Volume 93, Issue 52

Wednesday, December 1, 1999


Awareness for women at large

Jerks are predators

Nice guys triumph in the end

Beliefs not appropriate

Looking back on an altered past

Homeless deserve our warmth

Looking back on an altered past

Re: "Vandals deface the Holy Roller in Victoria Park" Nov. 9

To the Editor:

Remembrance Day always elicits a truckload of emotionally-charged rhetoric and the "vandalism" of the Holy Roller tank in Victoria Park only made sure that this was especially true this year. But now that Remembrance Day has come and gone, we can perhaps consider, with a more dispassionate and critical eye, some of the issues raised in the public outcry over that "vandalism."

As a start though, let me be clear – as a general principle, graffiti, of any sort, cannot be condoned if only because it is a form of visual blight that eventually lowers the quality of life for everybody. That being said, however, I also believe that some of the public statements that were made this year perpetuate some very objectionable ideas.

A number of people suggested that this "vandalism" was objectionable because it dishonours the memory of the brave men who died so that we could be free. The problem is the "they died to preserve democracy" tag line. It is a propaganda slogan from the First World War and it is as false now as it was then. Democracy in Canada was not threatened during that war.

It was a horrible war fought between European colonial powers, each of whom had an imperialistic agenda and Canada got sucked in only because of a sycophantic attachment to Great Britain and a consequent willingness to accept such propaganda slogans as fact. As a result and given the general incompetence of the British officer corps, tens of thousands of Canadian soldiers rushed to a completely unnecessary death in Europe.

Only in Québec, where the British/colonial nature of that war was more evident, was there any serious resistance to this folly – and in my view, those are the Canadians who are the true heroes from that period and the ones we should be honouring today.

The Second World War was, of course, different. Hitler did pose a threat to human decency and democracy in the world and had to be stopped. Even so, here too we seem incapable of getting past propaganda slogans.

The Allied Bomber Command, for instance, fed their publics the line that they were targeting military/industrial targets in Germany even after they had adopted an explicit policy of targeting civilian populations and NOT military/industrial targets.

The resulting mass murder of civilians, mostly women and children, in cities like Hamburg, blurs the neat distinction that we like to draw between us good guys and those bad guys. Yet a few years ago, when two Québec filmmakers produced a documentary on this episode which said nothing that had not already been well-documented by Canadian historians, veterans' organizations were outraged and worked to discredit the film's content.

Here again, it seems, maintaining an uncritical acceptance of wartime propaganda was more important than acknowledging past mistakes and so preventing future mistakes.

This willingness to accept propaganda as fact is something that we must confront if only because it is still getting people killed. To see evidence of this, we have only to look at events earlier this year, when Western publics generally accepted the U.S. construction of Serbia's attacks on civilians in Kosovo as akin to a new Holocaust.

This U.S. construction can be considered "propaganda" because (1) it was a view that (as always) turned a blind eye to the savage attacks on civilians carried out over the past decade by U.S. allies (the widespread atrocities against civilians carried out by Israel, Columbia and Turkey come easiest to mind) and (2) it has now been said, the atrocities in Kosovo were exaggerated.

Even so, because this bit of U.S. propaganda was taken at face value, those same publics acceded to the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Serbia. The result – at least as many civilians were killed in Serbia in the three months following the U.S. bombing than were killed in Kosovo in the three months prior to the bombing.

In the end, then, if our concern is with human life, we must devote at least as much effort to de-mythologising the propaganda slogans used to justify war as we devote to uncritically "honouring" our involvement in past wars.

Michael P. Carroll
Professor of Sociology

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