Remembering to Forget - November Eleventh’s Collective Amnesia

Remembering to Forget - November Eleventh’s Collective Amnesia

As published in the Victoria Standard: November 8, 2016.

It’s been a long time since Canadian soldiers have participated in a military campaign that enhanced our freedom in any meaningful way. The presence of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan did temporarily improved the lives of some Afghans; although humanitarianism was merely a distraction for U.S. and NATO efforts to control this vital territory. Our Afghanistan casualties deserve superior care and while Veteran’s Affairs Canada has improved its treatment programs; more must be done, especially for PTSD sufferers.

As the suicide rate increases among Afghanistan veterans, it is worth remembering that the excellent work of Canadian troops in Kandahar province has been used to shame and silence critics of Canada’s political role in Afghanistan. Canada sent troops to Afghanistan rather than Iraq to appease the Bush administration since Afghanistan is geographically vital to those seeking to exploit the oil and natural gas of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. Harper later removed Canadian troops from Afghanistan and seemed content to abandon that nation after famously refusing to, “…cut and run.”

Without a deep interest in military history; our remembrance may be limited by the influence of those who profit from war and encourage romanticized notions of duty and sacrifice on foreign fields. For example, just before losing the 2015 federal election; Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the $15 billion sale of General Dynamics Land Systems Canada armored fighting vehicles to human rights abuser Saudi Arabia by citing Canadian job security. These weapon platforms may well be used in Yemen or against Saudis who dare to protest their nation’s repressive policies so perhaps distant Arabs must die to decrease Canada’s unemployment rate.

The current government has also defended the deal and fully supports Canada’s role as a global arms dealer. According to the CBC’s Neil Macdonald, writing on October 19, 2016, “We do know that Canadian-made vehicles were used in the bloody repression of Bahrain's Shia population a few years ago. Whether they are deployed in Yemen is unclear, and it's a safe bet the Canadian government isn't terribly interested in finding out.” As well, Canada sells weapons, ammunition, components and high-tech military gear to Israel, Nigeria, Peru, Thailand, Mexico, The Philippines and Columbia. All these nations are embroiled violent counter-insurgency and other forms of irregular conflict and it is impossible to guarantee that our military products will be used “legitimately.”

Since the defeat of Nazism, countless lives have been spent as political currency in an endless series of cynical campaigns against the spread of “Communism”. This past threat was exaggerated by complaint media and academia with a hysteria that never acknowledged the limitations of the Soviet military/security apparatus. Their bravery notwithstanding; Canadian and other veterans of the Korean Police Action and the Vietnam intervention were sacrificed for the sake of U.S. global hegemony.

Perhaps our real enemies are those powerful interests who profit from fear and endless conflict. Since serving soldiers can't voice political opinions, we must speak for them and seriously resist the empty jingoism emanating from the mouths of populist politicians; whose children will never die on a distant battlefield.

Remembrance Day also provides an opportunity to ask an important question before our collective amnesia and historical revisionism purges certain bloody facts from history’s pages. As we remember our war dead, are we also not inclined to forget or rationalize certain ugly facts about World War One and even the Boer “War”; which was nothing but a resource-grabbing imperial invasion? I will first link these two conflicts and then concentrate on the 1914-1918 European cataclysm. Canada’s involvement in both of these obscenities was largely justified by the colonial mentality prevalent at the time. Canada was Britain’s loyal Dominion and, unfortunately; the Empire’s wars were our wars, too.

The blind faith of Canadian politicians in the propaganda of the British empire blinded them to the fact that our soldiers were about to be sacrificed in defense of a global enterprise that was struggling for world dominance with the Imperial powers of Germany, France and the other European powers. North America was never in danger of German invasion due to the limitations of that era’s military technology and the enormous transportation challenges presented by 4000 miles of ocean and the sheer enormity of Canada. Even the British Isles were largely immune from German land and air attack at that time. Admittedly, the sea was a riskier environment.

While the long-dead soldiers of World War One are blameless, the same cannot be said for the politicians who sent them to die needlessly in the muddy abattoirs of Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme. Worse still were the cynical arms dealers who reaped millions selling weapons and ammunition. Most people simply can’t face the reality that 66,000 Canadians died so a handful of British aristocrats, bankers and industrialists might continue to dominate millions of Africans and Indians. The German and French imperialists were equally hungry to keep their boots firmly planted on the necks of their colonial subjects upon whom they inflicted unspeakable violence. Much to the horror of both sides; African and Indian troops under European officers were authorized to kill white combatants. The French and English employed them in Europe while the Germans confined their use of black troops to Africa.

For those who choose to believe that World War One was a necessary and noble undertaking, I offer the following words from Tiananmen Square activist Liu Xiaobo: “The living should really shut their mouths and let the graves speak; let the dead souls teach the living what it means to live, what it means to die, what it means to be dead but still alive.”
When we honor the living memory of our soldiers’ sacrifice; we might also summon the courage to demand a comprehensive national debate and a rational explanation before we send more soldiers to kill and die during ill-conceived foreign adventures. The soldiers’ code curtails their right to question political motives so we must do it for them.