Monday, October 13, 2014

Our Selective Remembrance Day - and The Atlantic Charter of 1941

On November 11, we pause to remember those who died and those who were crippled either mentally or physically in battle. So we should. We sent them to risk death and crippling. The least we owe them is to remember how they suffered - and how we sent them to the suffering, and why.

The problem comes when we forget that we were the ones who sent them; and we are the ones who are sending them now and will send them in future. That forgetting happens when we get filled with propaganda that there was something glorious in what they did, something glorious in what we did in sending them -  that they died to preserve freedom and democracy.

Actually, Canada has never fought a war for freedom and democracy, and fought only one war to defend itself. That was in 1812 when the US invaded us. (Perhaps one could add the Fenian raids as well.)  Canadians died in the Boer War so that British millionaires could plunder the gold and diamonds and cheap labour of what became South Africa. World War One had nothing to do with democracy. Nor did Korea. When we went to South Korea, it was a dictatorship. And when we left, it was still a dictatorship. Afghanistan had nothing to do with us. It was not, as the US told us, complicit in 9/11. Though called Enduring Freedom, the war did not produce any freedom except of the most farcical sort. As well, it made it possible for the most corrupt government in the world (the present Afghan government) to re-establish its world dominance in the heroin trade. A hundred and fifty-eight Canadians - all sent by us through votes in parliament - died for that. There are no reliable figures on Afghan civilians who were killed. It's at least 20,000. We don't really know because that information comes from the same people who told us this was a war to save democracy.

As for World War Two,  The Atlantic Charter agreed to by Churchill and Roosevelt in 1941 was supposed to tell what we were fighting for.. Alas! Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt believed a word of what they said.

By the summer of 1941, we had lost World War Two. Churchill realized that, and later wrote of how he had thought of buying Hitler off with a piece of the British Empire. Hitler had recently invaded the USSR but, at the time, nobody expected the USSR to last more than six months. President Roosevelt of the US had his own concerns about the war in which his country was still a neutral; so he suggested that he and Churchill should meet. Churchill was ecstatic. This was something he had longed for all his life, a union of the world's English-speaking peoples to maintain the power of a Britain whose power had been slipping for seventy years. The two leaders met on an American warship in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. Out of that meeting came an official announcement of what the war was for.

It was, they said, to bring freedom to the world, ending empires, permitting each nation to determine its own government and its own future. And it was about free trade so that all barriers to trade would be removed.

Churchill didn't like either of those. He was, to his dying day, the man who said "I did not become the  King's first minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire."  The wealth of Britain (and the wealth of the very wealthy British) was based on the brutal exploitation of the people and resources of the British Empire - but-

Roosevelt insisted he needed that part about freedom to get the American people to extend wartime aid to Britain. He didn't say the other reason for it; but I'm sure Churchill guessed. He hoped to pick up much of the British Empire as Britain lost it..

At the time, and after, people who should have known better said that Roosevelt had been inspired by the democracy-loving President Wilson of World War One. In fact, though Wilson had talked a good game about freedom, he invaded and installed puppet dictators in Central America in almost every year he was president. Roosevelt had inherited an empire - and he had no intention freeing anybody. (Wilson also despised African Americans, and even extended racial segregation to include the civil service.)

As a result of the war, democracy was restored to countries that had already had it. But the puppet dictators remained with the American empire. As for the British Empire, and sadly for Churchill, the Empire crumbled in the years after the war as people kicked their British masters out. And when Britain made war on Egypt to try to get the Suez Canal back, a furious president Eisenhower publicly ordered the British out. He, like Roosevelt, wanted the US to add the British empire to  their own, not to rebuild it for Britain. (To this day, it's the US, not the Egyptian people that calls the shots for the Egyptian government. .

Then there was free trade.  British wealth depended on tariffs within the empire in order control trade so that the profits would go to the wealthy of Britain. But with the world in devastation after the war, the undevastated US would dominate world trade, creating vaster wealth for its already wealthy.

Churchill was hoping Roosevelt would use the charter to warn Japan against invading British colonies in Asia. But Roosevelt refused. He had his own plans for the future of Asia.

Even at that, Roosevelt agreed only to lend money and sell weapons to Britain. He had no interest in fighting Germany. What did interest him was Japan. It was almost certain to take the British, French and Dutch colonies in Asia, and even the great prize - China. Japan was the war he wanted to fight, to get control of the European empires in Asida. That's why he cut off oil supplies to Japan. He wanted a reaction that would give him a reason to declare war. He got more than he wanted with Pearl Harbour. But it did what he wanted, to give him a reason to declare war.  At that, he never did declare war on Germany at all. Germany, weeks later, declared war on the US.

World War Two was not about rights and freedoms. It was, like most wars, about money. After the war, Vietnam was the American attempt to steal the old French colony of Indo-China. The wars in the middle east and Africa have been to replace British and French dominance, and to cut off Russia and China  from developing trade. Remember. as you remember those who paid the price, that we sent them, - to Libya, to Afghanistan and now to Ukraine and Iraq and Syria.

The United Nations, the institution that was to bring us global freedom and social order, was inspired partly by the Atlantic Charter. But the major powers made sure that it could never carry out that role. They did it by giving veto power to themselves - United States, USSR, China, France, and Britain. Anyway, the UN has since been replaced as the judge and enforcer of the world with a power given (by God, apparently) to the US. It's called American exceptionalism. Our news media don't mention it much, if at all; but the concept as embraced by both parties in the US, is that the US can do whatever it likes, invade whoever it wants to, and never be held accountable.

There's more to come, much more, and soon. We have allowed capitalism to become something quite different from what it should be in a free and democratic society. We have allowed the growth of a capitalism that is independent of our social controls, and that operates on a greed that has, as greeds do, become  short-sighted, stupid to the point of madness, and utterly indifferent to those who suffer for the greed.

Remember, by all means, remember those who paid the price to satisfy a greed that can never be satisfied. But - and hear I speak especially to our various religious leaders - don't speak as if war were glorious or a defence of rights and freedoms. And next time you vote, hold to account those politicians who voted  to send more people to be remembered on another November 11.

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, the only part I have problems with is the 'we'. I never voted for Harper, I never voted liberal before that for Martin to send troops. I certainly never voted to send troops. There is no 'we' in canadian politics, it is as has often been called, a 'benign dictatorship', although not always so benign. In fact, I was debating the term 'fascism' the other day, and happened to look up the definition:

    "an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization"

    That seems to fit our current Prime Minister's administration quite well.

    Its true that in a relatively 'free' country I am responsible for my actions and inactions. I am not wearing a placard and protesting, I am not even starting up a petition to demand an end to hostilities. THAT is the 'we', we are not protesting hard enough, but thats a far different case of saying 'we' when talking about who is sending planes in the first place. When we at least have an electoral system where votes aren't more often than not meaningless, then we can talk about the 'we' decisions being made.