Half of Canadians will disagree vehemently with the following, but those people ought to examine carefully the arguments herein, and also their own consciences, lest they become a problem they wish to avoid.
This Sunday will be the 100th anniversary of the battle for Vimy Ridge, and terms like “valor” and “courage” will be bandied around. No one in the mainstream media will ever talk about the piddling meaninglessness of this battle to claim a few hundred yards of hillside, whose only importance was that German troops had encamped there to gain a strategic advantage of higher ground. Similarly, no one will mention the pointlessness of a war that killed 30 million or more, ought never to have been fought, and at the very least could and should have been over long before 1917. I know about the First World War. My grandfather was in the cavalry, and I grew up on his stories of the horror. Men drank their own blood; they cut off frostbitten fingers to eat them; they coughed up segments of lung fried by mustard gas. And those who managed to survive, to return home, vowed to change a world that had sent mainly its poor to fight in a conflict that only the rich wanted. They failed in this, but the cause is nonetheless noble, and still crying out for a champion.
Benjamin Ferencz has been one such champion, but he is 97 now, and though still volubly active, is not about to lead the masses in an effort to detox our governments’ addiction to war as a means of settling disputes. Seventy years ago, he was a chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, where he specialized in convicting members of the Einsatzgruppen – the first Nazis to embark on the Holocaust in the Baltic states – all of whom he sent to the scaffold. He knows about the cost of war. He also knows that most of the Nazi hierarchy escaped retribution, and many even started working for the Allies against a new enemy in Russia. Ferencz realizes that politics is a ballgame, and that war is the ball. We should pay heed.
The glorification of war is a sickness in sore need of a cure. Our monuments do not record the man who hid inside the belly of a dead cow to avoid capture, eating torn-off hanks of putrefying flesh to stay alive. They do not record the sergeant who trudged all night through mud to report back at HQ holding his severed arm. They do not record the thousands and thousands blinded or lame for life. They do not record the futility, expense and pointlessness of every war. They record the names of those who “gave their lives” to protect us. Those lives were really stolen not given, and the tragedy protected no one. As Aldous Huxley said, a war to defend democracy sounds reasonable. But the exigencies of war require a centralized command, forced conscription, suspension of basic rights, and so on. Before you know it, you don’t have a democracy to defend. In Canada we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate for the world how a pacifist system can function. We have no enemies (and even if we did, the question of how an attack works when there is no one to attack is part of another discussion). We have no obligation to participate in the wars of our allies. How can we possibly justify the billions spent on devices whose sole purpose is to kill other people? As we plunge ever deeper into debt, this question is increasingly relevant. Abandoning war would give us the money to invest in those things that we really need: education, housing and healthcare. Yet these anniversaries of bloodbaths always try to persuade us that it is sweet and noble to die in conflicts no one really understands. “The old lie,” as Wilfred Owen called it, “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori…”
The United Nations charter is committed to solving international conflicts and disputes peacefully. It doesn’t do this because the Security Council – an aberration giving the great powers control over proceedings – always acts as a barrier to global equanimity. But this doesn’t have to be so. The UN could be overhauled and made into what it purports to be: a world government.
War may once have been a noble profession, when kings and potentates charged into the fray with pistol and sabre; but now it is shameful, the generals sitting with coffee before video screens, exterminating strangers as they stir in sugar. We have surely evolved beyond this barbarism. As Tolstoy says, war is the greatest crime of all, containing, as it does, all other crimes: murder, arson, rape, theft, and even counterfeiting. The Law is supposed to counter all crimes. And there are international laws that, if utilized, would act in the place of armies. I was in Iraq in 2003. I saw where a trillion dollars went. It went to destroy another trillion dollars in property and life. It went nowhere, and it has achieved nothing. Just as we’re legalizing marijuana, we could criminalize war. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. The whole world would take an invaluable lesson from it too. Because, if we all do not give up this atavistic game, we shall all surely perish; atomic weapons are not swords and arrows. Sooner or later, someone is bound to press a button marked The End.
Paul William Roberts