by the Editors
Each year the moment of silence, cornerstone of each Remembrance Day ceremony in our nation’s capital, is punctuated by the roar of fighter jets flying overhead. These and other militant rumblings are exalted by our government as meaningful gestures of commemoration and respect.
Yet true symbols of peace, healing, and reconciliation — white poppies, anti-war demonstrations, and criticisms of one-dimensional readings of history — are condemned by the government and its allies.
Have we forgotten the meaning and power of peace?
While our present federal government militarizes our national consciousness, erecting monuments and spending millions on commemorative celebrations, veterans and their families continue to struggle for social services and support.
This hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed by veterans. “I know we’re supposed to remember the dead,” says Michael Blais, president and founder of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy group, “but damn it, we’re supposed to remember the living, too.”
Blais’s advocacy group joined a coalition of other veterans’ support organizations demanding better support for injured and retired soldiers and their families. The coalition argues that the government is not providing adequate health and retirement benefits for injured service men and women and wholly ignores the mental health of those returning from battlefields across the world.
But such ignorance is the hallmark of nationalistic fervour. In the wake of the Oct. 22 shooting in the capital, our prime minister labelled the alleged shooter, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a terrorist. In the past month it has come out that Zehaf-Bibeau suffered from mental illness and drug addiction.
But the damage has been done. Prime Minister Harper continues to push for increased security and surveillance powers. The evening of Oct. 22 he said that the shooting “will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threat.” The shooting, however, clearly points towards gaps in social support and recovery for people in difficult circumstances, not towards gaps in security.
Nevermind all that. Five days after the shooting the government tabled Bill C-44, aimed at expanding the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
Harper also stated that “attacks on our security personnel and on our institutions of governance are by their very nature, attacks on our country, on our values, on our society, on us Canadians as a free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all.”
The rhetoric in this statement is troubling. The use of phrases like “our values” and “us Canadians” encourages singular, simplified notions of “us,” and broad, amorphous shadows of “otherness.” Such blanket statements encourage, even justify, violent and indiscriminate response to manufactured threats.
Peace, unity, and community are devalued when barriers are erected between human beings. They are threatened by a nationalism that excludes narrowly and exalts violence and vengeance. They are threatened, in short, when we let others remember for us, and when remembrance becomes a substitute for active, organized movements toward peace.
This article first appeared in the Leveller, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2014).