The White Cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There'll be love and laughter....
And peace ever after
Tomorrow when the world is free."
Those were the words of "There'll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover", words that resonated around the world as sung by the unmatchable Vera Lynn. It was a song of hope for millions in World War 2, hope in the years of the Blitz on London, the fight for North Africa, Hong Kong, and the heavy fighting on the beaches of Normandy and after. it was a favourite of millions who fought and died and of those who were at home through that war waiting for the survivors to come back.
On November 11, we hear at solemn ceremonies about what he owe to those who risked and gave their lives. We talk of our gratitude to them. And so we should.
Many, of course, did not go to war to demonstrate their patriotism. We're all only humans. Many went for the adventure - they were young, and with no sense of what war meant. Many went because they were the generation of the great depression when millions of Canadians suffered ten years of dreadful poverty, hunger and hopelessness. Some were fathers who could not otherwise feed or house their families. Some just had no idea what they were getting into. They were very young, just out of childhood, and the average education was only grade 9.
But none of this matters. What matters is that they served and suffered and died at our demand. We owe deeper thanks than can ever be given.
We also owe truth because we made promises to them. A theme of the war period was the better world we would build for them. That, we said, was what they were fighting for. "Peace ever after, Tomorrow when the world is free".
That thought came to me powerfully on the day Germany surrendered.
I went to school that day, for my grade 6 class as I always did. And I was late as I often was. Miss Matheson suspended me for the day, and I trudged home, fearful of my mother's anger. But nothing happened. She scooped me up without a word, and took me on the bus to downtown Montreal.
And there I was astonished because the streets were jammed with a jubilant mob. Germany had surrendered. My father would be coming home.
There were some soldiers from the Black Watch, one with only one leg. And I thought of the retarded boy who used to play with me though I was only nine aand he was sixteen. He left school in grade 4, and just hung around. Then he stole the papers of his draft-dodging brother and, at only 16, joined the Black Watch. Months later, he was dead.
It was almost the end of the war. Bertie was in action for the first time. A man in his company told me about it.
"He just loved marchin'. He would march every day, all day, swingin' his arms. He loved to hear his heels clickin' on the sidewalk. Then we moved up to the German border where German machine guns were waitin'. We threw ourselves to the ground. Bertie was beside me. Craziest thing. I think he was cryin'. Yeah, he was cryin'. Then he jumped to his feet screamin' for his mother. And the machine guns cut him in half."
I looked along the crowded street at all the wartime signs promising a better world when the war was over. I had memorized them through the war. Oh, it was going to be better. That's what our soldiers, sailors and airmen were fighting for, a better world.
There was going to be peace through international cooperation. No more wars. And after the suffering of the depression years when Canadians had been victimized and held down in poverty and hunger by coporations, we were going to get a controlled economy with social legislation so we would all get the basic needs of life.
(That meant a lot in 1945 when everybody remembered the employers who cut wages to the bone in the depression, who fired people for the slightest causes, who discontinued pensions and cancelled paid holidays. But by 1945, there was even talk of medicare for a Canada in which most people had never been able to afford medical care at all. (The wealthy actually got wealthier in the depression years. But everybody else paid the price for their wealth.)
And, perhaps in preparation for the changes to come, the Canadian government did a superb job in controlling the economy through the war years. Rents were controlled to prevent price-gouging. Food production was planned so we produced what was needed - no shortages, no wastage. And it was rationed to ensure that everyone got a fair share.
And the promises were kept, at first. Government pensions for the elderly, unheard of in Canadian history, were introduced. Veterans were better looked after than ever before. The last measure of this better world was medicare, introduced some twenty years after the war. (It was delayed because governments back-pedalled on their wartime promises. We got medicare largely because the NDP government of Saskatchewan forced it on Ottawa.) And we were all going to end wars with the United Nations to join us all together.
I became a teacher, and taught baby-boomers, the generation born just after the war, the first generation to be born into a world filled with hope.
But the peace ever after never happened. The danger signal (which none of us recognized) was the dropping of two nuclear bombs on Japan shortly after that day of celebration of Victory in Europe.
Those bombs were not necessary to end the war. Japan was beaten, and knew it. The nuclear bombs were dropped as a warning to Russia not to mount an offenive in China. Nor was this done to protect China.
For over a century, the European empires had plundered China, often causing widespread starvation, and murdering anyone who opposed them. U.S. big business had long wanted a share of that plunder - and of plunder of much of the rest of Asia that was controlled by Britain, France, The Netherlands and a few others. 1945 was America's chance. The European empires crashed in World War 2. Now, the U.S. could take over.
But it didn't work.
The U.S. was counting on the support of the ruler of China, Chiang Kai-shek, a Christian gentleman, the world's biggest drug dealer, and a ruthless killer. But the U.S. lost its golden chance. Chiang was defeated by Mao. The British refused to obey an American order not to retake their Chinese empire. They entered Hong Kong, the key to China's trade - and settled down to business again. The French, too, disobeyed, and retook their empire of French Indo-China (now Vietnam). But they soon lost it to the Vietnamese.
So the U.S. began a series of wars in the region. The first target was North Korea, which had attacked South Korea. The U.S. got UN backing for this, claiming it was saving democracy in South Korea. But that wasn't what it was about. The U.S., at the same time was maintaining brutal dictatorships all over South America in, for example, Haiti, Cuba, Guatemala. No. Later, it would assist in the murder of the president of South Vietnam - who was then on the U.S. side in a civil war - and it recognized a series of dictators in that country.
No. The Korean war was to establish a base for the conquest of China. And that's what South Korea still is. The war in Vietnam was fought for the same reason. The U.S. still maintains naval patrols of the coast of China, often going further with patrols into contested areas. (Can you imagine the U.S. indignation if China were to maintain patrols just off the U.S. coast?)
Early in these tensions, the arms industry and the military became very close to each other, encouraging the government into more wars and more contracts for weapons. President Eisenhower warned about this in the 1950s, calling it the military/industrial complex. Today, in company with big oil, the military/industrial complex effectively rules the U.S.
Canada has been implicated in all this - especially in the Korean and Afghanistan wars, and now in the middle east - with our own military/industrial complex taking shape. At the same time, we are demolishing the democracy we told our World War Two military they were fighting for. We now go to war, as in Iraq, without bothering to declare it. We now sell weapons to Saudi Arabia in violation of treaties we have signed. More important, we are signing trade treaties which destroy our own democracy and our own governments quietly - by stripping our elected governments of their powers.
For the last 15 years, the U.S. has become ever more open about its goal of world conquest - with the help of the old, European empires like Britain and France which cling to the American coattails, and with the help of some of the old colonies - like Canada and Australia and New Zealand.
Most of what we promised in World War Two, we have discarded. And the rest is due to go - soon. Medicare, for example, is under pressure to privatize so that its purpose becomes making the rich richer. We have become what we said we were fighting against in World War Two. We have also made wars far, far worse. In World War Two, the U.S. and Britain each lost about 1/2 of 1% of their populations. But deaths are much, much higher in this brave new world. North Korea lost 30% (mostly civilians) of its population in the Korean war. Cambodia and Laos, largely defenceless, lost something like 15% each. Laos had two million tons of bombs dropped on it - the heaviest bombings in history. And hundreds of thousands of cluster bombs still lie in the ground , making large parts of the country uninhabitable - and still killing people at the rate of 50 or so a year.
And most of the dead, in this brave, new world, are civilians. Is this what our veterans fought for? Our veterans of world war two were, overwhelmingly, those who had suffered from the greed of big business through the terrible years of the depression. They certainly didn't fight so the wealthy could avoid paying taxes or chip away at our social services. They didn't fight to do what we are doing now - fighting wars of aggression to make billionaires even richer. And I'm pretty sure they didn't fight so we could set up a secret police system to spy on the private lives of all of us - and, as we have just learned, on journalists.
So much for fighting for freedom. Indeed, the only people getting freedom these days are the wealthy who get freedom from paying taxes, freedom from laws that would prevent them from poisoning our environment......
On this day, in addition to the usual pious speeches, we should be hearing about why we sent troops to Afghanistan. The American reasons for that war have long since been proven to be lies. Why are we selling armoured cars to Saudi Arabia so it can kill starving children in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world?
Why are we sending troops to Latvia? We're told it's to deter a Russian invasion. But we've never been given a reason to believe that Russia is planning any such thing. All we've been given in a one-liner from CSIS that Russia is preparing for war. Well, of course it is. American troops have been moving up to the Russian border. The U.S. has planted nuclear missile sites in Italy, and it was planted some on the Russian border. The threat to the world is not a Russian attack on us. The greater threat, far, far greater, is an American attack on Russia.
And some hundreds of Canadians - even if the Russians were planning an attack - would deter it? That's absurd. These are far too few to deter anything. These are sacrifical lambs in an affair that has nothing to do with Canada. Any Canadian with a shred of patriotism should be raising hell about this.
The reality is that the most aggressive country in the world since 1945, the biggest killer by far and biggest killer of civilians, has been the United States.
And Canada has tagged along.
I'm sorry I have to say this. But I know that none of the dignitaries and clergy who will speak on Rememrance Day will mention it. Whether through hypocrisy or ignorance or a combination of both, all we will hear about is that we owe those who fought - but without a mention of what we owe most of all - an apology for our failure to honour our promises to them.
And we owe our children the better world that, when I was a child, was promised to us.