Who to Commemorate

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. It meant speaking ceremonial words, a reading of “In Flanders Fields,” and a minute of silence to the fallen fighters of the wars. I chose not to observe any of these events. I can accept that some people entered into soldiery and the battlefield believing they were doing so for noble reasons. However, to solemnize the mistakes of people who chose to use violence to solve conflicts is anathema to me.

If one believes in peace, then it seems the proper thing is to revere the warriors for peace. Yet those are the people who are disparaged by the media, whose movements are brutalized by state police. The warriors who head off to far-flung lands that pose no threat to Europe, the United States, or Canada — why should they be lauded? The warring soldiers of today are — by and large — indoctrinated killers, not protectors of peace or high principles.

People “volunteer” for the grist for the soldiery today. Iraq, Haiti, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan … have nothing to do with defence; it is all about warring and killing. The multitude of killings, the war crimes, and the destruction of the aforementioned countries provides ample evidence of this.

Iraq, Haiti, Libya, and Afghanistan, Pakistan found (and find) themselves victimized by the military weaponry of the West. Fighting in close quarters is eschewed for fighting from a great distance via planes, ships at sea, bombs, and drones high in the sky. Such push-button soldiery has little to do with bravery.

Furthermore, if fighters should be remembered for their supposed “heroism” (and I do not deny that some acts of heroism occur), then they should also be remembered — and reviled — for commission of war crimes, massacres, and other wicked deeds; and they should incur whatever punishment is deserved.

Is there a day of remembrance for the Somali teenager — Shidane Arone — brutally murdered by members of Canada’s “elite” Canadian Airborne Regiment? (Graphic photo)

Whose freedom have all these soldiers for past wars really been fighting for? Is it the freedom of the 99% or the 1%? Whose cause does mind-numbing patriotism serve? The 99% or the 1%? Are the 1% putting their sons and daughters on the frontlines? All these wars have been fought over the years and what has the result been? A greater and greater concentration of wealth in the hands of the wealthy few. Is such a societal outcome really worth fighting for?

When schools commemorate Remembrance Day, what are they really commemorating? Is it not an inculcation of warrior sentiment into the younger generation? I found myself having Chinese students being exposed to the Canadian tradition of commemorating their warriors.

Fine, that is what happens in Canada, but I have to be honest with students. I am opposed to the nonsense of celebrating warring and warriors. I made that known to my students.

I presented my Chinese students with the words of one of their own, Lin Yutang. The renowned writer Lin said, “[Chinese] hate war, and always will hate war. Good people never fight in China. For ‘good iron is not made into nails, and good men are not made soldiers.’”

I am adamantly opposed to indoctrination or inculcation of any sort. I always encourage my students to doubt what I say, especially when it runs counter to that told to them in wider society. I urge them to ask questions, research, and form their own conclusions. I encourage them to challenge whatever views I (or anyone else) may present. I inform them that if I wish to be a critical thinker, then I must yield to superior facts, logic, or morals.

If educators encourage critical thinking, then they must be open to the most divergent views, not just those that cluster around so-called conventional representations.

Who should society and its education system laud and commemorate: the gun-toting soldiers or the fighters for peace?

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Read other articles by Kim.