Centenary of end of WW I: The need to make commemorations significant

In Europe’s reeking slaughter-pen
They mince the flesh of murdered men,
While swinish merchants, snout in trough,
Drink all the bloody profits off! 

– In Wartime, Stephan G. Stephansson, 1916


On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of this year, one hundred years will have passed since the fighting in World War I ended following the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany.

World War I was a slaughter of unprecedented proportions. The total number of military and civilian casualties is estimated to have been about 40 million people – 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel. The deaths include some 8 million civilians, of whom 6 million are estimated to have died of war-related famine and disease – such as the 1918 flu pandemic, and the deaths of prisoners of war.

From Canada alone, more than 600,000 men and women crossed the Atlantic to the European theatre of war with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. More than 60,000 of them never returned with thousands more arriving home injured and maimed.

The war lasted from 1914 to 1918. It is said to have started on July 28, 1914 when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia soon followed, declaring war on Austria-Hungary, and within six days, Britain and France were officially at war with Germany. Canada, as a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, was automatically at war upon Britain’s declaration.

The terrible conflict between the combatant countries tore asunder the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and German Empires. In Canada and throughout the British Empire, the slaughter ended the euphoria long promoted that the most coveted thing one could aspire to was to belong to the British Empire.

The end of the war did not end the greed of the power-hungry men who started it in the first place. Immediately, Canadian forces along with troops from ten other countries, at the instigation of Britain and France, were sent to invade Soviet Russia in a vain attempt to maintain the privileges of the Czarist regime negated by the establishment of the world’s first socialist state.

In Canada the war was a pretext to suppress resistance to imperialist war and conscientious objection to participating, as well as to attack organized labour and revolutionary politics. The War Measures Act remained in effect for over a year after the end of the war and was used against organizers of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919.


Main Street, June 4, 1919, during Winnipeg General Strike. The War Measures Act was used against the strike organizers.

Disinformation is rampant as to the causes of World War I and its impact. Often spoken of is the reality of the slaughter of unprecedented proportions. Sometimes mentioned is the end of the ruling class’ euphoria for Empire that prevailed before the war. Most often, however, official Canadian historiography cites Canada’s participation in World War I, and the Battle of Vimy Ridge in particular, as the defining moment when Canada “came of age.” Meant by this is that Canada gained the right to be considered one of the “great powers” as a result of its sacrifice. Canada participated in the Versailles negotiations to decide the terms of peace following World War I, and since then in coalitions of various sorts to ensure Anglo-American interests are defended worldwide.

Official historiography highlights the Statute of Westminster of 1931 that granted Canada sovereignty over external affairs. When World War II broke out in 1939, the Canadian Parliament, not the Imperial Parliament in Britain, made the decision to declare war on the German-led Axis powers and send troops overseas yet again.

Mostly, the sacrifices Canadians made during World War I are portrayed as defending freedom and democracy despite the fact the war was waged amongst colonial empires and great powers for the redivision of the world and its peoples and resources.

160319-Ottawa-AntiWar-9cr2This year, in his Thanksgiving message, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set the tone, “We also honour members of the Canadian Armed Forces, past and present. Each day, they make sacrifices to help build a safer, more peaceful world for everyone.”

Most disinforming is the propaganda that World War I was a war for freedom, democracy and rights, and as such, the sacrifice of Canada’s soldiers and treasury was for a worthy cause. In 2010, when the last known Canadian First World War veteran John Babcock died, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that the First World War “marked our coming of age as a nation” and that veterans “paid dearly for the freedom that we and our children enjoy every day.”

Such a rendering of Canada’s history has the aim to deprive Canadians of an outlook on which modern nation-building can take place. Nothing was worthy about the cause of defending the British Empire against its great power rivals, many of whom were led by royal relatives of Britain’s Queen Victoria, including the Prussian Kaiser and the Russian Czar. Amongst other things, this shows how inbred and dangerous the European monarchy had become and the depravity of its war for the redivision of the world its respective empires controlled.

The great leader of the Russian Revolution V.I. Lenin described World War I as a fight between “two coalitions of the imperialist bourgeoisie for the partition of the world, for the division of the booty, and for the strangulation of small and weak nations.”

Lenin said that such a war for the partition of the colonies and the division of the spoils of the capitalists “would involve a complete rupture with the latest achievements of civilization and culture.” He pointed out that “it might, and inevitably would, undermine the very foundations of human society because, for the first time in history, the most powerful achievements of technology were applied on such a scale, so destructively and with such energy for the extirpation of millions of human lives. When all productive forces are being thus devoted to the service of war, we see that the most gloomy prophecies are being fulfilled and that more and more countries are falling prey to retrogression, starvation and a complete decline of productive forces.”

We witness a similar situation developing today even though by no means the same. Coalitions comprised of oligopolies are marauding all over the world, striving to make riches through any means possible. Talk of defending the national interest is for purposes of paying the rich and criminalizing the people’s resistance movement, their movement for empowerment and the anti-war movement.

The ruling circles and their media refuse to discuss any of this during the commemorations of the end of World War I. Far from it. Not a word is said of the dangers posed by the current wars underway and of the even greater ones they are preparing to wage. War and its preparation are portrayed as necessary to defend peace and democracy. Jingoism similar to that which raged against the people during World War I is used to deprive people of an outlook which could assist them to find a way forward.

070317CalgaryAntiwar02-GrantNeufeldCr3Furthermore, the ruling Liberal Party and other political parties sitting in the House of Commons are enacting laws to target those who oppose NATO and imperialist wars of aggression and occupation, portraying them as willing agents of a foreign power or their unwitting dupes, all in the name of protecting Canada’s electoral process from “foreign influence.” These actions of the ruling elite are an unconscionable dismissal of the fact that the polity is comprised of citizens and residents who have rights by virtue of being human, and nothing is more human than the affirmation of the right to conscience and nothing more inhuman than its violation.

Let the commemorations of World War I be the occasion for Canadians to inform themselves about what is at stake today in the way official circles portray that horrific war and the current wars being waged and prepared. Let the people affirm their conscience by speaking their minds without fear of reprisal. Let us make sure Never Again has a meaning that favours the peoples.

An anti-war government is a necessity for Canadians to bring into being. An anti-war government would pay proper attention to developing a new democratic personality based on tackling the needs of the people in the conditions of the 21st century.

Today, slogans must ring out loud and clear to:

Dismantle NATO!
Bring All Canadian Troops Home Now!
Dismantle all U.S. Military Bases Around the World and Those of NATO
and its Members, Including Canada!
End all Wars of Aggression and Occupation, and
Spending on Weapons of Mass Destruction and Arms Sales!

Source: TML Weekly, October 20, 2018 – No. 36

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