The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

THE ELEVENTH HOUR OF the eleventh day of the eleventh month takes on an ex­tra sig­nif­i­cance this time around, as we mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the war to end all wars.

If that hor­rific con­flict lived up to its name, Novem­ber 11 would be more of a cel­e­bra­tory event. As it is, Re­mem­brance Day re­calls the sac­ri­fices of those who served in the mil­i­tary, par­tic­u­larly those who lost their lives in the two large-scale wars that shaped the 20th cen­tury.

But “Lest we for­get” is best ap­plied to re­mem­ber­ing the hor­rors of war, and avoid­ing them in the fu­ture. The ideal way to hon­our the vet­er­ans of past wars is to en­sure their ranks are never in­creased.

That is per­haps too op­ti­mistic for a species with a long his­tory of vi­o­lence, con­flict and im­pe­ri­al­is­tic as­pi­ra­tions. De­spite all we know, there’s still a siz­able group of peo­ple who sup­port the kind of power plays and war­mon­ger­ing that gen­er­ates the smaller-scale con­flicts per­pet­u­ally brew­ing all over the planet, whether they be the work of petty, power-grub­bing tyrants or larger pow­ers still bent on im­pe­ri­al­ism and med­dling in the af­fairs of oth­ers.

Wars don’t typ­i­cally hap­pen in iso­la­tion, as Gwynne Dyer notes in his col­umn this week. Those on a larger scale are the re­sult of a host of other fac­tors, from his­tor­i­cal griev­ances to ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sion. Often there’s a build-up of mil­i­tary jin­go­ism and pro­pa­ganda fan­ning the fires of war. It’s a tac­tic that is still em­ployed each and ev­ery day by lead­ers from Rus­sia to North Korea, from China to the U.S., the lat­ter be­ing a text­book case of modern im­pe­ri­al­ism.

The key to avoid­ing wars, or at least re­duc­ing its like­li­hood, is an in­formed cit­i­zenry that rec­og­nizes the pro­pa­ganda and re­fuses to buy into the worst kind of pa­tri­otic na­tion­al­ism. Short of fend­ing off an in­va­sion of your home, there’s lit­tle rea­son for much of the mil­i­tary ad­ven­tur­ism of the kind we see con­tin­u­ally south of the bor­der. And of which even Canada, cer­tainly not a mil­i­tary su­per­power, gets mired in from time to time – in­clude on that list the likes of Afghanistan and the missions in the con­fus­ing mo­rass that is Syria, for in­stance.

Rec­og­niz­ing the pro­pa­ganda an­gle of much of the jin­go­ism typ­i­cally in­volves ask­ing the ba­sic ques­tion, cui bono – who stands to gain? There are the arms man­u­fac­tur­ers who profit out­right, the same peo­ple who own many a politi­cian through lob­by­ing and fi­nan­cial do­na­tions. There’s the mil­i­tary it­self, which ex­tends its rai­son d’être. And there are the politi­cians who cling to or seek power on the back of “strong lead­er­ship,” rec­og­niz­ing that it’s much eas­ier to stir up pa­tri­otic fer­vour than to do some­thing of ac­tual ben­e­fit to the ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens.

Re­fus­ing to be caught up in all of that is eas­ier said than done, es­pe­cially dur­ing times of real cri­sis, no mat­ter how the cri­sis was man­u­fac­tured.

Re­mem­brance Day is largely as­so­ci­ated with wars from the first half of the last cen­tury, the epic strug­gles of the First World War and World War II and, a lit­tle later, the Korean War. It’s in­deli­bly linked to the great wars, those al­most un­think­able bat­tles that en­gulfed the planet. That many of us have never ex­pe­ri­enced such hor­rors is a wel­come re­lief, but it is then all the more im­por­tant that we make the ef­fort to re­mem­ber lest we be doomed to re­peat past mis­takes.

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