When I was in grade 12 and taking social studies, I noted that it was the boys in the classroom who lit up like Christmas trees when discussing World Wars 1&2. I listened intently, interested in their eighteen year old perceptions. One day after turning in a paper, the teacher approached me as I was leaving the classroom. “You should speak up, more”, she said. “Give these boys a run for their money”. But I couldn’t. I was shy, and certain that they would discount my views and simply refute anything I might have to say. I remained a silent and passive listener and observer.
There was one boy who did capture my attention, however. We had been discussing death. ” We cannot say with any certainty that we will die, ” he said. “We can only assume we will all die based on the fact that everyone who has gone before us, has died.”
Finally…… someone who could think in philosophical and abstract terms. I sat up straighter in my seat.
And then there was this. ” Let’s talk about war crimes and criminals,” the teacher said one day.
Whhaat? War criminals? War crimes? Whatever did she mean by that? She of course was referring to The Geneva Convention comprised of four treaties and various protocols establishing the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of war, and the types of weapons allowed under it’s terms.
I had never heard of the Geneva Convention until that moment. My mind whirled. I wanted to push myself away from my desk, stand up, and declare what to me was so glaringly obvious. War by it’s very nature was a crime against humanity. The taking of human life went against everything we were taught from the cradle to the grave. Thou shall not kill. The taking of any human life is an act of contempt, a blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life, and a sickening atrocity. To draw up a convention outlining how to mitigate the horror of killing and destroying life seemed like a complete irony and paradox.
I said nothing. I had only recently learned that psychiatric hospitals had once performed lobotomies on psychiatric patients without their consent, and I was still reeling from that epiphany. I needed time to try and contextualize these things. The world was not only a dangerous place, but the things that human beings did to one another were unfathomable and unspeakable What kind of twisted minds dreamed up things like war and lobotomies, anyway? And how did this kind of insanity ever find social sanction?
Once I had a crush on a beautiful boy who had a gravelly voice, and a mind that was sharper than the sabers of war. He insisted that in any given society, there is only a tiny segment of the population that can critically think, and whose political views are not shaped or informed by the propaganda disseminated by mass media. The greater portion of the population, he said, is comprised of people who are largely uneducated, and who have limited understanding of their political system and how it really works, as well as their country’s foreign policies. He was convinced that this larger and generally uneducated segment of the population was influenced by propaganda, easily manipulated, and unlikely to ever challenge domestic or foreign policy. He went a step further in saying that it was therefore incumbent upon the smaller segment of the population to engage itself in political activism in order to disseminate truth.
Here in Canada and the US, we live in what can be loosely termed a democracy. The fact is that our civil liberties have been slowly eroding over time to the point that we scarcely notice, and worse, don’t seem to object. Civilian spying? We scarcely flinch. Endless gulf wars with no end in sight? Who the hell cares? Trillions of dollars being diverted for war. Oh well. Our torturing of political prisoners? Where’s the evidence?
The evidence dear friends has been withheld from the public for fear of a hue and outcry. But I say, no fear of that. People are too bogged down in debt, and far too distracted with cell phones, tv shows, and navel gazing to look up long enough to even take notice. What doesn’t directly impact our selfish and privileged lives, doesn’t matter a whit to most people.
When I was younger I always wondered how it was that the citizenry of Germany stood silently by, allowing the Nazis to round up their neighbors and fellow human beings, slap stars on their chests, and herd them into cattle cars, sending them off to concentration camps to die horrible deaths. How could that have happened? Why didn’t they mobilize and challenge the atrocity that was taking place right under their very noses.
Why indeed? We are no different than they are. At this very moment the US and Canada are involving themselves in active combat roles in both Iraq and Syria. Fighting ISIS, so we’re told. How noble, we tell ourselves so we can sleep peacefully at night. Meanwhile thousands of the innocent are displaced, their homes bombed, and women and children as well as old folks maimed and killed for reasons they cannot fathom. How are we any different than those good German citizens?
Our involvement in war is framed by the media as noble, after all we are fighting terrorists, are we not? We are liberating women subjugated by patriarchy. Really? That’s laughable considering that statistics show that one third of US female armed forces members are either raped, or sexually assaulted by their male- counterparts and fellow servicemen.
Karl Marx used the term cultural hegemony to describe the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class , (in other words, current government administration) who in essence manipulate the culture of that particular society. We presently live in a society that can loosely be termed democratic, but is hegemonic in it’s construct. Our government which is backed by an elite strata of society, ie, banks, mass media, war munitions factories, oil tycoons, and the very rich, manipulate and shape our beliefs, perceptions, values, and mores. It is both insidious in nature, as well as overt. Mass media is owned by a handful of corporations world-wide. They shape and frame the news from a particular agenda, and often through a narrow lens. Mass media’s job is to reflect the government’s domestic and foreign policies so that it’s agenda and view-point is accepted as true and accurate by its citizenry. We buy into dominant ideology with very little forethought, and it thus becomes the status quo. We accept the often unacceptable without question, and it is viewed by us as natural, inevitable, perpetual, and even beneficial, rather than artificial and harmful. We have become hypnotized lemmings on our walk to the abyss. Meanwhile our governments merely pay lip service to climate change while the polar ice caps continue melting at an alarming rate, and we continue losing hundreds of species a day due to environmental toxins and global warming. As melting continues, the carbon dioxide currently trapped under the arctic ice will be released and cause an unprecedented global disaster. Our Canadian government has muzzled our scientists. Peak oil has already been reached, and in our quest to extract what little remains in the earth, we are fracking, contaminating water supplies, and possibly contributing to earthquakes. We are pushing for the expansionn and building of pipelines when we should be investing our dollars in sustainable alternative energy sources. We are poisoning our earth with chemicals, injecting antibiotics and hormones into the animals we slaughter and then consume, and purchasing and ingesting Montsanto’s, GMO’s. We allow pharmaceutical companies to take out patents on life saving medications (ie, flu, AIDS medications) that prevent other countries such as India from mass producing them cheaply and distributing them to third world countries. As a result, those who can’t afford the patented medications die needlessly. The poor. The disenfranchised.
If all of this isn’t enough to evoke our ire and bring us to our feet in righteous indignation, I fear nothing will. We’ve become a nation of obedient sheep.
If we really are truly a democracy, why isn’t a decision as important as going to war placed in the public realm, and a referendum held? The government is supposedly representative of it’s people. How many of us if polled, would actually give our government the green light to go ahead and kill in our name? How many of us if we knew the sordid truth, would allow this to continue? The killing of thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians, the humiliation and torture of political prisoners, the pressing of an impersonal button thousands of miles away, subsequently sending unarmed drones to the middle east to drop bombs on targets that often are miscalculated, and subsequently result in the death of thousands of innocents. They are doing this in our name, as citizens of this country. Every individual killed, makes us party to murder. Sanctioned murder.
Each one of us has innocent blood on our hands. Unless we oppose it, we condone it.
As I mentioned earlier, I am turning sixty next month. With maturity and age, hopefully has come wisdom and a determination to leave this world a better place when I walk on. I hope I have learned to be kinder, softer, and gentler. As looks fade, and the open grave begins to beckon with its open maw, I am putting away those childish and superficial things that were nothing more than fool’s gold. Life is distilling me down into who and what I really am, and my true character is being made manifest.
Silence is complicity, and therefore I cannot remain silent.
We need to stop glorifying war. We need to stand for something, or we stand for nothing at all.
The following is one of the most poignant and compelling videos I have ever seen, and if this returning Iraq war veteran doesn’t shake up and disturb your world, I am afraid nothing will.
Double click on the Youtube button below to watch and listen, so my embedded music doesn’t interfere.