On the last weekend of October, my niece was visiting Washington D.C. in the middle of what she called a huge anti-war demonstration. As tens of thousands of anti-war Americans marched, she visited the Korean and Vietnam war memorials.
Are war memorials to remember so we will never go to war and kill so many again, she asked, overwhelmed by the number of dead listed in the memorials, or are they to glorify war?
This is a good question to ponder on Remembrance Day.
I myself have always been uncomfortable wearing the red poppy because of this ambiguity. I liked it when peace activists gave out a white poppy on Remembrance Day that was clearly for peace.
Canada has always had a strong peace movement. Powerful anti-war sentiment in Quebec made conscription a central issue of national unity in both the First and Second World Wars.
The modern womens movement in Canada was born of a peace group, the Voice of Women for Peace. In the dark days of the Cold War in the early sixties, these women helped to stop nuclear testing in the U.S. by collecting baby teeth and showing that nuclear testing in the Nevada desert was poisoning infants across North America. They were part of a small but determined group of Ban the Bomb, anti-nuclear activists that stood up to the Cold War hysteria and fought to stop the arms race.
In the late sixties, Canada played an important role in opposing the U.S. adventure in Vietnam. In an independence from the American government almost unimaginable today, Canada permitted young American men who opposed the war to escape the draft by coming to Canada. The draft dodgers, as they were called, formed the centre of a vibrant anti-war movement on our side of the border.
In this era, when the rich and powerful can go to war killing thousands of people while barely risking life or limb of their own soldiers, anti-war activism has never been more important. The Bush doctrine of pre-emption, which declares that the United States has the right to invade sovereign countries and overthrow their governments if they are seen as hostile to U.S. interests, must be stopped. If we as citizens sit by and permit the United States to use its overwhelming military might to enforce a regime change in Iraq today, what will stop them from using it against Venezuela or Brazil tomorrow?
The U.S. has been waging a cold war against Iraq ever since the Gulf War, through sanctions and periodic bombing raids. Infant mortality in Iraq has tripled since the 1980s. Today, thirteen per cent of Iraqi children die before their fifth birthday. The biggest problem is the lack of potable water and the breakdown of sewage treatment plants, both due to sanctions. The U.S. has successfully blocked most of the food for oil initiatives taken at the U.N. Still, a war will massively increase the death toll.
In the U.S. and across Europe, a mighty anti-war movement has already taken to the streets to stop the war against Iraq before it starts.
There were an estimated 200,000 in Washington and 400,000 in London at the end of October. In Italy, millions have marched against war over the last month. George W. Bushs determination to go to war against the long-suffering people of Iraq has provoked a massive reaction around the globe.
Canada is lagging behind. While there is strong anti-war sentiment in Canada, action on the streets has, so far, been modest. On Saturday, November 16 an anti-war demonstration is planned for Queens Park in Toronto. A large anti-war coalition is planning a peace march in Vancouver from Peace Flame Park on the following day as part of a Cross-Canada Day of Action.
While Canadians alone cant stop the hand of George W. Bush, we can ensure that our government does not support the war against Iraq by joining the growing anti-war movement in the United States and Europe.
On this Remembrance Day, let us remember the terrible suffering inflicted by war and promise in the words of a famous anti-war song, war no more.