Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 11

To begin at the beginning: Basil Launcelot Cumpston, my great uncle, fatally wounded near Bullecourt, 1917; John Cox, my cousin, died in when his Dakota went down in Myanmar, 1945. George Weber and Tom Fox, CPT colleagues, died in Iraq, 2003 and 2006. Andrew Olmsted, a US Army major and a web log author I admired, died Iraq 2008. Relatives, colleagues and friends who have sacrificed their lives for a better world link all of us to war, and we have come around, once again, to the day of the year which we set aside to remember them.

The hardest part of remembering is reconciling our debt to the men and women who died with our determination to avoid sending our own children to die in the future. I and millions of others can say of our relatives who gave their lives in the Allied Cause during the Second World War, that they died in a noble cause. But then we come face to face with an uncomfortable truth: good men and women only die in noble causes because bad men find it easy to trick or force people to kill, and die, for bad causes. If so many men had not followed Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tōjō, millions of men and women would not have had to go off to war. And facing that truth, too, we confront another: advancing the noble cause Allied soldiers, sailors and aviators fought and died for required years of struggle that went on years after the war and well beyond the borders of Germany or Japan. The militarism of Imperial Japan or the genocidal fury of National Socialism were only extreme cases of racist ideologies that stained all Western societies. Denazification did not only happen in Berlin and Nuremberg; Martin Luther King's march on Selma, decolonization in Africa and Asia, First Nations struggles in Canada, all formed an essential part of the process which, we can hope, will prevent genocidal fascism from ever rising again.

The clash of arms only begins the process of building a better world. If we carry on most of the work without violence, we must still commit to it, give our all, and accept the reality that humanity will never move forward without struggle and sacrifice. And so today we will remember those who struggled and laid down their lives, whether with guns or with empty hands. And we too will pick up the task they laid down, and do our best to carry forward the work of building a better world.

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