Today is Remembrance Day. While you are reading this, I am getting a tooth extracted. Life goes on.
Or does it?
Remembrance Day was instituted following WWI so nobody would forget the horrors of war. Or the honour.
Within 20 years, we did. As the result, not only did the world revisit the horrors of military conflict, but immortalized the unbelievable systematic, deliberate slaughter of civilians. A lesson harshly taught, poorly remembered and not understood.
Let’s be honest. I don’t remember. I was not there in WWI. For that matter, I was not there in WWII. However, I have paid attention, and I believe, even though I was not there and don’t remember, I understand. I am not lobbying for a name change, but for this essay let’s create Understanding Day.
The mayor of Toronto last week announced he has smoked crack cocaine. From all the facts, it appears he did it while in office. His penalty, so far, appears to be a kind of petulant, virtual self-flogging in public. No stripes.
I have been a staunch defender of Ford. The alleged video was not available and a few of the papers were calling for guilt before trial. I don’t believe in guilt before trial. Today, Ford is guilty by his own words. I wonder if the soldiers In Flanders Fields would Understand on this day. Was the reason we advanced up Vimy Ridge so our law enforcers could break the law with impunity if only they could generate crocodile tears?
The soldiers would not understand. That was not the nature of our nation.
Last week the Senate voted to suspend three senators without pay for two years. This was under the public direction of the Prime Minister. One errant (but still employed) Conservative voted against the suspension, calling for due process. I hope he is not next. There is an unanswered defence that the expense-reporting rules were changed, then applied retroactively. As voters, you can read and decide. I am not trying a case in print. However, something is not right. How can three senators be guilty of the same thing at the same time, be voted out the same day and yet have no hint or claim of collusion? If I demanded Ford be accorded due process, I cannot sanction conviction before trial for the senators. I can’t understand. Would the soldiers that died at Ypres understand? They would say no; they did not die for guilt by imperial decree or Star Chamber.
Today, the religion and the economic system that accompanied western society to the pinnacle of civilization are under fire from all directions, while every other economy and religion is elevated. In the States, it looks as if democracy, itself, is for sale. The U.S. leader is being linked to payouts, lies, cover-ups and political retaliation using the IRS, EPA and other non-elective authorities to penalize political enemies. There are even stories floating that the Red States (colours opposite Canada: conservative) will have Affordable Care Act premiums double those in the Blue (liberal) States.
Would the Americans that died at Belleau Wood understand?
I read last week that 108 million Americans are on assistance. I also read that 101 million are working full-time. Would the Canadians on Juno Beach or Americans on Omaha understand?
I do understand that employment for returning soldiers was important. It seems the responsibility was on the soldier and the employers in the community. I was not there, and I do not remember.
I was at a party recently, and the conversation turned, as it often does, to “the youth.” I understand it has always been so. The concern is for our youth and our immigrants. Where are the jobs, and what careers are available?
However, it has not always been that young people and immigrants are cajoled into careers with no path, just to generate head count for government “educators.” Who cares if the kids can’t find work in Animation, as long as their educators get an extra four weeks of paid time off, eh? Who gives a damn, the educators might ask, if invited immigrant educators end up as security guards?
That is an education, of sorts, and that one I believe the Dead would understand. The many working so the few can relax is what they fought against.
Clearly, it is too hard for us as a society to penalize errant behavior. We say we are too compassionate. We seem to think the unemployed deserve money, not jobs, and that our law-enforcing politicians don’t need to obey the laws they enforce.
The fact is, we can afford dope fiends in politics because politics has become a money game and we have money. In war, it is all politics and it is no game. We can afford liars and thieves, and we can afford to call innocent people liars and thieves because by obscuring the lines they can avoid the penalties and we don’t have to endure the penalties. Yet.
The conventional “wisdom” of the day is that we should not discuss religion or politics. People get nervous when you do. Too bad the Germans of 1932 did not discuss politics a bit more. You can buy a book on Amazon called Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer took both religion and politics seriously. Hitler had him strangled with thin wire in the last three weeks of WWII. He died, but being a German (strike 1 if you want recognition in post-war North America), a pastor (strike 2) and a student of politics and an assassin (strike 3), few remember him. He is just Dead. They threw his body on a cart with the others executed that day and disposed of them all. Nobody knows where. Burned, I guess.
Can I set the record straight on the Nazis? They are described as being “extreme right.” They were not. They were extreme left. Their name meant National Socialist Workers’ Party, and they were in death competition with other socialists. While it is true Hitler cozied up to industrialists and financiers that could help him, so did Stalin and Mao. It is best to understand the Third Reich as a totalitarian welfare state.
Conservative U.S. columnist Charles Krauthammer hit the nail on the head. According to Krauthammer, you may prefer to avoid politics and indulge in the elegant and the beautiful. But in the end, all the great elements of culture – art, science and poetry – in the end everything hinges on getting the politics right. If you get it wrong, really wrong, everything is left in ruins.
In Flanders Fields they dream that they fought and died to give all succeeding generations the freedom and resources to succeed to the sky. Instead, we took the money and time to go soft.
The Japanese famously said the Americans were soft in 1941, as the Germans had said of Britain in the ‘30s. Both were proved wrong, but at horrible cost as the Yanks that were captured came under the same gruesome hand that had already held the Canadians defending Hong Kong for over two years. Nobody got to play video games, and nobody got to sleep in. Nobody got to go home and live with Mom, although for many, Mom was the last thing they called out for.
Life can be harsh when you let down your guard – when you don’t understand. There are now new nations that are musing publicly that Canada and the West have gone soft. Let’s pray this time they are also wrong. One thing history teaches: if a country is seen as both wealthy and weak, sooner or later another will move to take it. “After all,” they will say, “it is only fair and just.”
If I had one message to convey to aspiring youth and new Canadians it would be to understand and remember. What you have is not free.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
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. – John McCrae