Remembrance Day and the glorification of the military in Canadian schools

| November 12, 2012
World War II memorial in Niagara. (Photo: FaiqaKhan-Native / flickr)

I teach History in the public secondary system. Early November is a time of year that most of we History teachers love because Remembrance Day often makes Canadians pause -- if only for a moment -- to reflect on Canada's relationship with the rest of the world and, perhaps more importantly, listen to the stories that our aging veterans have to tell. 

But I increasingly find myself fighting a sense of trepidation over the approach of November 11th. 

As a professional educator, and a white poppy-wearing individual, I feel it is my responsibility to emphasize the social and human costs of war as least as much as the dates of pivotal battles and the names of important Generals. In my classes, as I'm sure in many others across the province, the internment of Japanese-Canadians, for example, is given the same amount of instruction time as D-Day and the invasion of Normandy. 

That does not mean, though, that I (and others like me) am downplaying the importance of the Canadian military's role in the shaping of our country. In fact, I believe it is crucially important for young people to study the sacrifice that Canadian men and women made in their battle against 20th century fascism. Young Canadian soldiers and sailors and nurses made great contributions to this country, and that should never be forgotten. 

What I reject, though, is the clumsy attempt by schools to honour fallen soldiers that often amounts to little more than the glorification of the Canadian military.

Every year, schools put together Remembrance Day ceremonies featuring skits, videos and readings. At the ceremony that I attended this week, I was made uncomfortable by parts of what I saw. 

In one video that was played, fictionalized scenes of a soldier sweating profusely in a tank, handing out bottled water to happy brown-skinned children, and tearing up while reading a letter flickered on the screen. In the background, a little girl's voice read a letter to her father, expressing how much she loved and missed her dad. In another video, grainy, black and white clips of soldiers lying injured and bleeding in muddy trenches were interspersed with high definition images of Canadian troops patrolling dusty, foreign-looking villages while toting machine guns. 

It's irresponsible to conflate the horrible plight of conscripted teenagers during World War One with the experiences of professional soldiers in Afghanistan. The comparison implies a moral equivalency that simply does not exist. What was more off-putting than the videos, though, was the way the ceremony ended. 

A teacher gave thanks 'to those who have fought for our freedom, and to those who are still out there fighting for Canada's freedom today.' It was an empty platitude that held no basis in reality -- re the Iranians a threat to the freedom of Saskatchewanians? -- but the message to a gym full of adolescents was clear: the military always has and always will protect you from the bad people, so be grateful. 

That educators demand that teenagers thank both World War II and Afghanistan veterans for their service is, to use an historical expression, beyond the pale. I don't doubt that a great number of Canadian soldiers who volunteered for the Armed Forces did their best to better the lives of the Afghan people, but I also feel strongly that we, as a society, should reject the demanded deference of our youth toward those that hunt down who we conveniently label 'terrorists' (but who, more often than not, are teenagers whose poverty and guilelessness is exploited by powerful criminal warlords.) 

The education system in Ontario is, for the most part, a progressive one. Schools have become a champion for LGTB rights, and educators have done an admirable job of raising awareness of social justice issues like poverty and environmental degradation.

I am genuinely proud of these accomplishments. What I struggle with, however, is our schools' veneration of the Canadian military.

Young people are not intellectually docile, yet we demand that they suspend their critical thinking skills for this one topic. That does a disservice to our young people, and our country. 

Lest we forget. 

 

Matt Moir is a teacher and a graduate school student in journalism. 

Photo: FaiqaKhan-Native / flickr

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Comments

It's not really a matter of "deference" towards the military; it's more like hero worship. It's the creation of a culture that says the greatest, most heroic thing you can do for your country is join the armed forces and help to kill the people your government tells you to kill.

Even worse, it's the perpetuation of the myth that Canada is a free and democratic country, and that the purpose of the military is to keep it that way. It's also the furtherance of the myth that the people our government considers enemies are people who want to deprive us of our freedom - not people who desire freedoms for themselves.

Thus the goal of all wars is to preserve and defend our way of life against people our government declares to be enemies, a view that provides automatic justification for all wars and military conflicts, past, present, and future.

ETA: If you want to see the real face of "Remembrance Day", you need look no further than this.

“How does the Canadian Forces define integrity?”

 

I was on duty with the Canadian Forces in 2009 when I received the H1N1 shot (AREPANRIX by GlaxoSmithKline) and had a severe adverse reaction resulting in PERMANENT neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory symptoms: dizziness, vertigo, irregular heart rhythms, shortness of breath, muscle weakness and pain, and numbness in hands and feet. My physical fitness changed from special forces fit to that of a 70 year old in a matter of days. The Department of National Defence (DND) ordered all personnel to attend the vaccination, but claimed the vaccination was voluntary. Prior to receiving the vaccination, the DND advised personnel the H1N1 Influenza "could cause a virtual shut down of military operations", " Just because you've never caught the flu in the past is not a valid reason to not get the H1N1 shot this year", "Be proactive. We all have a role to play in minimizing our risk and being prepared", "Personnel ... must provide proof of the vaccination ... otherwise, they will be required to attend the clinic (flu)" and "Without your past record (of immunization), you will have to be re-immunized". According to “Canada First Defence Strategy ... first and foremost, the Canadian Forces must ensure the security of our citizens ... requires the Forces not only to identify threats ... but also to possess the capacity to address them quickly and effectively”. Personnel who volunteered to take the H1N1 vaccination were preventing a virtual shut down of military operations which ensured the CF maintained the capacity to provide security to its citizens. Veterans Affairs has taken the position that injuries resulting from this vaccination are not service related and personnel are not eligible for rehabilitation. The DND also advised "having mild chills and fever a few days following the shot means it is working" which is false and contradicts GSKs product information provided by Health Canada. The DND also stated "There is a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of acquiring a serious neurological complication" which is false and contradicts the product information which states "neurological disorders" are "very rare (may occur with up to 1 in 10,000 doses)", a significant difference. According to DAOD 5028-0, the DND and CF are aware of the concept of “informed consent” and understand its purpose which, according to Health Canada, is “information given to participants (which) should provide adequate information for the participant to make an informed decision about his/her participation”. The DND listed 3 of the 28 side effects, two of which were the most common and least bothersome and significantly understated the risk of a neurological disorder. However, the DND did provide a detailed list of "Symptoms of H1N1 Pandemic Influenza: Almost always: Sudden onset of cough and fever, Common: Fatigue, Muscle aches, Sore throat, Headache, Decreased appetite, Runny nose, Sometimes: Nausea Vomiting, Diarrhea, Most Patients say its like getting 'hit by a bus'!!". Thus soldiers were “informed” their choice was chills and fever or getting hit by a bus. PSYOPS or Psychological Operations use methods of communication and other means in order to influence perceptions, attitudes, and behaviour, affecting the achievement of military objectives. In order to use PSYOPS domestically it must be directly requested/approved by Cabinet and be in accordance with applicable Canadian law and Canadian doctrine.

 

Rememberance: Lest we forget

 

"Between the crosses, row on row...” Yes, we remember war and all it's brutality. How can we forget those who have fought and died, fighting for peace? They return from war, broken men and heroes in hearses, we carve their names in stone. But at this time, let us also take pause to remember the thousands of American servicemen/women and veterans who have lost their lives through suicide in the past decade of conflict.

 

They return to us with wrenched and aching souls, only to be abandoned and abused by the values they fought to uphold, and to discover that they’ve fought not for honor, but for the glory of empire, for those who sit in high places, untouched by the blood and horror of battle, quick to send others to their death to uphold false ideals and to profit from war.

 

They’ve been used as pawns in a political game and to appease the lust for power of a few, and to perpetuate corruption. They could no longer live with the Imperialist lie. They are the forgotten ones, hidden, a shamefull reminder of the insanity that is war.

 

And let us also take this time remember the millions of inocent citizens of this world who have died at the hands of men with military minds. They also died struggling for peace, begging and pleading for it.

 

Lest we forget, the un-named dead deserve rememberance too.

 

 

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