“I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder.” – Harry Patch (1898–2009), the last surviving veteran of World War I
This article originally appeared in the French edition of Ricochet and has been translated.
Today, around 11 a.m., the voices of thousands of people will hush, at the call of the trumpet, for a minute of silence to “honour the sacrifice” of all those soldiers who died in action “to defend our rights and freedoms.”
From the trenches of World War I to the sands of Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands have not known the joy of growing old — anonymous, mostly from the lower classes — while the children of the elite escaped either conscription or the necessity of enlisting to escape poverty.
In the midst of these fields of deadly ruins lie corpses in torn uniforms under tattered flags and the bodies of millions of innocent civilians massacred by outbursts of human madness mainly motivated by the greed of elites, who are too cowardly to take up the weapons themselves and in whose hands the streams of blood are transformed into rectangles of green paper.
The poppies that grow by feeding on the blood that drenches the ground of the battlefields have become a misleading symbol of this memory.
Flower of discord
In recent years, white poppies have increased, promoted by a campaign led by the Collectif Échec à la Guerre, though this symbol was born more than 80 years ago in England. Few public figures and even fewer politicians wear it on their jackets, except the Quebec Solidaire MNAs and some pacifist artists. It’s a flower of discord, a symbol despised by the ardent “patriots” who love only the song of the trumpets, the sound of cannons, and monuments raised in memory of the sacrifice of soldiers who died in wars that were never theirs.
In 2010, Jason Kenney, then minister of immigration and now leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta, praised Canada’s participation in the Boer War, a conflict deeply rooted in British colonialism, in which the dominion provided cannon fodder to the Empire. Three years later, the veterans affairs minister of the time, Julian Fantino, said the white poppy was “offensive” to veterans, nothing less.
It was a reaction similar to that of detractors of the initiative taken by Quebec Solidaire MNAs Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Amir Khadir, who chose this year to wear the two poppies superimposed, white over red. Nothing more was needed to treat them as traitors and deceivers, yet their actions should be applauded. They did not respect decorum? The right to subversion is one of the freedoms with which we live. And no offence to the angry crowds, nothing in this gesture denies the sacrifice of soldiers.
Between memory and propaganda
Like it or not, both Remembrance Day ceremonies and commemorations of past wars and battles have been the object of an odious political project for years. During his reign, Stephen Harper continued to amplify patriotic rhetoric while his government shamelessly cut services for injured veterans. At the commemoration of the centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Justin Trudeau fuelled the myth that this butchery was “Canada’s birthplace.” Must we remind him that this country was born of the collusion between railroad barons and a political establishment led by a white supremacist, presented by our minister of heritage minutes as “a great democrat,” who wanted to hang the resistant Métis leader Louis Riel “even if all the dogs of Quebec bark”? In Quebec, we would be better off remembering the riot of April 1, 1918, in the nation’s capital, where Canadian soldiers dispatched from western Canada (to minimize the risk of mutiny by the 22nd battalion) fired on anti-conscription militants.
And let’s remember the Canadian campaign in Afghanistan, a war that ultimately led to nothing, during which 158 soldiers died and 3,000 were wounded — millennials, in large numbers, given their young age — and nearly 25,000 Afghan civilians were killed. And Canada’s participation in the NATO operation in Libya. And now, after supporting the Iraqi Kurdish militias in the war against the Islamic State, the West is preparing to abandon them following their declaration of independence — a predictable scenario. Because Canada, this “champion of peace,” allows the sale of weapons to dictatorships as the Canadian military-industrial complex grows.
If we really want to honour the sacrifice of these men and women, let us begin by being critical of these wars so they no longer infect human history. Behind them lie the imperialist ambitions of the powerful on all sides, who deepen rifts by exploiting our fears and differences for their political and financial gains.
These are merchants of death and profiteers of the “sacrifice” of soldiers, but especially of the massacre of a larger number of innocent civilians.
Remember, to be able to one day say “never again.”