Friday, November 03, 2006

Best We Forget by Louis Evan Palmer






There is always a waxing and waning in the effusion of patriotic fervour associated with Remembrance Day. It has an uptick when there is an anniversary or when there are Canadian troops committed somewhere. It tends to drop out of consciousness when times are good.

While some sit back now and make poetic statements about freedom and sacrifice, there is not much talk about the futility of many wars or the bloodthirstiness of their prosecution. There is also not much in the way of mass media coverage of how specific wars got started or who benefited financially or what nations advanced their causes or sphere of power.

It was said that many of those who marched off to World War I were enthusiastic and anticipated being home and victorious in a few weeks. It was an adventure and a chance to make triumphant noises over a prostrate enemy while crowing about British or French or German greatness.

We do want to remember and having a day dedicated to it certainly helps but it also moulds it into a public event which means into a propaganda event. Now it attempts to highly praise our troops in Afghanistan, to glorify in a subdued way. Forgeting about whether there was any legal justification for being there or how NATO got itself hoodwinked into assuming the bloody mantle of leadership from the United States, having troops dying strongly invites the expression of the most primal type of chest-thumping, flag-waving, thought-numbing jingoism.

Having a day like this makes us admire the soldiers of the past whether we should or not. Defending yourself well is admirable. Being able to fight well is advisable. But extolling the dead and their victorious living comrades put us into a mindset where war is an answer. Defending means someone has invaded your territory - that foreign troops are actually on your soil - and currently that is only true about us.

We have a Remembrance Day advertisement that shows a crusty bloated old soldier in some Canadian Legion facsimile of a uniform standing beside a teen-aged boy who is dressed in what appears to be a cadet's uniform. By showing us this linkage, it gives us every indication that the fateful process of germinating the next crop of cannon fodder is underway, one generation setting off the other.

Ringing bells and shooting off guns and blowing sombre horns shouldn't be such a big part of our remembrance. Preventing wars and understanding their causes should get more of our attention. Honouring non-military non-conflict-based peace-makers and peace-keepers should get more of our attention. We don't need any more of the ancient Roman desert-making peace - the peace of death and desolation.

But we constantly peer through a portal on war, the tragic failure of peace, where it's typically portrayed as vile and wrenching (for us) yet exciting and intense. It's part of an atavistic subculture that seems to dominate world politics even as it's denied. The warriors are listened to, the peace-makers are set aside for other less dangerous times.

Our extravagant memorializing has the opposite effect - it may not glorify war per se but it glorifies sacrifice which can be worse because it's more encompassing; worse not in itself but in its potential for misuse as a powerful tool of manipulation. The end result is to stifle dissent and ostracize critics. We make for ourselves a drum-beating tyranny-lite and hope it goes away after the war, hoping as well that the current war will end even though almost all its causes are still present.

Sometimes remembering the way we do on Remembrance Day is a way of denying the senselessness of it, its preventability, where the fault for these things really lies. It begs some questions though: Can you be good at something you don't practice? Can you practice something that you don't, at some level, admire? Can you admire something without wanting to try it?

Best We Forget, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright Louis Evan Palmer 

He lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have been published in numerous publications.


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