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November 11, 2014 - No. 94

Remembrance Day

The Canadian People Say "Never Again!" Harper Says "Again and Again!"

Remembrance Day
The Canadian People Say "Never Again!"; Harper Says "Again and Again!" - Dougal MacDonald
Oppose Pro-Imperialist Pro-War Conception of Remembrance - Windsor Peace Coalition
Canadian Veterans Denounce Harper Government for Using Remembrance Day for Shameful Self-Promotion - Louis Lang
Has Canada Left Its Wounded Veterans in the Lurch? - National Association of Federal Retirees Magazine
The First World War: The Real Lessons of This Savage Imperial Bloodbath - Seumas Milne


Remembrance Day

The Canadian People Say "Never Again!";
Harper Says "Again and Again!"

Each year from November 9-11, the Harper dictatorship steps up its rhetoric promoting aggressive war. This will again be the case when the government makes its annual statement on November 11. The disinformation begins with euphoric reference to the fall of the Berlin Wall in order to hide the fact it continued the resurrection of a re-armed Germany with the Nazi-supporting corporate monopolies restored to power, and then ramps up from there, culminating in ceremonies on Remembrance Day, November 11. Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to November 9 as the anniversary of Crystal Night when the Nazis announced to the world their intention to exterminate the Jews. The aim of the pro-war rhetoric is diametrically opposed to the collective call of "Never Again!" by the world's peoples after World War I and reiterated after World War II. It is not to honour the war dead with a commitment to assiduously oppose aggression and war as a means to resolving conflicts so that no more lives are lost, but to provide a rationale for the Harper government's continuing commitment to aggressive war in the service of the monopolies and U.S. imperialism.

The Harper government has an established reputation as a war government. In 2003, while in opposition, the Harper Conservatives openly supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Since coming to power in 2006, the Harper Conservatives have, among other things, expanded Canada's involvement in one aggressive war, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, and embroiled Canada in two further U.S.-led wars, the wrecking of Libya and the bombing of the sovereign nation of Syria under the hoax of fighting ISIS. The Harper government also unabashedly supports the Zionist regime in Israel, and does its best to whitewash the genocidal war crimes of the Zionists' occupation of Palestine as "self-defence." In that vein, the Harper government, which claims to oppose the Canadians going abroad to become "foreign fighters," has no objection to the approximately 145 Canadians who have illegally enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces, because such activity serves its narrow agenda.[1]

To promote his warmongering cause, Harper has been cynically distorting events surrounding the recent tragic deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo.[2] Taking advantage of the fact that many people are disturbed by these events, Harper is using them to try to incite passions and fuel tensions, when what is required is to go objectively into the heart of the matter and appeal to all people to draw warranted conclusions and unite on that basis. The hard facts show that it is the actions of the Harper government both at home and abroad which pose the greatest danger to society at this time, not those of a few marginalized individuals. The racist targeting of mentally ill and socially displaced people in the name of high ideals is the utmost barbarism.

In contrast to the disinformation of the Harperites, Nathan Cirillo's own partner made a public statement on November 3 which drew attention to the role played in the events by Harper's anti-social offensive which continues to decimate Canada's social programs. She stated: "What we SHOULD be talking about is the dismal state of mental healthcare in our country. What that deeply disturbed man killing my boyfriend SHOULD make Canadians focus on is how we can PREVENT another event like this through more accessible and effective mental health treatment programs that target the REAL source of this tragedy." The pro-Harper monopoly media immediately tried to discredit her statement by calling it "emotional."

In light of the Harper government's fundamental disrespect for veterans in the past year, it hard to view its grandiloquence in memorializing these two soldiers with anything but utmost cynicism. How does one reconcile such high-sounding words with the government's anti-social offensive that includes cuts to Veterans Affairs and the neglect and mistreatment of those who return from deployment with deep physical and psychological wounds? The message seems to be, the only good soldiers are the ones who either return unscathed or in body bags.


Image posted to Facebook group for Canadian Veterans Advocacy, October 25, 2014.

In addition to its warmongering approach to Remembrance Day, the Harper dictatorship has been creating a cross-Canada jingoistic campaign which was exemplified in the 2011 Remembrance Day speech by Jason Kenney, then Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Kenney's speech was mainly a presentation of a chronological list of wars, almost all of which, with the exclusion of the Second World War, were wars of aggression. In his list of unjust wars to "commemorate" on Remembrance Day, Kenney included the colonialist government's crushing of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion, the Boer Wars which attempted to consolidate British colonial power in southern Africa, the First World War which was mainly a war to redivide the world among the imperialist states, the Korean war which was U.S.-led aggression against the people of Korea, and the ongoing U.S.-led criminal aggression against the people of Afghanistan. This disinformation and distortion of history by claiming that unjust wars are really just wars is very deliberate.

There is no doubt that the rendering of Remembrance Day most supported by the Canadian people, including the veterans, is the honouring of the members of the armed forces who died defending the people, in order to emphasize the need for peace and to highlight the aim of humanity to put an end to aggressive war. The Canadian people are against war. But the Harperites' Remembrance Day is in the service of war, not peace. The main aspect of its disinformation is to conflate the just anti-fascist cause of World War II -- in which the world's people, led by the Soviet Union, defeated the Nazis and their allies -- with all the wars in which Canada has fought. The Harper dictatorship's sinister aim in all this is to glorify the use of military force as a means of settling disputes in the world. While the sentiment of the Canadian working class and people, many of whose family members made the supreme sacrifice to defeat the Hitlerites and their allies, is "Never again," the Harper government's aim is "Again and again" in support of U.S. imperialism's endless wars and quest for world domination.

To boot, the Harper government wants to rehabilitate the memory of Nazi war criminals by building an anti-communist monument in their memory in Ottawa.[3] It all underscores the cynical abuse of Remembrance Day and the sacrifice of those who died in the fight against fascism by the Harper government for its nefarious ends.

Today, the Harperites continue to beat the drums of aggressive war against Syria and Iraq. Six warplanes were recently sent to the Middle East. This shows that in their service to the monopolies and the U.S. imperialists, the Harperites will pursue the further pointless sacrifice of Canadian forces personnel and contribute to the slaughter of the people of any sovereign countries which the U.S. imperialists decide should be invaded. But contrary to what Harper is saying, the violation of international law abroad and the violation of rights at home through more draconian "security" laws will not make Canadians any safer. The Canadian people, who oppose aggressive war, must continue to oppose Harper's agenda and call for disputes among nations to be settled by peaceful means. They must continue to work hard to prevent future aggressive adventures by organizing themselves to form an anti-war government. The upcoming federal election will be an excellent opportunity to put forward and act on the slogan, "Canada Needs an Anti-War Government!"

Notes

1. The 721 brave Canadians who died in the Spanish Civil War "illegally" fighting fascism and Nazism prior to the outbreak of the Second World War are not included in the Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower and their sacrifice is not commemorated on federal war memorials or in Remembrance Day services.

2. The Armed Forces reported on November 10 that two of their locations have been named after the two soldiers tragically killed in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu on October 20 and in Ottawa at the War Memorial on October 22. "One of the locations of Air Task Force -- Iraq (ATF-I) has been named Camp Vincent, in honour of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Warrant Officer Vincent. Likewise, the operations base of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) in Iraq is now called Patrol Base Cirillo, in honour of Corporal Cirillo, a Canadian Army Reserve soldier with The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada," an Armed Forces press release informed." "The naming of Patrol Base Cirillo by members of the Special Operations Task Force -- Iraq, and the naming of Camp Vincent by members of Air Task Force -- Iraq, pays tribute to the loss of two Canadian Armed Forces members in recent weeks," said Brigadier-General Michael Rouleau, Commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. "Camp Vincent honours a member who exemplified helping others as a member of the Joint Personnel Support Unit. PB CIRILLO honours a soldier who was standing guard protecting those who could no longer protect themselves and he sought no recognition for this service. The officers and troopers of CANSOFCOM felt an inherent link to our own identity in that sense. The naming of our PB and the air operations base honours the sacrifice of these two members and Canada's commitment to confront threats to our nation."

Meanwhile, in his Remembrance Day statement, Prime Minister Harper made a spurious link between the two killings in Canada and the Iraq mission and the so-called war on terror, to justify aggression abroad and the violation of rights at home: "The recent deadly attacks on Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who were targeted simply because they proudly wore this uniform, only strengthens Canada's resolve to keep fighting against those who would deny our liberties and freedoms, and who have a complete disregard for human lives.

"We can never repay the debt we owe to the intrepid men and women who paid for our freedom with their lives, but we can remember their enormous sacrifices and pay tribute to their bravery and patriotism. 'Lest we forget.'"

3. See "Anti-Communist Crusade Promotes Cause of Nazi SS," by Dougal MacDonald, TML Daily, May 29, 2014 - No. 57.

(Photos: TML, Canadian Veterans Advocacy, Indignants, K.J. Tarasoff)

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Oppose a Pro-Imperialist, Pro-War
Notion of Remembrance

Remembrance Day began in 1919 as Armistice Day in the British Commonwealth to commemorate those killed in World War One. According to a history of the day featured in major Canadian media outlets, in Canada "it has evolved into a tribute to all military dead and a celebration of the Canadian Forces in general." The Harper government is using the occasion to tell us the tragic events in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Quebec must be front of mind as it pushes ahead with its agenda of aggression under U.S. command abroad and the militarization of life and trampling of rights at home in the name of a so-called war against terrorism. Since November 11 is a day for remembering, let us remember.

Lessons of the First and Second World Wars

The First World War was an imperialist war of conquest that was a terrible slaughter of the working people of the combatant countries. Included among the 37 million military and civilian casualties were more than 66,000 Canadian lives sacrificed plus an estimated 172,000 wounded for the sake of the British empire. It was anything but "the war to end all wars," with the treaty that ended it creating conditions for the rise of Nazism and Germany's aggression and expansionism that led to World War Two, also known as the Great Anti-Fascist War.


The Nuremberg Trials.

Lessons learned and the millions of lives sacrificed in those wars led to a realization of the need for a mechanism to prevent wars of aggression from recurring. The United Nations was founded in 1945 for that purpose, established on principles that included the equality of nations, respect for state sovereignty and non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

Another post-World War Two accomplishment was the holding of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunals which rendered judgment on prominent members of the military, political and economic leadership of Nazi Germany for engaging in war crimes, not letting off those who claimed they were "only following orders." The Nuremberg Principles that emerged from the trials established that launching a war of aggression constituted the supreme international war crime.

Korea and Vietnam

Not five years after the founding of the UN and the judgments at Nuremberg, through a manipulated vote at the Security Council the United States managed to violate those principles in order to attack Korea in a war of aggression that Canada also joined. It resulted in the death of some 3 million civilians. The U.S. carpet-bombed the north, laying waste to its cities and countryside -- all in the name of fighting communism half a world away from its shores. To this day the U.S. refuses to sign a peace treaty with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to finally put an end to the war and continues with a brutal regime of sanctions against it. Not long after its aggression in Korea the U.S. attacked Vietnam as well as Cambodia and Laos, again "to save the world from communism."

Today's Challenge --
Remembering and Drawing Conclusions from the Facts

Today the likes of Harper, Obama and others are falsifying the history of wars past and present to make it less obvious that they have dispensed with the anti-war principles on which the UN was founded and the mechanisms for enforcing them that constitute international law. According to them these principles and mechanisms established "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," as the preamble to the UN Charter states, are out of date, along with the lessons of history from which they emerged.

Pressure is being put on Canadians that they can be against sending troops to participate in today's U.S.-led wars of aggression and regime change if they like, but they better not actively oppose the missions, even when conditions are being created for another world war like the calamity unleashed a hundred years ago, this time with Canada's military fully integrated with the U.S. war machine and at the service of the U.S. project of world domination, crushing those that stand in its way.

Let us not forget that despite whatever role it had in shaping Canada's status and identity at the time, the First World War, celebrated by our pro-war Prime Minister as having been fought "so that right would prevail and so that Canadians and other peoples would have the opportunity to live in peace and freedom" was in fact an unjustified slaughter of the working people on all sides so the big powers of Europe could re-divide the world among themselves for their own gain at the expense of their rivals.

Let us reflect, remember and arrive at our own conclusions without allowing false memories to replace facts so "Lest We Forget" takes on its full significance. This means taking into account knowledge that may become part of public consciousness only years after the fact, when its suppression to keep a useful myth alive is no longer possible, as happened in the case of the U.S. aggression against Vietnam and even if less widely known, Korea, as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere more recently.

The same goes for the whole so-called war on terror that went into high gear after the events of 9/11 and continues to this day with no end in sight. What has been its legacy so far -- in Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, in Afghanistan and other parts of Asia, in Africa, inside the U.S. and other countries, including Canada? What problems has it solved? Has it made the world a more secure and peaceful place? Is more of the same something Canadians should rally behind as we are being pushed to do?

Today attempts are being made to implant fear of an internal enemy in the minds of Canadians, pitting them against one another on a racist basis. The criminalization of dissent and trampling of rights is being ramped up as new U.S.-led wars of aggression are launched, with Canada participating. Under these conditions, keeping alive and passing on to younger generations the facts of the wars and conflicts Canada has been and is a part of, free from any imposed conclusions or amnesia to justify a pro-war agenda, will contribute to taking up the challenge posed to us by the circumstances: how to extricate Canada from the U.S. war machine and establish an anti-war government that renounces the use of force to settle conflicts, upholds the international rule of law and the sacred cause of peaceful coexistence and equality amongst nations big and small.

To contact the Windsor Peace Coalition e-mail: windsorpeace@hotmail.com

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Canadian Veterans Denounce Harper Government for Using Remembrance Day for Shameful Self-Promotion


Windsor, January 31, 2014

In the past few weeks the Harper government has spent millions of dollars on television ads depicting Canada's participation in the two world wars as well as other wars in which the Canadian Armed Forces were involved. Without providing any context or providing any educational value for the important historical events, the ads' only purpose seem to be win public support for the troops who are shown making enormous sacrifices fighting foreign foes to "defend our freedom" and "the Canadian way of life."

During this time the government has also gone out of its way to use the tragic events of the week of October 20 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and at the War Memorial in Ottawa where two soldiers were killed, to show their total dedication and care for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

But Canadian veterans have made it clear that they are not fooled by these cynical attempts of the government to use the suffering of veterans to get support for their policies. A newly formed coalition of veterans' groups announced in a November 6 press conference that it will boycott all government photo-ops and participation in news releases until Ottawa improves its treatment of veterans.

The newly formed Canada Coalition for Veterans cited inadequate health and retirement benefits for injured soldiers and those dealing with mental health issues, the closure of Veterans Affairs' offices across Canada and lack of government support for veterans' families.

Sean Bruyea, a Gulf War veteran who sued the government after his medical files were leaked, said members of the new coalition group will boycott all government photo-ops and refuse to be quoted in press releases until Ottawa improves its "inefficient" and "discriminatory" policies.

Michael Blais, the president and founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said the boycott is just the beginning.

"We plan on stepping it up and using every democratic tool in our arsenal during the election period," he told CTV's Power Play.

Blais said the Canada Coalition for Veterans wants to ensure that "Canadians understand that our veterans are being treated -- especially our modern veterans -- with a standard that does not reflect the sacred obligation that this nation owes to those who have sacrificed so much."

Don Leonardo, another advocate whose group, Veterans of Canada, is part of the coalition, said Remembrance Day is a "perfect opportunity" for the government to reconsider its treatment of veterans and "tell us how you'll take care of us."

During the past year veterans' organizations have highlighted the refusal by the Harper government to address their serious concerns. They pointed out that the federal government closed a number of Veterans Affairs offices across the country, despite protests from veterans and citizens to keep them open. There have been distressing reports of soldier suicides and increases in the numbers of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore many injured soldiers are medically released by the Department of National Defence before they qualify for a pension at 10 years of service and that the federal government has refused to address demands for immediate improvements to benefits and services for injured veterans and their families under the New Veterans Charter. As well, the Conservative government just introduced another omnibus budget bill with no mention about additional supports or enhanced expenditures for veterans and their families.

The so-called New Veterans Charter has been opposed by veterans from day one. On June 4, hundreds of veterans from all over the country protested on Parliament Hill demanding the immediate repeal of the Veterans Charter which eliminates the veterans' pension and replaces it with a one-time lump sum payment. The veterans said they feel betrayed by the government. They denounced the government's spending of millions of dollars on television ads that describe the government's services that veterans, say are totally inadequate to meet the needs of injured and disabled veterans and their families.


Veterans rally on Parliament Hill, June 4, 2014.

Pat Stogran, who was appointed as the first ombudsman for veterans (2007-2010) spoke at the rally, saying that his experience in representing veterans was very frustrating and he was totally disillusioned by dealing with a "deceitful and disgraceful government." He called for the immediate repeal of the Veterans Charter and demanded that a Royal Commission of Inquiry be established to investigate the injustices to veterans carried out through the activities of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The organizers concluded the rally saying, "This will not be just a one-day event, as we plan on staying as long as it takes!" Another series of events are being planned by veterans and their organizations June 4-7, 2015 on Parliament Hill.

The reality of what the veterans call a "total breach of trust" and the disinformation about their conditions which the Harper government spreads at every opportunity is the real issue which needs to be addressed on the occasion of Remembrance Day 2014 to truly honour those veterans and their families who have suffered as a result of past wars.

(Photos: TML, D. Slack)

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Has Canada Left Its Wounded Veterans in the Lurch?


Protest against closure of Veterans Affairs offices, Sydney, NS, January 28, 2014.

Long before Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino went missing in action in January at a scheduled meeting with veterans who were hoping to save a crucial element of their benefits, a controversy had been raging in the courts over what Canada owes the wounded men and women who have served in its military.

Strangely enough, it pits Canadian veterans against a federal government that has made the military a centrepiece of its political message. Former partners now look at each other across a divide of anger and suspicion -- and a sense of betrayal.

Veterans argue that there is a social covenant, or contract, that Ottawa is breaking with the New Veterans Charter (NVC) that came into force in 2006. Under the NVC, veterans are awarded a lump sum payment for non-economic losses, such as the loss of limbs. The maximum payout is $301,000.

As of September 2013, only 148 people have received the maximum since 2006. The average award is $45,000. Under the old system, disabled soldiers were eligible for a tax-free pension for life of roughly $31,000.

On the other side of the debate is a government insisting there is no social covenant or contract with veterans that obliges Ottawa to follow the policies of earlier governments. Focused on balancing the budget before the next federal election, the Harper government has made deep cuts to every department. There was no special dispensation for veterans.

Conservative MPs voted unanimously to not exempt Veterans Affairs (VA) from those cuts, targeting the department for $226 million in cuts between 2011 and 2014. Those cuts represented a 30 per cent reduction in VA administrative funding -- one of the deepest cuts to the operations of any department. For implementing the cuts, senior VA bureaucrats received bonuses totaling roughly $700,000 in 2011.

The Royal Canadian Legion, and veterans advocates like former lieutenant-general and newly-retired senator Romeo Dallaire, Senator Wilfred Moore and Sean Bruyea, say that Ottawa bears a historic obligation to make sure no veteran is left in financial difficulty or mustered out of the military because of a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"In civilian workplace compensation," says Bruyea, "government is obligated to care for and compensate the disability for life. Why should the standard be any less for the military?"

Senator Moore agrees: "This is a national disgrace. A lot of us have people buried over there, and I absolutely think that there is a social contract to look after our veterans. After all, they looked after us."

This is no mere academic debate. Roughly 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan, Canada's largest deployment since the Second World War. Although the final count won't be in for some time, 2,179 of them came back with serious physical or mental injuries. Before the budget cuts, they received treatment at Veterans Affairs offices spread across the country. The VA offices are staffed by trained professionals who deal with the most common operational stress injuries: PTSD and depression. In the most difficult cases, the services are delivered in home visits.

Veterans suffering from PTSD are constantly on edge, sleepless, anxious and depressed. There is no pill to dispel the ravages of the condition. Soldiers afflicted with PTSD often use drugs or alcohol to fight off the demons. While cognitive behavioural therapy helps, the road back is long and difficult. There are no shortcuts and you can't put the process on a clock.

The suicide rate in the Canadian forces is more than twice as high as in the British armed forces, which is three times larger. Thirteen Canadian soldiers killed themselves in 2013 and, as of April, there have been eight suspected suicides in the Canadian Forces since the beginning of 2014. These grim statistics only apply to military personnel on active duty, not veterans, so the real number is likely higher.

That was why the veterans set up their meeting with Fantino. They wanted him to reverse the decision to close what they consider to be part of an essential service to disabled veterans -- their VA offices. When the minister finally appeared -- 70 minutes late -- he walked into a hornet's nest.

The veterans weren't buying his claim that he had been delayed by an important cabinet meeting, and they were furious when he told them that their services would improve -- even though Ottawa was closing nine VA offices across Canada and the decision was final.

How, the veterans wondered, could service get better when $3.8 million had been cut from VA funding? How does forcing a veteran in Thunder Bay to drive to Winnipeg to find his nearest VA office constitute 'better service'?


A delegation of veterans from across Canada arrives on Parliament Hill to meet with Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino, January 28, 2014, only to be treated with utmost disrespect.

The meeting ended badly; one media report said the minister left the meeting "in a huff" after one of the veterans described his explanation of the office closures as "hogwash." The next day Fantino apologized -- and then promptly got into hot water a second time by accusing the veterans of being dupes of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. PSAC members staff the VA offices and 70 of them were going to lose their jobs. Speaking from a shuttered VA office in Cape Breton, Alfie Burt, formerly of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, captured the mood of many veterans: "What the frig is wrong with that guy?"

In the opinion of Dallaire, there's a lot wrong. He believes that Ottawa is contemplating getting the gum of veterans' expenditures off its shoe. Canada spends $3.5 billion annually on services for veterans, including administration costs -- roughly 1.7 per cent of the federal budget.

Shortly before testifying in front of the House of Commons Veterans Committee on April 3, 2013, Dallaire told the Canadian Press's Murray Brewster about a number of recent encounters with "politicians who are second-guessing the cost of veterans. This has been sniffing its way around the Conservative hallways and it's pissing me off."

Dallaire's comments sparked a sharp rebuke from Fantino spokesman Nicholas Bergamini: "It is not appropriate to spread rumours without any kind of attribution." Dallaire was undeterred and called for a legislated social covenant with soldiers that would guarantee long-term care for the wounded. The Harper government wasn't interested in such a formal compact -- as its arguments against veterans who had taken it to court over the NVC clearly showed.

In October 2012, six veterans of the Afghanistan War filed suit in B.C. Supreme Court to challenge the lump sum provisions of the New Veterans Charter. They call themselves the Equitas Society.

Starting in the reign of Elizabeth I, British legislation required each parish to care for sick and wounded soldiers and mariners. Canada has always been in the vanguard of caring for its war veterans. It gave soldiers returning from the First World War rehabilitation and preferential hiring consideration. The Military Hospitals Commission was set up in 1915 as part of the plan to deal with the return of disabled soldiers.

The Pension Act of 1919 compensated 69,000 returned disabled vets, and the survivors of the 60,661 killed in the war.

The War Veterans Allowance Act of 1930 allowed disabled veterans to collect their pensions at sixty, ten years earlier than the rest of Canada.

As the Canadian War Museum puts it, "... Ottawa, by war's end, administered a large medical system, long-term care facilities, soldier insurance, a land settlement program and many other benefits and types of aid ... in 1920, veterans' pensions would consume more than 20 per cent of federal revenues; in 1914, it had been 0.5 per cent."

The Equitas court case, in effect, has called history as its witness against the NVC. In particular, the Afghanistan veterans cited a speech given by Prime Minister Robert Borden to Canadian troops on the eve of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Ten thousand Canadian soldiers would be dead or wounded in a matter of days. Borden wanted the troops to know that the country was grateful for their service, and that they would be taken care of when the war was over.

"You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as the head of the government I give you this assurance, that you need have no fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country in what you are about to do and what you have done already," Borden said.

To the veterans engaged in the Equitas court case, Borden's words amounted to a sacred promise -- a promise that was largely kept back in the day. Does the Liberal party's Veterans Affairs critic, Frank Valeriote, agree that Stephen Harper should follow Borden's lead?

"In a word, yes. The social covenant that exists now between members of the Canadian Forces, veterans and their government is the same that Sir Robert Borden sought to create ... in the wake of the First World War. It's not just political language as the federal government's lawyers are arguing ..."

One of the people who passionately agrees with the veterans' historical claim is famed Canadian war artist Allan Harding MacKay. On May 10, 2012, MacKay destroyed four original pieces of his war art on the expansive lawns of Parliament. "I absolutely feel vets have been abused. They are given a one-time paycheque to deal with a lifetime of injury."

Faced with the Equitas lawsuit, the Harper government tried to have the case thrown out without a hearing. But in the fall of 2013, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gordon Weatherill rejected their motion and allowed the case to proceed.

Next, the federal Department of Justice expressly denied in a written submission to the court that there was any social contract or covenant with war veterans vested "in any statute, regulation, or as a constitutional principle, written or unwritten."

Further, federal lawyers argued that, "Parliament, within the bounds of constitutional limits, has the unfettered discretion to change or reverse any policy set by a previous government."


Sydney, NS, November 9, 2013

The argument in the federal government's 37-page filing came down to this: Borden's speech was nothing more than words, a mere political speech reflecting the policy positions of the government of the day. Federal lawyers have now appealed Justice Weatherill's ruling allowing the case to proceed. According to Ottawa's argument, there was one big problem with veterans claiming any kind of social contract: They didn't get it in writing.

And that is something that the dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion intends to fix: "The RCL will continue to advocate to the government of the day until the covenant is in black and white in the New Veterans Charter," says Gordon Moore.

As the Harper government argues legal niceties -- over which it may ultimately prevail -- even the ombudsman for Veterans Affairs, a position the PM created, says the NVC is seriously flawed. In June 2013, after a two-year parliamentary review of the NVC, Ombudsman Guy Parent reported that changes were necessary.

"It is simply unacceptable to let veterans who have sacrificed the most for their country -- those who are totally and permanently incapacitated -- live their lives with unmet financial needs," said his report.

What's next? In June, the Commons veterans affairs committee made 14 recommendations to update the Veterans Charter and improve benefits; Fantino has promised to respond in the fall. Some veterans advocates say the proposed changes still fall short. The court will decide whether the Harper government has the legal obligation to honour the Borden Doctrine. But the court of public opinion will decide another question: Despite the $850,000 fly-overs, the $50 million monuments and a $28 million ad campaign for the War of 1812, has Ottawa cut and run on today's veterans in need?

(Sage, Summer 2014. Photos/graphics: Sage, TML, PSAC, M. Howe/Mediacoop)

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The First World War: The Real Lessons of
This Savage Imperial Bloodbath


The brutal trench warfare of World War One.

In the midst of deepening austerity, David Cameron is desperate to play the national card. Any one will do. He's worked the Queen's jubilee and the Olympics for all they're worth. Now the prime minister wants a "truly national commemoration" of the first world war in the runup to 2014 that will "capture our national spirit ... like the diamond jubilee."

So £50m has been found to fund a four-year programme of events, visits to the trenches from every school and an ambitious redevelopment of the Imperial War Museum. Ministers have promised there will be no "jingoism," but Cameron says he wants to remember those who "gave their lives for our freedom" and ensure that "the lessons learned live with us for ever."

In case there were any doubt about what those lessons might be, the Times has declared that despite the war's unhappy reputation, Britain's cause was "essentially just," a necessary response to aggression by a "xenophobic and anti-democratic" expansionist power (Germany) and that those who fought and died did so to uphold the "principle of the defence of small nations."

It surely must be right to commemorate what was by any reckoning a human catastrophe: 16 million died, including almost a million Britons. It touched every family in the country (and many other countries besides), my own included. Both my grandmothers lost brothers in the four-year bloodletting: one in Passchendaele, the other in Gaza.

Seventy years after the event, one of them would still cry at the memory of the postman bringing the death notice in a brown War Office envelope to her home in Edinburgh. My grandfather was a field surgeon on the western front, who would break down as he showed us pictures he had taken of lost friends amid the devastation of Ypres and Loos, and remembered covering up for soldiers who had shot themselves in the legs, to save them from the firing squad.

But it does no service to the memory of the victims to prettify the horrific reality. The war was a vast depraved undertaking of unprecedented savagery, in which the ruling classes of Europe dispatched their people to a senseless slaughter in the struggle for imperial supremacy. As Lenin summed it up to the Romanian poet Valeriu Marcu in early 1917: "One slaveowner, Germany, is fighting another slaveowner, England, for a fairer distribution of the slaves."

This wasn't a war of self-defence, let alone liberation from tyranny. As the late Eric Hobsbawm sets out in his Age of Empire, it was the cataclysmic product of an escalating struggle for colonial possessions, markets, resources and industrial power between the dominant European empires, Britain and France, and the rising imperial power of Germany seeking its "place in the sun." In that clash of empires, Europe devoured its children -- and many of its captive peoples with them.

Set against that all-destroying machine of 20th century industrial warfare, the preposterous pretext of the rights of small nations and the violated neutrality of "plucky little Belgium" cannot seriously be regarded as the real driver of the war (as it was not by British and other politicians of the time).

All the main warring states were responsible for the brutal suppression of nations, large and small, throughout the racist despotisms that were their colonial empires. In the years leading up to the first world war an estimated 10 million Congolese died as a result of forced labour and mass murder under plucky Belgian rule; German colonialists carried out systematic genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples in today's Namibia; and tens of millions died in enforced or avoidable famines in British-ruled India, while Britain's colonial forces ran concentration camps in South Africa and meted out continual violent repression across the empire.

The idea that the war was some kind of crusade for democracy when most of Britain's population -- including many men -- were still denied the vote, and democracy and dissent were savagely crushed among most of those Britain ruled, is laughable. And when the US president, Woodrow Wilson, championed the right to self-determination to win the peace, that would of course apply only to Europeans -- not the colonial peoples their governments lorded it over.


Caricature of Arthur Meighen a future Prime Minister of Canada, callously handing over a Canadian soldier into the hands of "Imperialism." As Solicitor General in 1917, Meighen was instrumental in drafting the conscription bill (click to enlarge).

As the bloodbath exhausted itself, it unleashed mutinies, workers' revolts and revolutions, and the breakup of defeated empires, giving a powerful impetus to anti-colonial movements in the process. But the outcome also laid the ground for the rise of nazism and the even bloodier second world war, and led to a new imperial carve-up of the Middle East, whose consequences we are still living with today, including the Palestinian tragedy.

Unlike in 1940, Britain wasn't threatened with invasion or occupation in 1914, and Europe's people were menaced by the machinations of their masters, rather than an atavistic tyranny. Those who died didn't give their lives "for freedom"; they were the victims of an empire that was a stain on humanity, the cynicism of politicians and the despicable folly of the generals. As Harry Patch, last British survivor of the trenches who died [in 2009], put it, the first world war was "nothing better than legalised mass murder."

Since the 1990s, direct conflict between great powers that reached its cataclysmic nadir in the world wars has been replaced by a modern version of the colonial wars that preceded and punctuated them: in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Unable to win public support for such campaigns, the government has tried to appropriate the sympathy for the troops who fight them as a substitute: demanding, for example, that poppies be worn as a "display of national pride" (or as Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, the now ex-British Legion president, described Remembrance Day, a "tremendous networking opportunity" for arms dealers).

If Cameron and his ministers try the same trick with the commemoration of the 1914-18 carnage, it will be a repulsive travesty. Among the war's real lessons are that empire, in all its forms, always leads to bloodshed; that state violence is by far its most destructive form; that corporate carve-ups fuel conflict; and that militarism and national chauvinism are the road to perdition. Celebrate instead the internationalists, socialists and poets who called it right, and remember the suffering of the soldiers -- rather than the cowards who sent them to die. Attempts to hijack the commemorations must be contested every step of the way.

Seumas Milne's book, The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century, was published in October 2012.

(Guardian, October 16, 2012)

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