Monday, November 10, 2008

We are the dead.

This is a tricky time of year for me.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, which for all of us ought to be a time for reflection, gratitude, and humility. It's a time for understanding our place in history, and for recognizing all the amazing things that had to happen for us to be who we are. It's a time to look back on what has happened, at the horrible things that men and women (though mostly men, it must be admitted) have done to each other, usually in the name of something greater than themselves: Germany, God, Democracy, Motherhood (seriously, look at some of the WWI propaganda), or Peace, and to say, as we often do about the Holocaust: “Never again.”

And it's a time to look at the world today, and see that we're still doing it. We're still killing people because they worship the wrong god, or have the wrong system of government or skin colour, or speak the wrong language, or for revenge, or because they have something we need. We still send men and women off to kill other men and women while shouting inspiring slogans and mouthing platitudes to ideals, not recognizing that we're actually sending them off to kill people for far more base reasons: money, power, oil or gas, or god.

In the past, I've recognized the solemnity of Remembrance Day, and I've said many of the same things I say now. I've always said that war is a stupid and wasteful practice, but I used to tell my students about fighting for democracy, about stopping a madman, about saving those who couldn't defend themselves. I used to tell the stories we tell ourselves. I know better now.

The Great War was about alliances. It was never about saving the world from the Germans. And in fact, the peace after the war helped facilitate the next war. WWII was not about saving the Jews. It was about saving the French, the Dutch and the Belgians. For the Germans, it was not about “lebensraum”, but about resources. Eastern Europe had oil, North Africa had tin and rubber, and it was only right that the lower races serve the ubermenschen as slave labour. For the Allies, it was not about making the world safe for democracy: Hitler was elected. Korea was a civil war that the UN tried ineffectually to stop. Viet Nam was about... well, I don't know what the hell that was about. They said it was about the domino theory, but the US invasion probably did more to encourage Communism in the region than anything else.

The list goes on. Afghanistan was never about the Taliban. It was about revenge. So was Iraq. They're also about fossil fuels: oil in Iraq and natural gas in Afghanistan.

What frustrates me is not that we fight. We're monkeys, and we're territorial. It's simply biology. In the movie “Species”, Fores Whitaker says something very profound and disturbing about Sil:

“She's a predator. Her eyes are in front; she's a predator.”

So we're monkeys, and we're predators, and we fight. But there are fundamental truths that we must recognize about war, and Remembrance Day is as good a time as any to list them.

First, we never fight for something as noble as democracy. For one thing, if democracy's so great, it ought to sell itself and killing people shouldn't be necessary. Furthermore, forcing people to vote is such an obvious paradox that it's astonishing that no one ever comments on it. Wars are about giving rich men access to more resources, and therefore more riches. Wars are about punishing the people who have offended our oligarchy. Wars are about politics in its crudest and most base sense: might makes right. God, the nation or motherhood have nothing to do with it. Ever. By ennobling war, we ennoble greed, malice, fear and hatred. We raise up as virtues our most vile vices. We worship our collective id with blood sacrifice.

Second, war/defense is a grotesque allocation of resources. A fifth of Canadian children live in poverty. There are First Nations people who don't have access to school. Our health care doesn't cover things like dentistry, eyeglasses and ambulance rides. Artists live below the poverty line. Yet we spend billions of dollars on the equipment necessary to kill people in foreign lands. The people that do the killing are underpaid, to boot.

Third, old rich men wage war, and poor young men and women fight it. War is about exploitation. The problem here is that the exploited become complicit. If the poor stopped fighting, the rich would have to stop declaring war. The oligarchs are being enabled by the rest of us, and the willingness of the people to accept the narrative.

I want to thank the men and women who have sacrificed their lives, their health, their sanity or their livelihood. I want to honour those who have given so much for Canada. But I can't help feeling that they were duped, that they were betrayed, and by continuing to honour their sacrifices, I continue to ennoble the lies, and I become complicit in the deception. I know what they thought they were dying for. Still, their deaths were unnecessary, pointless, and ultimately meaningless. The died badly, far away from home, and it was never for anything as sacred as my right to vote, or the freedom of speech that allows me to write this. The men and women who are right now, in Afghanistan, killing and being killed aren't doing it to defend my freedoms, nor are they doing it so women can go to school, though they think they are. NATO went into Afghanistan to kill a guy, to get revenge. Always remember that.

Thinking these thoughts is not usually an issue. These opinions on 364 days of the year, simply make me an ingrate or an asshole, or more probably a cynic. It's only on one day, November 11, that my opinions become visible and therefore political. I'd like to honour the dead tomorrow, but I honestly believe that by honouring the way they died, I'd be dishonouring the ideals they thought they were fighting for. So tomorrow I won't be wearing a poppy. I will probably observe a moment of silence at 11am, but only to shake my head in disgust, and hope vainly that we'll stop sending men and women to die stupidly.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

The first step is, of course, correctly identifying the foe.


M@ said...

For some reason this post just showed up in my feed reader tonight, so I'm a week late in saying: bang on. Couldn't agree more.

I have yet to see a single Remembrance Day ceremony that even hints at the idea that WWI was useless and every casualty was in vain. But that's what it's supposed to be about, I firmly believe.

Father Shaggy said...

Thanks, M@. I just cross posted it from my facebook page tonight. It's been too long, and I thought it was time I started shouting into the void again.