There have been 98 Easters since 1917. The day now generally starts with the gleeful cry of children content to hunt for the chocolate eggs apparently laid by a rabbit, one assumes after a drunken night of debauchery with an avian or reptilian companion. But on that day 98 years ago the morning began with an artillery barrage so massive it shook the ground violently enough to throw pack mules from their feet. Just after dawn along the 3 miles of Canadian troops shivering drunk in the predawn hours. Thinking quite possibly of the agonies of that man on a Galilee hilltop 1917 years before.
Many of them would have recognized him as their God.
Then the sound of whistles and coarse male voices would have competed with soul chilling screeching howl of the massive artillery shells rending the air at supersonic speeds above their heads. They would have felt the thunderous detonations pounding the soles of their boots. They would have somehow pushed themselves through the blinding terror they felt and climbed the blood covered trench ladders, packed tight as lemmings and facing similar odds of survival. As the first twenty thousand young Canadians spasmodically clawed their way into the killing fields of no mans land the assault on Vimy ridge began. 3,598 would not live the day.
4 members of my family served in this war, including Maj General Sir
Sam Steele who commanded the 2nd Canadian division as it sailed for France from Halifax harbor.
The war to end all wars.
Problem is, it wasn’t.
My father Larry and my uncle William joined the Canadian Forces on September 10th, 1939. It had taken them a few days to travel down from their farm home in Rochfort Bridge to the recruiting centers in Edmonton. My uncle being the
smarter of the 2 fought with the RCAF in the battle of Britain. My Father returned an empty shell. I recall him, dead these many years, mainly from his lack of presence.
One of my fathers friends during my childhood was Bob Blacklock.
Bobby’s twin brother had been killed fighting near him with the Second Battalion Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) as they desperately held off 3000 Chinese troops for 3 days and nights on the cold windswept Kapyong Ridge in Korea.
Canadian Forces participated in Gulf War 1 in 1991, Canadian pilots bombing Iraqi positions and our ground troops managing prisoners.
In my turn I deployed with the Second Battalion P.P.C.L.I to Yugoslavia on Rotation 2 of the euphemistically named Operation Harmony into the middle of a very hot and merciless civil war. My unit engaged in the largest land battle since Korea to halt ethnic cleansing in an area known as the Medak pocket.
Many of the men whom I was so very privileged to have served with went on to spend most of ten long years fighting the nail-hard Taliban in the apocalyptic desolation of Afghanistan.
Just before this Easter by a vote of 142 to 129, Canada went to war again. This time with an enemy that by all reports our American cousins brought into being with their drive for globe imperial dominance, and then both supplied and trained with our NATO partners.
The definition of insanity is repeating the same action again and again and expecting a different outcome.
So perhaps it is time for our society to re-examine its relationship with institutionalized state violence. “Et decorum est pro patria mori” is the fundamentally flawed holdover of more primal times and neither this nation, nor the rest of our race can continue to accept the morality, legality, or indeed utility of allowing organized slaughter on a mass scale. Pretending it’s not an insane, primal rending of flesh because the participants wear matching outfits is increasingly not the path to the future.
What I know for a fact is that most of the soldiers who have actually done the dark deeds under this country’s banner, who have borne the horror and scars of this nation’s wars, have, in the most terrible of moments, been driven on by the ever luminous but faint hope of peace. The iron determination that their sons and their daughters would never have to bear the stench of blood, urine and fear known to every soldier since the beginning of human conflict. That somehow the sacrifice they make will improve the human condition.
I know this because I have read it in the journals of my ancestors, I heard it from my father in the few times he talked of his time bobbing in a boat off the coast of Normandy. I know it from the lips of old men recalling fearfully their journey through the ultimate act of human degradation in reverend tones in the dark recess of legion halls. I know because I have been both a shaking boy in a trench wanting to be safe home with mother and in the next instant been the cold brutal executioner of my fellow man to advance my nation’s cause.
But what has been gained by all this blood and sacrifice? Virtually nothing. Instead of lasting peace we are confronted by a world sliding toward yet another global conflict. Like the ones before, it seems to be driven mainly by the politics of competing global empires and the profits of arms dealers. Some critics will fall inevitably on the notion of the “just war” as exemplified by WW1 and 2. But was it? A huge body of writing and great movements were started in the interwar period 1919-1939 to hold the arms manufacturers to account for their role in starting the conflict. Much of this has been suppressed and forgotten. But parliamentary committees were struck in both the US (The Nye Committee) and Britain to investigate corporate responsibility for the war. They came to naught because many of the same interests managed to help start WW2. Increasingly we see evidence of the early Nazi party being backed by industrial interests in Britain and the US. Names like Ford, Standard Oil, and IBM backed the Nazi war machine and continued to do business with it throughout the war. IBM and Ford even successfully sued the US government for bombing their factories in Germany during the war.
Our efforts in the first Gulf War certainly did not lead to peace and stability in Iraq. Thankfully in a rare moment of sanity we refused participation in the sequel brought to us by Cheney-Bush productions.
Our war in Afghanistan was questionable in it’s legality. The nation state of Afghanistan attacked no one and under international law and treaties to which Canada is a signatory the only legal justification for war is defense against or retaliation for an attack against us, or our allies by a nation state. The assertion that some individuals who may reside in that nation state bore responsibility does not meet the bar. After 10 years of our soldiers fighting and dying there, Afghanistan is sliding inexorably back toward chaos.
In 30 years of peacekeeping efforts what did we really accomplish? The Sinai, our first mission continues to be a battle ground, Cyprus remains divided and to say our efforts in Yugoslavia were even mildly successful is ridiculous.
Many would certainly write me off as a fool for suggesting that a nation state such as ours could exist without the means to defend itself and its interests. But we are not capable of defending ourselves with our Armed Forces. Our only natural enemy, the United States could overwhelm us. On the greater world stage any clash between our alliance system and China or Russia is most likely to end in victory for no one and death for all.
Certainly it would be a great risk to put up the colours of our regiments forever in the hall of the dead. But did not the men and women who served this country so ably take those risks upon themselves in the pursuit of a peaceful and just world. A world not driven incessantly by the greed of weapons manufacturers and corporate interests.
I have always believed that to live in peaceful community and to strive for an end to war is the greatest and perhaps only real act of remembrance for those young Canadians obscenely butchered in this century’s wars. It is I think time that we at least begin the conversation about our real place in the world, to retake a position of moral leadership that turns it’s back on war as an instrument of national policy. And to exert our influence on others to follow suit and in so doing make truly meaningful the sacrifices of our ancestors. We have always been known in war for our reckless courage, let us be known for it in peace. Let us live up to the words written by a Canadian at the end of the second war to end all wars;
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
John Humphrey, Canada
About William Ray I am a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. I am a ten year Veteran of the Canadian Forces. I was with the 2nd Battalion PPCLI in Croatia in 1993 when they where awarded the Governor General of Canada and the Secretary General of the United Nations commendations for bravery for halting ethnic cleansing in the Medak pocket. I started with community radio and writing articles. In 2009 I began working with CUTV Montreal. During the student strikes and subsequent social unrest I helped manage the Livestream ground teams. I am also a co-founder of 99media.org and The founder of 3RTV, both citizen media groups. I also collaborated with Michelle Moore on the documentary film Déception Durable which was selected for the 2014 Montréal International Film Festival, and Films That Matter in Calgary, and the FReDD festival in France on resource extraction in Quebec.