Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nov. 5: The light brigade in the valley of death....

For some years, I taught Canadian military history. I taught about, for example, the destruction of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. I spoke of their order to charge across a long, open field swept by the fire of hidden, German machine guns. They rose obediently, and began a "charge" which, for men weighted down with  packs and ammunition and weapons could only be a slow trudge.

Not one made it to the German line. In fact, it is likely that not one even fired  his rifle. And across Newfoundland, in most of the outports in which every eligible man, fathers and husbands and sons, had volunteered and gone with the regiment,  not one returned.

It was horrribly sad. It's a story of terrible suffering both at the front and at home. It was courage.

What it bloody well was not was glory.

It's an old game.You  take a disaser of suffering and death (and killing), and tart it up as the next thing to sainthood. When the British Light Brigade charged into the mouths of cannon in the Crimean War they did it because of ignorance and clumsiness at the command level. And there was nothing glorious as the survivors fled in panic through a valley lined with Russian gunners. And most of them stayed in that valley, never to run anywhere again. It was one of the greatest defeats of the British army.

But to the propagandists, even a disastrous defeat can be made into a victory. And so the poet, Tennyson, wrote of it:

"When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made."

A Canadian clergyman, without the benefit of poetic talent, told Canadian troops in  Afghanistan they were doing an important job. Onward Christian soldiers. I have no idea what he can possibly have meant by that. And, if is was so damned important, why were most Canadians pulled out in the middle of the war?

I suppose there were chaplains like that with the Canadian "peacekeepers" who went to Haiti to destroy the only democratic government that country had ever had, and to replace him with an American puppet. And there must have been some with the Canadian airmen who bombed a Libya that couldn't shoot back.

Glory. Glory.

On p. 1.is a news item "Project teaches youths about military glory". It's about a veterans' association that lobbies schools to include Canada's war history (especially its glory in the history curriculuum.)

Sure. And will we teach about the reputation of Canadians as killers of prisoners in World War One? Will we talk about torture? (Oh, of course. Canadians never do that.) Will we talk about the glory of bombing hundreds of thousands of civilians to death?

And, to be fair, we'd have to include the glory of the Japanese who captured over a thousand Canadians at Hong Kong, and sent them into camps that destroyed the health and the lives of most of them.

And then there's the courage and glory of the German soldiers who killed so many Canadians in Italy, France, The Netherlands and Germany.

Then there was Bertie who played with me though he was sixteen and I was only nine. Bertie was severely retarded, and had left school in grade four. He was big for sixteen. So it was easy to lie about his age and join the army. He just loved those army boots that made a clicking sound on the pavement. His parents could have stopped him. But they were too drunken and irresponsible to bother.

Bertie was still sixteen when he saw his first action - or as well as it could be seen with his face in the mud and him shaking with terror  as a machine gun sprayed the air above him. Suddenly, he leaped to  his feet, screaming for this mother. And the machine gun cut him in half.  Glory, glory.

I taught military history to officers in the reserves, and even to a few in the regulars, including a Lieutenant-Colonel. I spoke of suffering, of murder of civilians, of torture, of the killing of prisoners (yes, we did that), of courage amounting heroism. But never of glory - and my students would not have bought it for a minute if I had. Some of them had seen action. They knew there was no glory.

"Onward, the Light Brigade"

Schools don't teach military history because they have to teach the truth. And if they taught the whole truth about war, they'd have to talk about the base motives - on both sides - for war, about the horrors we have committed as well as those our enemies have. And if schools told the the whole truth, then they'd have the whole "O Canada" super patriot crowd banging on the doors in fury.

But whatever the "O Canada"s might think, school is not the place to teach propaganda.

Even the news story was written as propaganda. Its opening sentence reads, "When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the Canadian Parliament.....he praised Canada's efforts in the Second World War as being the main reason England is a free country today. Sure.

And if I ever visit a home with a new baby, I shall look at that ugly and squawking blot on the decor, and say, "What a lovely baby."

Canada's role was important - but scarcely decisive. One can safely say the entry of Russia and the US had far more to do with saving British freedom (so that the British, for a time, at least, could continue to deny freedom to people in Africa, India, Malaya, Iran....)

We owe our veterans. We owe them big time. They owe us the right to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Isn't that what the wars were all about?

Nov. 11 is not about glory. It's about remembering sacrifice, unspeakable brutality and cruelty on all sides, about synicism. It's about mothers who had to cope, alone, for years while their husbands were away, some women whose husbands had joined because the family had to eat, or because they were patriotic, or because they just wanted to dump the old woman and the kids - and have fun. (I had an uncle who was one of those. He was at Dieppe, too.)

Nov. 11 is about remembering all of that. All of it. It's remembering that war is about courage; it's about the fullest measure of evil, it's about remembering suffering and sacrifice; it's about children who lost their fathers - some for years and some forever.

Nov. 11 is not about glory. It's about gratitude and remembering out debt. It's not about glory.

But that's what we've made it into.
Woooo. That one did go on. But there's not much else in the paper. It doesn't, for example, carry the news that the Transport Safety Board has made it official. The crude oil shipment that hit Lac Megantic was mislabelled -and the blame for that lies with some oil company called Irving. (We'll see if it makes tomorrow's paper.)

It also said that all railway regulations are secret. Gee! I wonder why.
Norbert has a good, tough column on Rob Ford. I'll have some respect for him when he writes a similar column about some powerful person in this province.

The editorial is, as usual, pretty brainless.

There's an op ed piece by Brian Gallant, presumably to convince us to vote for him.  His most striking statement is "We need leadership....and we need...a plan"  Wow! Way to blaze it baby. That's laying it one the line. I've never heard a polician say anything so radical before. Yeah. We need leadership.  And a plan. Yeah. A plan. That should do it.

Oh, oh. Not just a plan. "We need goals". Damn right. And the goals have to be realistic. You tell 'em, Brian. No point in unrealistic plans.

Boy, he reminds me of another brilliant politician I know - a guy named Alward.

What young Brian does not tell us in this third of a page of infantile and pointless babbling is on what principles he and his party base themselves. Do they have any common morals or values that they base their "leadership" and "plans" on? What are the responsibilities of a government? What are our obligations to each other?  Do they feel that corporations should be under some sort of control? Or do they share Norbert's view that they should be allowed to do whatever they like?

This guy makes Alward look like a deep thinker.

I had so much more to say for today because the world is in such a dangerous situation, especially regarding Syria and Iran (and then all of us), that it beats the Cuban missile crisis of the sixties. But I guess that will have to wait.

Meanwhile, a warning for this province.

If there is a renewal of the blockade at Rexton - and there should be - violence can help only one side - the side of the government and the gas companies.

Would SWN or the government provoke a crisis? You can bet your very last dollar that they would, and there's a strong possibility they will. They can do something sparked by company security guards, and made to look as though natives started it. They might even be able to buy off a few people on the reserve (just as if they were professors of ecology) to slip a few guns into the encampment.

Remember Alward's hysterical statement that the last encampment was an "armed camp" because they found three guns in it? That's a stunt that still has legs. Just a few guns slipped in would cover any evidence that the government or the company was actually what had caused the trouble. Even a few knives might do it.

I think it almost certain that something like this will be attempted. The company is too brutal to care what damage it might do. And Mr. Alward---ah---Mr. Alward is not intellectually gifted.

A blockade is the only response possible with people who won't listen. But this one will need very, very tight control by native organizers.



  1. Dear Graeme Decarie:

    Thought you might be interested ...


    Please keep up your despicable campaign for a better New Brunswick! Our elected imbeciles need more outstanding tormentors such as yourself.

  2. Irving surely mis-labelled those cars by mistake. Surely! ;-)