Quebec wants to rename Vimy Park in Montreal after the late separatist premier, Jacques Parizeau. Canada is griping about the dishonour to those 10,000-odd Canadian soldiers who were killed or wounded during one of the most ferocious battles of World War I. It begs many questions, but perhaps the most important is the issue of commemorating a senseless slaughter of conscripted troops who were not asked if they wanted to support the British in a pointless struggle that ought never to have been started and went on murderously for many years too long. Prominent voices denounced it early, and a number were jailed for their honesty. My grandfather fought in Flanders, so I grew up on stories of that most horrendous of wars, with its tens of millions dead. It seems to be equated now with World War II, yet there was nothing like the justification existing for stopping Hitler, whose very existence can be ascribed to the inequity with which Germany was treated after the first war – in which the German army felt itself confident of victory until being told by the government to surrender ignominiously. Understandably, many Quebeckers had no desire to fight for Britain, and, among the many evils of war, conscription is one of the greatest, violating all our current notions of human rights. It has always struck me that the way to forget the actuality of something is to erect a memorial to it. A park named ‘Vimy’ acknowledges nothing about the realities of that wicked, unnecessary war, beyond the name of a battle, which is also ridiculously enshrined among the useless artifacts that aspiring Canadian citizens are expected to memorize as a signal part of their new country’s more inglorious past. I am not particularly a separatist, but I do recognize Quebec’s right to view history in a somewhat different light. The French-Canadians who died or were mutilated at Vimy were many, and the obliteration of this stupid park is the commemoration of a greater tragedy, the forced servitude of men to die in a cause for which they had no passion or even concern. I deplore our ongoing participation in celebrating the barbarism of all wars. As Aldous Huxley noted, a war to save democracy sounds good, but once you have centralized a command system necessary to fight any war, instituted conscription, interned foreign nationals, and done all the other vile things essential – you no longer have a democracy to save. As Tolstoy said, war is the greatest of all crimes, because it contains all other crimes – murder, rape, arson, robbery, even counterfeiting, and so on. All the more disturbing is it to see this once-pacific country urged towards another war, with the usual devices or fear and fake jingoism.
When I hear of this nation’s indigenous peoples’ plight, or that of our urban poor and dispossessed, and then hear of the plans to spend many billions on new warplanes and ships, I despair. And now the the drumbeat to join NATO in defending Eastern Europe against Russian aggression – WTF? For a start, aggression doesn’t stop aggression, it incites it. And a few hundred troops in Latvia, or wherever, will stop the Russian armies for a day at the most, should they invade. The last time NATO badgered us into joining a brief peace-keeping mission was in Afghanistan, and it ended up as five years of armed conflict, with much loss of life. Are we deluded enough to be bullied into this again? Fighting the Taliban and sundry medieval warlords will be nothing like fighting the Russians in conventional warfare. The escalation of such a war would be unthinkable – Russia still has enough intercontinental ballistic nuclear warheads to destroy the planet several times over. Yet in contemplating this extreme folly Justin Trudeau, and his defense minister, are surely forced to think of the unthinkable. If the unstable Premier Putin ignores a NATO threat, what then? Who is that next decision up to? Not Canada, to be sure. With Europe in various forms of turmoil, and the US in its usual blindly belligerent mayhem, do we really want to support a NATO, and how does it benefit us if we do? No one will survive a nuclear war, and NATO does not possess the troops necessary to fight Russia in a conventional war. What then? Did we elect the wrong Trudeau brother? – for Sasha has seen war in Iraq, and, I think, understands the realities of armed conflict better than hail-fellow-well-met Justin.
If we wish to disassociate ourselves from the colonial past – and we do – why be coerced into Euro-American neo-imperialism? For such it is. In supporting various petty nationalist aspirations approved by Washington, we seem to be unable to see or approve of the same thing done by Russia. Syria is just a Russian client, and Moscow’s confounding policies there demonstrate that. The Baltic countries have, on and off, been part of a Russian or Soviet imperium, as the Ukraine has been. American interest in these regions is purely self-serving and cares not a jot for realities or national aspirations. The Baltic states did not seem to object especially to Nazi domination, and indeed happily participated in very early stages of the Holocaust. Russian domination may seem like Hades to someone in Idaho, but it will be business as usual in Latvia. Why interfere when the interference is only in the interests of US strategic hegemony?
I would suggest that we do not need an aggressive army in Canada, with warplanes and a nuclear navy, but, since we are supposedly a democracy, why do we not demand a plebiscite on the issue? An army to make peace and assist with disasters, or one to make war and create more disasters in the process? Many billions spent with Lockheed-Martin, Boeimg, or other Masters of Death, or else those billions spent at home where they are sorely needed? A peace-loving nation, or a belligerent punk, a wannabe superpower? We the people ought to choose who and what we are. If I was not blind, I would start a petition right now – but someone ought to. The choice seems obvious to me, and it is, after all, our tax money – but put it to a vote and let’s see.
If Putin moves to regain the old Soviet Empire, and to boost his own flagging reputation, how will he be stopped? Exactly. The best-case scenario in that event is more memorials to the dead, ignoring the scandalous futility of their deaths. With the West in an incessant economic chaos, the incentives to war are great: the Masters of Death make vast profits and employ many. But those, like me, familiar with the truths of nuclear war, although we may now number few, can assure everyone that no climate change will be as climactically changed as a Nuclear Winter. It is extinction, the survival of a few we now think least fit – organisms able to thrive on atomic radiation.
We have no enemies in this wonderful country – except ourselves, perhaps — so let’s keep it that way, and then hope for the best, knowing we have behaved as best we could under the circumstances. At least those Russian missiles won’t be directed at the Great Lakes, as once they were.
Paul William Roberts