This is not about Remembrance Day, this is about the day after, and the week after. This is an invocation to memorialize all those who have suffered and died due to human and corporate greed, military wars and occupations, man-made poverty and environmental devastation. A remembrance to the horrors of the world to jar us from our collective amnesia that seems to set in on certain days.
Scholars such as Reinhart Koselleck and Gilbert Achcar describe war commemorations as sites of political and national mobilization. They conceptualize past memories of warfare and the fallen as powerful tools directed primarily toward building support for current and future military operations. Within this context, it is revealing that the institutions that most vehemently uphold the symbolism of Remembrance Day are the ones that are most eager to create a steady flow of the dead to remember. Mark Steel sardonically writes, "Maybe this is why the Government is so keen on the current war -- it is convenient to have another one in a place full of poppies."
Ironically, a day on which -- according to Veterans Affairs itself -- we are to remember "our responsibility to work for peace," we are bombarded with messages of militaristic glory. In the words of U.S. combat veteran and historian Howard Zinn, "Instead of an occasion for denouncing war, it has become an occasion for bringing out the flags, the uniforms, the martial music, the patriotic speeches...Those who name holidays, playing on our genuine feeling for veterans, have turned a day that celebrated the end of a horror into a day to honour militarism."
Indeed, should Remembrance Day stories not emphasize those soldiers who oppose wars, as conscientious objectors or war resisters?
Today, I am haunted by the faces of those who are being slaughtered by NATO troops in Afghanistan. After we underscore the seemingly unique sacrifice of veterans and selectively grieve for them, where is the indignation and sorrow for the daily dead of Afghanistan? Where is our remembrance of the soaring number of deaths in a country where, just in the past six months alone, more than 2,000 people have been killed?
This week I attended a lecture by former Afghan MP Malalai Joya, dubbed the bravest woman in Afghanistan by the BBC for speaking out against foreign troops as well as Taliban warlords. In her words: "Your government lies that they brought democracy and women's rights to Afghanistan. The U.S. government and its allies have pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. My message to democratic people around the world is to please raise your voice against the wrong policies of your government."
Joya also offered condolences to mothers and soldiers in NATO countries who have lost loved ones during the occupation of her land. How must it feel to always validate the grief of an occupying country, while those responsible find greater fervour in perpetuating policies of death and destruction?
I ponder the future, the 2010 Olympic Games to be exact, and whether Vancouverites will awaken to state-sanctioned repression by 16,500 military, police and security personnel in the largest security operation in Canadian history. Vancouver will be occupied by more troops than Afghanistan has been; bringing millions of dollars in closed-circuit TV cameras, electronic fencing, armoured vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles to our streets.
As a reminder of what may transpire, we can look to Gustafsen Lake or Oka, where indigenous people bore the force of the Canadian military and police for defence of their land and people.
Have we become so engrossed in our own narcissistic narrative of self-righteous freedom-lovers and democracy-promoters that we take offence at those who wear the white poppy (as if the values of peace and justice are any more politically biased or controversial than the glorification of war)? Why is it inappropriate to suggest that freedom for the world's majority is still an aspiration?
This is an invocation not just for Remembrance Day, but one to ritualize grief in response to all the violence in and around our daily lives. But this would require strength and a real commitment to freedom and inequality; sadly it is easier to dismiss me with the tired-old refrain of being unpatriotic or disgracing veterans. In contrast to the tyranny of complicity and historical amnesia, with remembrance comes responsibility -- so let us act accordingly.
Harsha Walia is a Vancouver-based activist, writer, researcher and facilitator.
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