Every Remembrance Day for the past six years I have gone to the Nelson Cenotaph at city hall and stood with anti-war protest placards, and been the target of much anger and some abuse. Last year, a threat too came my way. I will go there again this year and upset many in attendance. But a few will thank me.
I’ve been told I am just feeding my ego, posing in a role, enjoying attention. I cannot be sure that is not part of the reason. I hope not. I go because it disturbs people, and their emotion says I am making them uncomfortable. On any other day of the year, fewer people by far would witness my protest. I am told they want just one day for their ceremony, and I am being inappropriate and rude to be there on that one day.
It may be “their” day for grieving loved ones lost in war. It is also my day to make a point about war. I need the largest possible audience. The pro-war messages in our culture get far more advantage to propagate than the anti-war voices. Government wants us to be led to war relatively easily, not resist it.
Warriors deserve respect. I would like them to have a ceremony for themselves. Civilians ought all to be absent from that ceremony. We do not “get it” -- i.e., what soldiers have experienced. OK. I don’t want to.
Let the fighters have a time and place for communing with one another about their losses, their grief, their anger, their friendship and bonds forged in battle. Their special understanding of violence in the service of their nation’s government is for them, not for civilians, to experience. We sent them to fight, but after that, our place in their profession of arms becomes insignificant. They do a job, maybe with honor and nobility, (if those words have meaning in war) but even if they do their work without those qualities, still, we mere civilians in Canada’s democracy have no proper role gawking at occasions respecting warrior memory.
I would never attend an exclusively-warrior ceremony. But since other civilians flock to the cenotaph, I must be there to exercise my right to speak on a very public issue. War has no victors, is my message.
It is not a “right” for soldiers of Canada to be welcomed home as heroes from Canada’s wars. It is entirely possible that a disgraceful war might be fought by Canada, and no heroes emerge from such violence. Heroism is present in all walks of human life, and no one is guaranteed that their job has a right to demand more respect than other people’s work.
“Everywhere people strive for high ideals, and life is full of heroism.” (Desiderata) Every day, workers are hurt or killed in dangerous jobs. Soldiers aren’t special. “Highway of Heroes”? Nauseating self-delusion.
War damages minds and spirits, bodies and property; victors suffer too. Veterans of wars have a right to be treated as victims of lethal work and get support when they ask for it. All workers in all jobs deserve that right. It is a glaring fault of our government that we aren’t helping veterans enough.
My anti-war protest is not asking, “Will Canada engage in war again?” I know we will. But I want an informed public to be very, very slow to send our soldiers to fight. It has not been the case that Canadians think hard, long, and deeply, before we ask our armed forces to go and kill and perhaps die to serve some goal we think we can reach by violence.
Violence solves nothing permanently. There are no victors. Choose peace.
Canada’s Afghanistan Mission upset me profoundly. Never had Canada invaded a far-off nation posing absolutely no threat to our land.
We knew nothing about Afghan peoples’ ways, their history or culture. We seemed to assume we knew better than they, how they ought to live. Our leaders used ignoble messages, persuading us to support this imperialist NATO war in Asia, telling us we were fighting “barbarism” in the cause of higher civilization. Such hubris, such self-aggrandizing lies. Truth is the first thing killed in a war.
Politicians who told the soldiers they would not die in vain, lied. Generals who called the enemy “scumbags” -- and the media who abetted the propaganda (e.g. CBC’s Af-Canada) -- are a disgrace to our nation, in my opinion. We’re no empire.
During that Afghan war, our soldiers and their families constantly said, “We die or get maimed fighting over there – so, we have to keep fighting till victory -- or our deaths will have been for no reason.” I am sorry for such Canadians, who have to face that the Afghan Mission, as many said it would, has failed.
As for the argument that our soldiers “die in vain” in Afghanistan unless we leave that bloody land as complete victors, what does that mean? It means, war can’t end if you don’t force the foe to obey your demands; violence is justified when you make the defeated do what you determine.
Canada has never “lost a war.” We’ve suffered great hurt, but we’ve been victors. Victory feels good. Violence was forced upon us by Hitler. We had no choice in 1914; an Empire ruled us.
Our Remembrance Day memorials too often sound like victory celebrations: “War is awful but, thank God, we won”. “War made us free”. War won rights for us. “War defended us from inhuman enemies.” We’re worthier than the defeated. …You have heard this kind of thing, such as are said and/or felt every November 11; I reject them, with passionate denunciation. But protesting at the cenotaph isn’t “extreme” -- is it?
If you see me November 11, and my anti-war protest provokes you, could we meet later? For a chat? Make sense, not war.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer.