Demanding peace before and after Remembrance Day

An honest Remembrance Day came a day late this year, but at least it happened.

A day that marks an armistice agreement and remembers the horrors of war ought to be an ideal moment to call for a ceasefire in a brutal military campaign. Unfortunately, most official Remembrance Day actions serve as celebrations of martial patriotism. But the day after the official ceremony 100,000 across Canada gave life to the slogan “to Remember is to Work for Peace.”

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marks the end of World War I. Saturday’s official Remembrance Day ceremonies should have been a perfect moment to boost calls for Canada to call for a ceasefire in Israel’s ferocious onslaught on Gaza. In forty days, Israel has dropped the equivalent of two atomic bombs that the US dropped on Hiroshima on an area the size of Montréal. About 4,400 children are confirmed dead and another 2,000 are thought to be under rubble.

The destruction of tens of thousands of buildings and lives should stir those marking the horrors of war. But that isn’t what official Remembrance Day is actually about. Instead, the government-sponsored ceremony promotes martial patriotism and the militaristic, imperialistic, Royal Canadian Legion, which owns the copyright to the red poppy.

Red poppies commemorate Canadians who have died at war. Not being commemorated are the Afghans, or Libyans killed by Canadians in the 2000s, or the Iraqis and Serbians killed in the 1990s, or the Koreans killed in the 1950s, or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that. By focusing exclusively on “our” side Remembrance Day poppies reinforce a sense that Canada’s cause is righteous. They create an ideological climate that supports military spending and future wars. But Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II.

Remembrance Day is supposed to celebrate those lost and scarred by war. Yet in the lead-up to the official ceremony right-wing voices warned against any calls for a ceasefire. Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein posted, “Memo to protesters: Do not f… with our veterans on Remembrance Day, Saturday Nov. 11.” During the commemoration in Ottawa a woman who called for a ceasefire was booed by some in the crowd and a man with a Union Jack flag had to be restrained from assaulting her.

Calling for a ceasefire on a day marking an armistice agreement is anathema because Canada’s political and military establishment approves of Israeli violence. While repeatedly rebuffing calls for a ceasefire, Justin Trudeau has said Israel has the right to “defend itself”. For his part, defence minister Bill Blair declared that, “Hamas has to be eliminated as a threat not just to Israel but to the world.”

But in the spirit of “remembering by working for peace”, the day after Remembrance Day saw protests in 50 cities and towns as part of the CeasefireNOW coalition’s day of action. About  50,000 took to the streets in Toronto while 20,000marched in Montréal. Similarly, on the day before Remembrance Day, 200 came out early in the morning to block the facilities of arms firm L3 Harris in Toronto as well as smaller numbers at their offices in Ottawa, Hamilton and Montréal. On Friday at the University of British Columbia a woman holding a baby shamed Melanie Joly for refusing to call for a ceasefire amidst all the children killed while the previous night hundreds marched on a fundraiser the foreign minister was supposed to attend in Vancouver. In Montréal that day seven were arrested after an eight-hour sit-in in front of Justin Trudeau’s riding office. Two days after Remembrance Day a half dozen protestors disrupted the Scotia Bank Giller Prize literary awards ceremony in Toronto because the bank has a $500 million stake in Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems.

Once again official Remembrance Day ceremonies promoted martial patriotism. But, at least this year the week was full of protests by those remembering by working for peace.

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