A silence on Ukraine
Meanwhile, one of the war films that has escaped multiplex distribution is the one in Ukraine, where thousands have been killed by both sides in the conflict. It has served as a convenient excuse for Canada to deploy over 1,000 troops in eastern Europe, where they fly sorties and take part in war games near the Russian border. Postmedia's Fisher excitedly (and without irony) reported on one sortie in which Canadian bombers -- flying over 7,500 km from their home -- target Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea as "intruders." Interestingly, this deployment seems not to have raised a peep from opposition parties nor peace groups across Canada, even though the implications have global ramifications. The Harper government's obsession with supporting the post-coup government of Ukraine is one that is embraced by those who fondly recall the overseas stationing of Canadian troops in Germany during the Cold War. It also conveniently ignores the disturbing role of neo-Nazis in the Kiev government and crimes that the regime is committing. Human Rights Watch reported that the Ukrainian government has been firing rockets into populated areas, indiscriminate attacks that kill civilians. Hamas justifiably catches hell when it launches indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israel, but Harper allies have free reign.
Indeed, as renowned Russia scholar Stephen Cohen wrote recently in The Nation, the Canadian-backed regime in Kiev "has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in south eastern Ukraine." Cohen says Kiev's "anti-terror" tactics "have created a reign of terror in targeted cities," including a May 2 attack in which a pro-Kiev mob chased anti-government protesters into a building, set it on fire, and tried to block the exits, killing some 40 people. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, recently serenaded in Canada's Parliament, speaks of those who resist his bombardment of their cities as "gangs of animals" and, in a collective punishment approach in clear violation of all known laws and human decency, has declared that he will take "hundreds of their lives for each life of our servicemen." The neo-fascist Svoboda party (which glorifies its Nazi-collaborationist ancestors, refers to gays, Jews, feminists, and leftists as scum, and was called "neo-Nazi" by the World Jewish Congress in 2013) plays a key role in the coalition government. Far-right nationalist militias constitute a foundation of the country's National Guard, one which Cohen notes is escalating "ethnic warfare and killing of innocent civilians."
Representatives of Poroshenko's National Guard were in Ottawa recently to seek out weapons deals in a visit arranged by Arthur Andersen Defence Consulting (the same company responsible for the implementation of massive welfare cutting in Ontario, among other crimes). It is not clear who would pay for such weapons, but if Canadian government policy with other NATO members is any example, it is likely Canadians who will foot the bill. For example, Canada will pay the $30-million cost for Hungarian fighter pilot training on behalf of their far-right wing government in a country where the Roma continue to face severe persecution.
"Standing with" the right-nationalist government of Ukraine means Canada must not do anything to upset its special relationship, which includes being one of only three countries on the face of the planet to vote against a November 17 UN resolution called "Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." Yes, Canada joined the U.S. and Ukraine in voting against a resolution that also condemned Holocaust denial. Some 55 nations (many of which are NATO members) abstained on the vote, no doubt because they want Ukraine as part of the military alliance. So much for Harper's calls of "never again" when he spoke in Israel. This is not to whitewash the Russian annexation of Crimea nor to dismiss those voices for democracy that were supportive of the Maidan movement, many of whom face a difficult road ahead trying to navigate the many political strands that make up the Ukrainian mosaic. Indeed, Harper and NATO seem not to care whether the government in Kiev is democratic or authoritarian, as long as it accepts EU dictates and joins NATO.
Opening the vaults
While Harper plans to campaign on a balanced budget, the vaults are continuing to open for outrageous military spending. In the same month that national reports were produced on millions of hungry Canadians and hundreds of thousands of homeless, the focus has remained on how we can be a glorious nation at war against barbaric cultural practices. With the backdrop of an isolated shooting of a reservist in Ottawa and the sad killing of a soldier in Quebec, the military and its industry partners smell blood, and blood means big bucks. Canada's special forces are seeking some $350 million in new war materiel and Harper quietly approved an $800-million purchase of Sea Sparrow Missiles (part of a $26-billion rebuild of the Canadian navy). Meanwhile, the CF-18 bombing campaign is proving a useful trailer for the next movie Harper hopes to produce, the F-35 stealth fighter jet show that will cost over $50 billion. Indeed, as the Ottawa Citizen reported November 4, the Canadian government is planning to tell the U.S. Congress (but not its own Parliament) about those intentions to purchase four jets in 2017. The cost of celebrating war continues to pile up as well, with over $2 million spent earlier this year for a one-day commemoration of the Afghanistan occupation and over a decade of bombings, night raids, and transfers to torture.
The real Canadian crisis
Meanwhile, as the hypocrites on the Hill paid solemn tribute to Canada's soldiers earlier this month, Canadian psychologist Antoon Leenars told a group of veterans Nov. 7 in Ottawa that military suicides are at "epidemic proportions," adding that the Canadian War Dept. has done "no credible, peer-reviewed research into suicide." More vets have committed suicide in the past decade than were killed in Afghanistan. Like the civilians who make up the majority of war's victims, countless Canadian vets continue to suffer the ill effects of militarism, as do their loved ones. They represent those inconvenient realities we would prefer not to notice because as with all systems of sanctified reverence, with militarism, we only wish to see the façade of glory and heroism. Anything else would cut down on recruitment into what always has been and remains a barbaric cultural practice: developing newer and more refined ways of murdering people.
Perhaps the most eloquent recent expression of distaste for the militarist wave in Canada comes from someone who knows at the most visceral level both loss of a loved one in the military and the manner in which the government misuses their memory. Hamilton, Ontario's Andrea Palko, whose beloved boyfriend Nathan Cirillo was killed at the war memorial in Ottawa last month, wrote in a little publicized Facebook posting that, "I loved him deeply, as did all of the family and friends who knew him and we all still mourn him every day. That being said, I feel I should weigh in on this ridiculous 'was he a hero or was he not' debate. My response is this: WAKE UP CANADA. What we SHOULD be talking about is the dismal state of mental healthcare in our country.
"What that deeply disturbed man killing my boyfriend SHOULD make Canadians focus on is how we can PREVENT another event like this through more accessible and effective mental health treatment programs that target the REAL source of this tragedy.
"Stop tearing apart the honour and love bestowed upon a wonderful man who deserves every bit of it and start taking a good hard look at the awful, dysfunctional systems in our nation that this has shown us NEED TO CHANGE.
"FOCUS ON WHAT REALLY MATTERS HERE AND WHAT WE CAN GAIN AS EXPERIENCE FROM THIS, AS A COUNTRY.
"I am a very proud Canadian, but the fact that this hero/not business is what the media here and the general public has chosen to talk about, I must say I am very disappointed.
"WE CAN DO, AND ARE, BETTER THAN THIS, CANADA.
"For those of you who would like to share my words, please do so. I feel as though this is an important discussion that needs to continue happening."
An example of courage that matches any mustered up on November 11.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.