Remembrance Day, Racism and the Great Lie

Jonathan McLeod

November 12, 2013 | 5 Comments

Below, Jared has penned some lovely thoughts about Remebrance Day, and the lives and sacrifices of Canada’s veterans. In past years, I have presented some controversial viewpoints on the matter, and in the current socio-political context, I just can’t hold Remembrance Day in the same esteem as others. Perhaps if Canada abandons our creeping militaristic and war-happy ways, I’ll be able to jump back on the poppy express. Should that happen, I will be filled with joy, as a showing of true remembrance and understanding is warranted.

However, if we are ever to move to a state in which remembrance can live in proper focus, we must treat the matters of war and veterans with honesty. Jared refers to our veterans as “heroes”. The word “hero” is thrown around a lot these days, to the point that I’m not sure there’s an accurate definition anymore. I’m unwilling to give a blanket description of “hero” to all veterans. I think the glorification of veterans quickly bleeds into the glorification of war, but I understand where Jared is coming from.

Nonetheless, there is another matter in which Jared is certainly wrong; a matter in which he is perpetuating a great lie that is rooted in racism and is used to buoy warmongering. Jared writes:

Today is a day for remembering those Canadian soldiers who risked their lives for our freedom.

This is nonsense. Since confederation, Canada has entered numerous wars and military actions, but never once as a result of a direct threat to our nation. No Canadian soldier has risked their life for my freedom. Despite the fact that this notion is blatantly incorrect, we keep hearing it. There’s really only one reason that it lives on, xenophobia.

All of Canada’s military activity (FLQ crisis aside) has been to  (supposedly) help non-Canadians. Jared, as I would expect, understands this:

In uniform, they fought to protect those who would come after them, not just in their homelands but all over the world.

But the myth persists.

The only reason that this lie is still thrown around as justification for our militarism is because protecting others isn’t considered sufficient justification for the death of Canadian soldiers. It’s okay, apparently, for our boys to spend a decade or more dying in Afghanistan for us, but not for those people.

The next time someone says that our soldiers died for our freedom, remember what you’re really hearing: that foreigners aren’t worth as much as us.

Comments

5 Responses to “Remembrance Day, Racism and the Great Lie”

  1. R. Mowat
    November 13th, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    I’m not sure it’s “racist” to prefer that your nation’s soldiers fight and die for your own country. If your army is fighting for someone else, is it really your army?

    Still I see the point you are trying to make.

    In any case, you are asking for an adult conversation about our veterans, military and war. Let’s leave behind the Victorian schoolboy tropes of “freedom” and “heroes”, I agree. It does everyone a disservice.

    But it *is* the case that our veterans did/do fight for foreigners, regardless of what Joe Timbit says in a ten-second sound-bite for the Nov 11 evening news. Ask someone in Holland about the contribution of Canada to their personal freedom, for instance. And undoubtedly, in a thousand different ways, Canadian soldiers have contributed positively to the lives of ordinary Afghans. And Bosnia, or South Korea. The latest example is the Canadian Forces deployment of the Disaster Assistance Response Team to the Philippines.

    If you want to be able to survive next year’s Remembrance Day, you can think of the way in which Canada’s veterans actually did fight for your freedoms: Canada’s existence and our way of life depends on the current structure and stability of the international order. Our contributions to the resolution of conflicts abroad helps maintain worldwide stability and our place in it. And thus, in a strategic and nuanced sense, our soldiers fighting abroad contribute to the ongoing existence of Canada and our personal freedoms.

    [Reply]

    Jonathan McLeod Reply:

    You make a lot of sense, however if I’m to buy in to your last paragraph, then I would also have to say that Canada’s support of torture and our collaboration with a nation that uses drones to indiscriminately kill civilians contribute to *instability* and therefore our soldiers are a *harming* our freedom.

    [Reply]

    R. Mowat Reply:

    Well, any tactical approach or choice could be a failure and ultimately undermine your overall strategic objectives. In most cases, we’ll simply not know whether a given decision contributed to stability or undermined it. In some cases, it’s obvious only in hindsight.

    [Reply]

  2. Derek Redawn
    January 8th, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

    Dear Mr. McLeod,

    I find your opinion bordering on hate. It is most certainly clouded with a political philosophy that overrides any sense of unbiased commentary. Frankly, I am offended. While you are more than welcome to express your opinions to denigrate the contributions of others many of whom are no longer able to defend their actions is at best uncouth.

    It is an unquestionable fact that Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Second World War fought for freedom and democracy and the ability of future Canadians to enjoy these rights. To say that Canadians were not threatened by this conflict is simply to ignore history. A German submarine was sunk off the Nova Scotia Coast, Canadian shipping and economy in general were targeted, the philosophical constructs of Nazism threatened and were in direct opposition to the principles of democracy and fundamental justice that Canadians still hold dear. To say Canadians were not threatened by a foreign government that systematically murdered a particular race of people is ludicrous! If the Nazis were willing to exterminate the Jews of Europe they certainly would have their sights set on Canadian Jews as well. Of course they did, which is why the Nazis were in development of the Horton H.XVIII a long range intercontinental bomber for example. One of the most important contributions of the United Nations and NATO is the collective security clauses in their charters. When the Taliban or al-Qaeda ban girls from going to school we are all threatened because they grow into ignorant adults too often brainwashed with hatred which sadly often turns to violence.

    To say all of Canada’s military activity is to help foreigners is also incorrect. Obviously I disagree with the statement in relation to the Second World War but, you have totally ignored the War of 1812 and the Fenian invasion of the 19th century. In both cases the Canadian militia along with British regulars fought to defend the territorial integrity of Canada and the rights of its citizens most notably the French-Canadians.

    I strongly suggest that before writing more insulting commentary you research the subject matter that you have chosen as a topic.

    [Reply]

    Jonathan McLeod Reply:

    Thanks for commenting, Derek. I can tell you are passionate about the subject and appreciate your thoughtful comment.

    Now, a few things:

    1. “a political philosophy that overrides any sense of unbiased commentary.”
    Well, we focus on opinions here. I’m not sure what qualifies as “unbiased”, but I make no claims to being unbiased. We all have our biases. We’ve all thought about these topics and formed our own political perspectives.

    2. WWII
    Well, I did write “directly threatened” and, no, Canada was not directly threatened. You can say that we had to fight the Nazis before they directly threatened us, but then we’d be fighting a pre-emptive war… really, a war of aggression. That’s not necessarily wrong or bad, but that’s not the narrative that’s grown.

    We didn’t wait for a sub to be sunk off of Nova Scotia to enter the war. You can’t use that as our reason for fighting.

    3. The War of 1812, etc.
    I wrote “since confederation” for a reason. Remembrance Day ceremonies don’t really focus a ton on 1812 vets, preferring wars that have been fought in the last 100 years.

    4. “When the Taliban or al-Qaeda ban girls from going to school we are all threatened because they grow into ignorant adults too often brainwashed with hatred which sadly often turns to violence.”
    Sorry, but I call bullshit here (and, as mentioned above, this perspective is a double-edged sword). There’s nothing, necessarily, wrong with having a muscular liberal foreign policy-I’ve held such views in the past, and I supported the initial engagement in Afghanistan.

    Our original reason for going in there was to dismantle Al-Quaeda’s infrastructure. That’s not necessarily wrong, but we weren’t defending ourselves. We were, if anything, defending Americans. And, yeah, that’s okay. American lives are just a valuable (if you will) as Canadian lives.

    We stayed there because we totally cocked things up and didn’t want total chaos. We weren’t defending ourselves from those Afghani girls; we were protecting the girls.

    Without discussing the methods, defending little girls is a totes worthwhile cause. And that’s the entire point of this post!

    Which brings us to:

    5. “I find your opinion bordering on hate.” and “While you are more than welcome to express your opinions to denigrate the contributions of others…”
    Again, you misunderstand! I’m not denigrating anything. Defending Jews from the Nazis, Koreans from the communists, little girls from the Taliban (etc) are wonderful achievements! They are so blatantly wonderful that in a sane country we wouldn’t have to make up lies about defending our freedom. I mean, come on, how narcissistic is that?

    If I may interpret your comment, you think that what these soldiers did was good (saving Jews, Koreans, little girls et al.). That’s correct, right? So let me say it again:

    THESE ARE GOOD THINGS.

    But, if the only way you can celebrate protecting those people is by claiming you’re protecting us, you’re demonstrating that someone (either you or your audience) don’t value the lives of those people that were actually saved.

    So let’s commemorate/celebrate/whatever these noble achievements, but let’s not pretend they’re something they’re not. Otherwise, it’s just racism all the way down.

    [Reply]

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