“The Mi­li­ta­ry Is For Eve­ryone”

In­ter­sec­tio­nal Im­pe­ria­lism in Re­mem­brance Day Com­me­mo­ra­tions

Le Délit - - Sci+tech - Athi­na Kha­lid

These ar­ticles glo­ri­fy ser­vice to the na­tion-state, spe­ci­fi­cal­ly mi­li­ta­ry ser­vice and sa­cri­fice. As per Wyatt’s ar­ticle, “mo­dern sni­ping was born amid the muck of the bat­tle­fields of the First World War and some of its dead­liest prac­ti­tio­ners were sol­diers from Ca­na­da’s First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties.” This quote is evi­dence of how the “in­ter­sec­tio­nal im­pe­ria­list” dis­course at­tempts to prove the worth of In­di­ge­nous people th­rough their mi­li­ta­ry suc­cess. It is de­hu­ma­ni­zing to va­lue in­di­vi­duals on the ba­sis of their mi­li­ta­ry suc­cess; people should be va­lued ir­res­pec­tive of their va­lue as man­po­wer to an im­pe­ria­list Wes­tern state.

Rea­ding these ar­ticles makes me think about mar­gi­na­li­zed com­mu­ni­ties see­king to be in­clu­ded in this nar­ra­tive. While in­di­vi­duals wan­ting to “in­te­grate” is un­ders­tan­dable, the broa­der trend here, which jus­ti­fies mi­li­ta­rism, is concer­ning. Li writes, “it pains me to see that eve­ry year, a large num­ber of people, like my grand­pa, are left out of com­me­mo­ra­tions on Re­mem­brance Day.” Pe­rhaps the de­sire to be in­te­gra­ted in­to mains­tream com­me­mo­ra­tions stems from res­pec­ta­bi­li­ty po­li­tics, whe­rein mar­gi­na­li­zed people conform to so­cie­tal concep­tions of res­pec­ta­bi­li­ty in the hopes of ad­van­cing their po­si­tion wi­thin the so­cial hie­rar­chy.

In a more ex­treme example of res­pec­ta­bi­li­ty po­li­tics, Hayyan Bhabha told the Bb­ca­sian Net­work: “the core far-right nar­ra­tive is that Mus­lims have ne­ver done any­thing for us. Well, ac­tual­ly, with facts that are over 100 years old, we can say Mus­lims fought and died for the his­to­ry and se­cu­ri­ty of Eu­rope.” Here, Bhabha at­tempts to chal­lenge the far-right’s Is­la­mo­pho­bia by em­pha­si­zing the contri­bu­tions of Mus­lims in both World Wars. He is ar­guing that Mus­lims should be va­lued be­cause they “fought and died for the his­to­ry and se­cu­ri­ty of Eu­rope.” It is pre­pos­te­rous to think that xe­no­pho­bic, Is­la­mo­pho­bic groups will re­pent upon the dis­co­ve­ry that Mus­lims have pro­ven their worth by figh­ting for Bri­tain. Ra­cism and Is­la­mo­pho­bia are ideo­lo­gies that will not be de­fea­ted by en­ga­ging with ra­cist or Is­la­mo­pho­bic rhe­to­ric. They must be chal­len­ged by va­luing Mus­lims for their in­herent worth as people.

Fur­ther­more, by fo­cu­sing on the ac­tions of in­di­vi­duals, the state and mi­li­ta­ry are ab­sol­ved of res­pon­si­bi­li­ty for their sys­te­mic vio­lence, be it the vio­lence of war or the vio­lence of co­lo­nia­lism.

In terms of the li­te­ral vio­lence of war, none of these ar­ticles men­tion any of the atro­ci­ties of WWI or WWII, apart from vague men­tions of “sa­cri­fice.” In Li’s ar­ticle, he writes “it’s on­ly by ho­nou­ring all sa­cri­fice, no mat­ter the na­tio­na­li­ty, just like at Lan­ge­mark, that we can erase past ani­mo­si­ties and avert fu­ture conflict.” This line begs the ques­tion, sa­cri­fice for what? Tal­king about sa­cri­fice in the abs­tract – i.e. wi­thout tal­king about the in­di­vi­dual and ma­te­rial ra­mi­fi­ca­tions of war – is mea­nin­gless. In Wyatt’s ar­ticle, he writes “fo­re­most among them was Cpl. Fran­cis Pe­gah­ma­ga­bow, cre­di­ted with 378 kills du­ring his four years on the shell-shat­te­red front lines of Eu­rope.” To speak so ca­sual­ly of his “kill score” is al­so de­hu­ma­ni­zing to those killed. Mi­li­ta­ry killings are sanc­tio­ned, sa­ni­ti­zed, and nor­ma­li­zed in these at­tempts to in­te­grate mar­gi­na­li­zed peoples in­to the mains­tream mi­li­ta­ry dis­course.

In the ar­ticle about Mus­lim par­ti­ci­pa­tion in the World Wars, absent is any men­tion that the sub­con­ti­nent was un­der Bri­tish co­lo­nial rule un­til 1947. The­re­fore, there is ob­vious­ly no men­tion of the vio­lence of Bri­tish rule in In­dia or of the coer­cive dy­na­mics that led to such large po­pu­la­tions of South Asians figh­ting in the World Wars.

The CBCKIDS ar­ticle dis­cusses the exis­tence of an all-black bat­ta­lion in WWI, which be­came “one of the most im­por­tant mi­li­ta­ry units in Ca­na­dian his­to­ry.” The ar­ticle spe­ci­fies that Black men were ini­tial­ly told they could not en­list. Ho­we­ver, there is no men­tion of the struc­tu­ral eco­no­mic and so­cial bar­riers that Black people would conti­nue to face for over 100 years, be it dis­cri­mi­na­tion, eco­no­mic bar­riers, or sta­te­sanc­tio­ned vio­lence (i.e. po­lice bru­ta­li­ty). Si­mi­lar­ly, the piece on In­di­ge­nous sni­pers glo­ri­fies their par­ti­ci­pa­tion while ma­king no men­tion of the on­going cultu­ral ge­no­cide of In­di­ge­nous people per­pe­tua­ted by the Ca­na­dian state. Re­si­den­tial schools, for example, were in full swing in the 1910s. To em­pha­size the ser­vice of In­di­ge­nous people in the Ca­na­dian Ar­med Forces wi­thout dis­cus­sing the state’s for­ced as­si­mi­la­tion is to erase the lat­ter.

Not on­ly does tal­king about in­di­vi­duals in a va­cuum erases the state’s vio­lence, it al­so is his­to­ri­cal­ly in­ac­cu­rate. Si­gni­fi­cant out­comes of WWI were the an­ti-war and pa­ci­fist mo­ve­ments. By for­get­ting these condem­na­tions of war, we are dis­tan­ced from the hor­rors ma­ny ho­ped to avoid. None of these ar­ticles en­gage with war in the contem­po­ra­ry context, nor do any com­me­mo­ra­tions: they are stuck in the past. More true to the spi­rit of the Ar­mis­tice are the ac­tions of Lon­don ac­ti­vists who laid orange (read: li­fe­boats) wreaths at the UK Mi­nis­try of De­fense. The vi­gil has hap­pe­ned an­nual­ly on Re­mem­brance Day since 2016. It is a pro­test against the UK go­vern­ment’s in­ac­tion in the face of an on­going hu­ma­ni­ta­rian cri­sis; 16-17 people die eve­ry day at­temp­ting to cross the Me­di­ter­ra­nean sea to seek re­fuge in Eu­rope, 33,000 people have drow­ned since 2000, and 5,000 people died trying to reach the UK. The pro­tes­tors argue that the Bri­tish go­vern­ment’s lack of aid in the form of long term so­lu­tions to the si­tua­tion amounts to vio­lence, par­ti­cu­lar­ly gi­ven the de­vas­ta­ting im­pacts of Bri­tish co­lo­nia­lism and neo-co­lo­nia­lism in the Middle East. To these pro­tes­tors, to re­mem­ber war is to re­mem­ber on­going vio­lence. This vi­gil en­gages with the present and de­mands a res­ponse to the on­going cri­sis.

We must re­sist at­tempts to in­te­grate his­to­ri­cal­ly mar­gi­na­li­zed people in­to pro­mi­li­ta­ry nar­ra­tives. We must va­lue people of co­lour for their in­herent worth, not be­cause they ser­ved “King and Coun­try.” We must re­mem­ber why we op­pose war and conti­nue to op­pose conflicts to­day.

“Abo­ri­gi­nal Sol­diers Among Ca­na­da’s Top Sni­pers in First World War”

by Nel­son Wyatt, The­glo­beand­mail “The Sto­ry of Ca­na­da’s WWI All-black Mi­li­ta­ry Bat­ta­lion” CBCKIDS “For­got­ten Mus­lim Sol­diers of World War One ‘Si­lence’ Far Right” by Ra­hil Sheikh, Bb­ca­sian­net­work “My Grand­pa, a Sol­dier For­got­ten on Re­mem­brance Day” by Stan­ford Li, Cbc­mon­treal It is de­hu­ma­ni­zing to va­lue in­di­vi­duals on the ba­sis of their mi­li­ta­ry suc­cess; people should be va­lued ir­res­pec­tive of their “va­lue as man­po­wer” to an im­pe­ria­list Wes­tern state. Tal­king about sa­cri­fice in the abs­tract – i.e. wi­thout tal­king about the in­di­vi­dual and ma­te­rial ra­mi­fi­ca­tions of war – is mea­nin­gless.

Nel­ly Wat | The Mcgill Dai­ly

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