Subscribe to Sharon Fraser Subscribe to Sharon Fraser's comments

How can people say — and seem to really believe — that war is not romanticized, sentimentalized, glorified? Remembrance Day has now become Remembrance Week. Some people start wearing poppies before the end of October. The airwaves are choked with story after story about the wars. I have no objection — of course — to stories and memories but the stories are told, so often, with such affectionate nostalgia.

Those of us who speak against wars are shushed, especially on November 11, or we’re told that it is these wars (even the one in Afghanistan!) that have guaranteed our freedom to speak openly.

As many others are, I am moved by the faces of the elderly veterans on November 11 and that’s a little sentimental. I really dislike the false equivalency that tosses all the wars in the same basket and I am not at all impressed by antics such as the recent one at an Ontario Legion, which puts a bit of tarnish on the veterans’ organization.

Let’s just say that, to me, the observance of Remembrance Day has been appropriated and turned into a tool of propaganda and I have come to resent its tone and what it has come to represent.

What follows is a column I wrote in November, 20 years ago. The war-in-preparation that I refer to in this column was the First Gulf War.

(This is a poppy watercolour painting project that Calgary artist Gail Bartel did with a grade 1 and 2 class.)

The love of war, the glory of war

November 9, 1990

We were talking last week about Remembrance Days of our pasts; my outstanding memories — with years all melded together — involve standing in Elm Park in Chatham, N.B. (when the elms were still there), freezing half to death. It always seemed to be an overcast day with a little snow on the ground, about an inch, the frozen November grass showing through just to add to the general bleakness.

There were veterans and the ladies’ auxiliary from the legion, high school cadets, the town’s band — it was pretty good too — and the usual dignitaries. We sang Abide With Me and the bugler played the Last Post and they solemnly read the names of all the people who hadn’t come back from the wars and laid the wreaths. The whole town seemed to turn out.

Pretty typical, I guess, just like any other small town in Canada on November 11.

Years later, my friend Margaret wrote a prize-winning newspaper column which was headlined “Time to stop glorifying war.” She felt that the further off the big wars were, the more people seem inclined to use words like “glorious victory” and “brave fighting men.” Her intention was not to dishonour the memory of anyone who had fought in the wars but no matter — she was censured from pulpits, strongly reproached by the local legion, and many people cancelled their subscriptions to the paper.

Margaret lives in Germany now so she isn’t following the current call to war as closely as we’re able to — particularly thanks to all the Canadian journalists (including local ones from our two television news shows) who are sending back reports from their vantage points aboard the Canadian navy ships.

One of the favourite slogans of the women’s peace movement is “Take the toys from the boys.” Never has it seemed more appropriate as we learn in such enthusiastic terms how well the guns are working during the daily tests, as we read the poetic language the journalists are using to describe the “aloof, sleek” CF-18 jet fighters and the pure affection with which they write about the aging Sea King helicopters — “a noisy, vibrating bird,” one wrote.

Well, propaganda is not a new device, for sure, and it’s certainly effective. Even now, little boys are running about making helicopter noises or dropping imaginary bombs on the head of the latest Evil Incarnate, Saddam Hussein, not unlike many earlier generations of boys who hoped against hope that the war of the moment would last long enough for them to get a crack at it.

The love of war — the romance of war — the glory of war have all been expounded for a long time.

Men grow tired of sleep, love, singing and dancing sooner than of war. (Homer: Iliad XIII).

Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war! (Shakespeare: Othello I.i.).

War, that mad game the world so loves to play. (Jonathan Swift: Ode to Sir William Temple).

But this year, 1990, as we accept the possibility of war in the Middle East, also marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of the pacifist organization, Voice of Women for Peace. It might be a good time to remember some of the words from its constitution, adopted in 1961.

  • To unite women in concern for the future of the world;
  • To help promote the mutual respect and co-operation among nations necessary for peaceful negotiations between world powers;
  • To protest against war or the threat of war as the decisive method of exercising power;
  • To appeal to all national leaders to co-operate in developing methods of negotiations;
  • To appeal to all national leaders to co-operate in the alleviation of the causes of war by common action for the economic and social betterment of all people;
  • To provide a means for women to exercise responsibility for the family of humankind.
  • May their voices be heard loudly and strongly this Remembrance Day. Peace, dear sisters.

    8 Responses

    1. #1
      Doug Alder 

      It has ever been so Sharon — right from the Roman era when Horace wrote Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – it is sweet and right to die for one’s country. The war crafters are very good with their propaganda and they “own” the media.

    2. #2
      Susan MacPhee 

      My Dad was a veteran of the Second World War and I always wear a poppy in memory of him, and I miss the little green centre.
      Daddy never joined the “Legion”, saying it was a place to go to glorify war, to pretend it was fun to go off and kill innocent villagers in their beds (he was a member of the RAF) and laugh about how good they felt about it.
      He didn’t feel good.
      Not even close.
      My Dad, for the rest of his life, wondered about the people who were killed in their beds or, even worse, had their lives devastated by the bombs dropped by the bomber on which he was radio man.
      Those thoughts tortured him.
      Daddy never allowed hunting on his property and did all he could to help wildlife thrive there.
      He learned from his terrible experience and I think, through him, I did also.
      And so, I wear a poppy.

    3. Sharon, nice to meet you. Very good article. Says what I have thought so many times, thanks for articulating it. I’m forwarding it to CodePink here in US who are waging an anti-war campaign. I’m a Canadian ExPat in California. We distribute films of social and political causes:

    4. #4
      Susan Athrens 

      Many thanks, Sharon, for reposting this article. Since the invasion of Afghanistan in particular, I have grown to dread the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day and its incessant mawkish glorification of “our heroes” who have fought and are fighting to maintain “our liberties.” Afghanistan was no Nazi Germany. There is no military draft. And I resent the pressure to wear a poppy. I would gladly wear one in memory of those who lived through the horrors of the 2 World Wars, but unfortunately that involves donating money to the Legion, which is nothing but a pretentious glorified beer hall as far as I’m concerned. I’m tired of this increasingly threatening divisive “If you’re not for us, you’re against us.” attitude regarding any questioning of Canadian military policy. I do believe that we should remember the lessons of the past, but hey, it’s time we learned from them.

    5. #5
      Tom Regan 

      I was struggling all day to express my reservations about Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day down here in Yankee land). To appreciate the vets, but at the same time, to not appreciate the way they are too often used as tools of politicians and their interests. It’s even worse down here.

      In the US you are smothered by a wave of the stuff. Lots of talk about “defending us.” Very little talk about entering the 8th year of a war that was started for dubious purposes in Iraq or the thousands of innocent Iraqis who died while they have been “defending us.” Or how our policies, and sometimes the actions of our soldiers, have increasingly alienated the populations of the very countries we are supposedly trying to save from terrorists.

      I live in a community where there a lot of people who have relatives who serve in the military, way more than in Canada. I have friends who are soldiers, who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It has given me a new appreciation for the sacrifices that they and their families make for a cause they often truly believe in.

      My problem is with the cause, not with the soldiers. The cause needs to be questioned a lot more often and a lot harder. A large segment of the population just follows it like sheep, without ever really thinking about it. Unfortunately, at least in the US, that’s not going to happen very easily.

      Finally, here are the words of a one of American’s greatest anti-war advocates — Mark Twain. The War Prayer was the only Twain piece that Harpers wouldn’t publish, because it was so controversial. But Twain had it published after his death. It says it all.

    6. #6
      Sheree Fitch 

      I like your truth saying, Sharon. This was my post today:

      “I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, ‘Mother, what was war?’”
      Eve Merriam. Poet. A few years back, in her papers at the Kerlan Collection in Minnesota, I read from her notebooks. There, in her own handwriting, I saw how she wrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote to get this simple heart-stopping line. A dream worth passing along.

      Simple does not equal easy, eh? But yes, let us remember but not ever glorify any war.

    7. #7
      Margaret Davis 

      Sharon, thanks for this. Sadly, reminders of the danger of glorifying war are still necessary. After I wrote my anti-war column, I was often accosted by readers wanting to talk about it. Frequently, they expressed dismay or disagreement, but not always. One day I was in the grocery store when I was approached by an older man, dressed in work clothes, who asked if I had written the column. I said I had, and braced myself for the worst. Instead, he said, “Don’t worry about all the negative comments. What you wrote was right, and I know, because I was there.”

    8. #8
      Mary Riches Clark 

      I always read with interest your writings as per your website.

      It was unfortunate that a few points of sale of Poppies were in the short term denied in my west end Montreal area. I say this because we should get past the debate about the use of recent military areas of combat to remember that returning, mostly young, members of our current troops need a lot of support, both physical and psychological as they try to get back to some normalcy of life. According to recent media stories there are all too little resources for them in the current military and medical facilities. With the nearby Ste Anne de Bellevue Veterans Hospital not fully in use at this time, and in apparent transition to long term care under the Quebec Government adminisration (not that there isn’t a great need for more beds in that domain also), let us not lose sight of the ongoing need for care for our returning troops, regardless of one’s views on the relavance of recent military campaigns.

    Leave a Reply

    Get Adobe Flash player