A Remembrance Day Message – OpEd

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Remembering the sacrifice our war veterans is usually reserved for November 11th of every year. It is a time to remember the sacrifice of brave men and women who fought for their country. In World War 2, these heroes fought to free other peoples from slavery and the scourge of Nazism. In most cases, these soldiers did not even know who they were liberating. In North America, far from the war fronts, most soldiers did not have as their primary motivation the protection of their home country. The essence of remembrance is the act of giving and the supreme act of giving is the sacrifice of one’s own life.

Those of you who partake in the visual arts will know of the series titled ‘Brothers in Arms’, which traces a squad of American soldiers through their training and on to battles like the one at the Battle of the Bulge defending the key town of Bastogne. In that series, there is also an episode ‘Why We Fight’. This episode recounts the discovery by American troops of the horrors of the concentration camps, a legacy of the Nazis. Schindler’s list is also a fine movie and I had the honor of visiting the tree planted for Oscar Schindler near the Yad Vashem or Holocaust Memorial. 

My family was also affected by WW2 when my uncle was shot down and killed in his Halifax bomber in 1943 over Germany. He was the navigator just 20 years old. Some of his crew managed to survive. He did not. He hailed from the east end of Toronto, the Beaches, where he was studying to become an artist. My mother remembered when the Air Force car pulled up to the family home with the sad news that he had gone missing. 

To this day, I have kept my uncle’s last letters from his forward base in Scotland and a small handkerchief with our clan’s highland tartan. This memento will continue to stay with our family. My son and daughter will inherit it and keep it to remember his ultimate sacrifice.

At least at the level of good intentions, we are asked to remember their sacrifice. We are asked to also remember the quality of their sacrifice since it assists us in knowing the reasons why they fought. Memories fade especially amongst those who are too young to know about the quality of the sacrifice. That is why we celebrate Remembrance Day, so that those who happily have escaped such suffering, can understand what happened and why.

Today, we have a front row seat on the moral Titanic. Canadian war veterans did not fight to see Palestinians butchered in the streets of Gaza. They did not fight to allow nations to spew their hatred forth and declare war on the very sacrifice of our soldiers. My uncle did not die to allow Hamas and the IDF to butcher innocent civilians. He would not have tried to disguise this genocide under the cover of a presumed war on anti-Semitism. 

I had the privilege and honour of working with many Jewish colleagues in Canada and abroad. I actually prefer to work with them since I could always count on their honesty and directness. As an intellectual, indeed as a child, the fondest of these memories reflects my own inability to cope with political and social hypocrisy. In this, I was never alone. In many ways, they are my role models and we share countless values in common. I am not a religious person but I respect those who choose to believe in a rational faith.

My uncle’s sacrifice, and that of countless other patriots seeking freedom including those who fought to create the Hebrew state, is now in danger of being extinguished by a self-serving vicious, right-wing extremist regime in Israel. Ben Gurion himself would roll over in his grave at the disgraceful site of indiscriminate bombing of defenseless Palestinians and settler expansionism. Even their own citizens, the hostages illegally taken and held by Hamas operatives, are being endangered by these religious heretics. Judaism, in any of its rational forms, does not call for genocide nor does it call for transforming Gaza into another Warsaw ghetto. Faced with such hypocrisy and hatred, Camus’ definition of the absurd comes to the fore in order to provide some type of explanation for humanity gone mad.

Meanwhile my country, and its Western allies, excuse the sickening conduct of the occupation and silently applaud the bombing. In doing so, they put in peril every single veteran and veteran’s family sacrifice. 

Like many of my colleagues, I have read Albert Camus’ depiction of ‘concentration camps under the banner of freedom’. In the 20th century, this is properly called the feeling of the ‘absurd’. Not for a minute did I believe that I would have to live through such a dark and desperate time when such logic would become the policy of states like Canada, America, Britain, and others. I now know what German dissidents must have felt like during the dark days of Nazi rule. Alone, abandoned and angry.

Every state has the right to protect itself. True. Is this an absolute rule independent of the means to protect? No, we do not live in the abstract world of religious delirium. The worst part of this hysterical logic is that it is self-defeating. Bombing Palestine into the stone age will not make any Israeli or Palestinian safe or free. Only an all too human effort at negotiating an immediate truce and then a sustainable peace can do that. If countries that are prepared to give the IDF a blank cheque calculate that they are immune to the sting of war, think again. By their negligence and indolence, the West is preparing another conflagration similar to 911 by its despicable unilateral support for its war on humanity in Gaza. They are endangering their own citizens under the pretext of helping Israel protect itself. War veterans did not give their lives for this result.

We are not yet at the stage of a ceasefire. The United Nations is toothless. It, too, pleads innocence while the blood continues to be shed. Western countries celebrate Remembrance Day but by their political cowardice, they are extinguishing the delicate flame of remembrance for those who fought and died for the idea of a just and better world.

In Turkey and Syria, during the Arab Spring, I too had to choose between a comfortable ‘diplomatic’ neutrality and the rebel cause. The Syrian rebels, and brave youth, fought with their bare hands against the Bashar al-Assad tyranny. No Western country came to their assistance. We are living in the shadow of yet another sell-out like Munich 1938. 

How can the Palestinians ever trust us again? 

The Canadian government’s position on Gaza is shameful and calls into question the sacrifice of every Canadian veteran and why they fought. The same is true of the United States of America and its kangaroo court of allies. How can we believe in a free Ukraine when our political leaders allow an apartheid regime to violate international law with impunity and then use a definition of international law to cover their tracks? Meanwhile our feckless leaders continue to dance the rhumba while they quickly lose the hearts and minds of the planet. Does anyone seriously believe that China or Russia can win this moral battle? Gaza is a tragedy of planetary dimensions. We will never forget the duplicity and callousness of our political class.

The brave soldiers who died in the war did not do so in order to facilitate a genocide or encourage an apartheid regime. They died to liberate people, not enslave them.

Bruce Mabley

Dr. Bruce Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat having served in the Middle East, and is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau think tank in Montreal.

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