This week marks the 100th anniversary of the first Canadian engagement in the battlefields of World War I, “the war to end all wars.” Fought for control of the strategic town of Ypres Belgium, the Second Battle of Ypres saw the first large-scale use of poison gas on the battlefield. Employed first by Germany, poison gas was soon being used widely by the Allies, with Canadians becoming particularly adept at deploying it. By the end of the war, there were about one million gas casualties, 12,000 of them Canadian.
Anniversaries provide an opportunity for reflection. The First World War caused terrible loss and suffering, claiming the lives of more than 9 million combatants, including 61,000 Canadians. 7 million civilians also died as a direct result of the war.
Sadly, Canada is not using World War I centenaries to promote peace. Rather, our government is utilizing them to glorify war and promote militarism.
G L O R I F Y I N G W A R
According to the Harper government, Canada is a nation founded in war.
- In 2012, the Harper government spent $30 million marketing the claim that the War of 1812 was Canada’s founding moment.
- Now it is spending millions making the same claim about World War I.
This version of Canadian history has three major problems:
- It omits the actual founding of Canada in a series of atrocities designed to terrorize First Nations peoples into submission.
- Every war Canada has fought has been divisive and led to domestic conflict. World War I led to Quebec separatism.
- The invention of a Canadian tradition of militarism is designed to serve present political purposes: to generate support for current wars.
CANADA AT WAR: 2015
Last month, the Harper government, passed a motion to extend Canada’s military mission in Iraq for another 12 months and to expand it into Syria. Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens all voted against the motion, expressing concern about mission creep, the safety of Canadian soldiers, the support the mission might offer Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, the lack of UN or NATO authorization, and the lack of an exit strategy.
At no point did either side of the House express concern for Iraqi or Syrian civilians. Living in countries already afflicted by the nightmare of never-ending war, how will they be affected by western airstrikes?
Here are figures taken from Body Count, a new report published in the US by Physicians for Social Responsibility: In the first 12 years of the so-called “war on terror,”
- about a million people were killed in Iraq, and
- 220,000 people in Afghanistan.
The Canadian government should have considered this report before extending and expanding Canada’s military mission.
T H E C O S T S O F W A R
The costs paid by people in the war zone are horrendous: death, injury, bereavement, displacement, destabilization, trauma, poverty.
We in Canada also pay a cost:
- 162 Canadians lost their lives in Afghanistan.
- Many more have returned with wounds visible and invisible and are not getting the help they need from veteran’s services.
- One Canadian soldier has already been killed in Iraq.
- The war in Afghanistan cost Canadians at least $18 billion. This is money that could have been spent on education, affordable housing, and healthcare.
- According to the Harper government, the war in Iraq and Syria will cost Canadians at least $528 million.
ENDLESS WAR: WHO BENEFITS?
- War is big business. It is very profitable for Canadian arms manufacturers, making them $12.6 billion in annual revenues, approximately 50% of which comes from international sales.
- There is an all-too-cozy mutually beneficial relationship between governments and armaments industries, a relationship that includes donations to political parties, on the one hand, and approval of military spending, on the other.
- Who loses? Ordinary citizens everywhere.
“We ask for peace for this world subjected to arms dealers, who earn their living with the blood of men and women.”—Pope Francis
M A K I N G P E A C E
Many Canadians, including Canadians in uniform, know that there is no honour or glory in war and that war is a catastrophe for everyone who experiences it.
What can we do for peace?
- Tell the Harper government to celebrate peace, not war; to get Canada out of the Middle East; and to seek non-violent negotiated resolutions to conflicts.
- Mark the 100th anniversary of Canadian engagement in World War I by attending a screening of All Quiet on the Western Front, an anti-war film about World War I: Friday April 24, 7 pm, Knox Met, 2340 Victoria Avenue.
- Participate in the Peace Walk, part of the Regina Jane’s Walks: Saturday May 2, 1 pm, meet at the Peace Fountain in front of City Hall.
E N D A L L W A R S !