Next Tuesday is the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. Once again in Canada and around the Commonwealth people will be gathering to observe what is now called Remembrance Day. In the United States the day has been renamed Veteran's Day. For some it is truly a day to reflect on the terribleness of war and of all those whose lives were wasted in that pursuit. For others, and governments, it is an excuse to beat the drums of patriotism and condition us for future wars. Should we be surprised? The timing of the Armistice, itself, was an exercise in political propaganda paid for needlessly by the lives of soldiers.
Rather than end hostilities once it was plain that the war was over, the politicians choose to put symbolism above human life, and settled on an official end to hostilities at the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month. The agreement was signed at the Fifth Hour, so soldiers got to keep dying for six hours. The last Canadian to die was Pte. G.I. Prince, shot at 10:58.
The First World War was billed as the war to end all wars. In reality it hardly slowed the carnage at all. The Twentieth Century, sometimes referred to as the bloody century, started off with wars in South Africa, the Philippines, China and Manchuria, just to name a few hot spots. The pace hardly let up, and at the end of the First World War the Allies invaded the Soviet Union to fight the Bolsheviks with the last troops not pulling out until 1925. Between civil wars and a Japanese invasion, China was basically in a state of war during most of the century until Mao drove out Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, and hostilities were ended in Korea. The Second World War, an extension of the First on a much bigger scale, brought even more deaths and destruction. And, as we know all too well, it did not bring and end to war either.
Of all of the wars of the past century only the Second World War in Europe against Hitler came even close to being about the eradication of evil and all of the other things we are always told we are fighting for. Had those been the only issues there is doubt that the war would have been fought at all. The First World War was certainly about none of those, a stupid blunder by all parties and the shame of every country that took part. Many of the wars of the century that did have elements of freedom involved were the usual cases of colonized people fighting to be free from the very western powers whose propaganda prominently features freedom as a major component.
We also hear about wars as protecting our way of life, which in many ways may be true. But, that begs the question, why is it that we have a way of life that attracts wars? Is it just that the rest of the world is evil, is it just human nature, or maybe there is something that we are doing that creates so much hostility? Perhaps this is a question that we should be asking ourselves, particularly when we stop to reflect on all of those we have lost.
As I write we are engaged in an unnecessary and foolish war in Afghanistan, providing cannon fodder to appease the Americans and the defence industry. It has cost about 100 Canadian lives so far, not to mention the thousands of Afghans that have been killed. As a percentage of total national population, Canadian casualties are about one third higher than those of the US.
As we observe this Remembrance Day no doubt we will hear messages telling us to support the troops. We should do that, and we should also remember that supporting the troops is not the same as supporting a war. In fact the two are usually opposed to one another.