I remember the hours I spent as a skinny teenager in the Air Cadets standing guard at the cenotaph at the ceremonies in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. Had I been the same age during WWI there would have been a decent chance that I would have ended up a child-soldier, as many other young boys of that era did, foolishly volunteering for the front and the supposed honour and glory of war.
I would have been in for a rude awakening.
As Harry Patch, one of World War One’s last surviving veterans, famously put it, “War is organized murder, and nothing else.”
I went on to join the local militia unit at 17 and saw a few more years in uniform for Remembrance Day. I also started to know people who had done tours in the meat-grinder of the Croatian and Bosnian wars as U.N. “peacekeepers”. I remember a few faces such as John Tescione from the 48th Highlanders whose Iltis jeep was ambushed as they tried to roll through a hostile checkpoint with dozens of armed men raking them with automatic weapons at point-blank range. I remember Tescione’s scars from where he had been shot in the back of his head and how he had difficulty hearing after the attack but remained on military duty when I was a young reservist learning to soldier.
I also remember a guy from my home unit who made it through his tour in the former Yugoslavia without being shot, but in no way escaped unscathed by his experience. Looking back, he clearly showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and had a lot of difficulty re-integrating back into civilian life in northern Ontario. He was chronically unemployed and didn’t get the help that he needed. As a reservist he didn’t even have access to the military’s medical system, woefully inadequate as it was, that regular force soldiers had. Once his contract was over he simply wasn’t the army’s problem anymore and found himself kicked to the curb to try and survive as Ontario’s conservative premier Mike Harris slashed his welfare.
I was lucky, when it looked like the war in Bosnia was going to escalate into a full-fledged NATO invasion and I was keen to volunteer – peace broke out.
This week, what can only be described as industrial murder broke out along a densely-populated area near the Mediterranean Sea known as the Gaza Strip. As of this writing there have been over 200 bombardments in Gaza by modern Israeli air and naval forces and about 250 crude rockets and mortars launched into Israel by militants in Gaza.
This violence has seen 16 people killed, three Israelis and 13 Palestinians including the 11 month-old baby Omar Misharawi—the son of a BBC journalist in Gaza, and things look like they will escalate from bad to worse in the coming days. There is a palpable fear that we will see a repeat of 2008’s “Operation Cast Lead” by the Israeli Defense Forces that saw 1,387 – 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed.
Four years later, with another election cycle over in the United States and one underway in Israel, we are seeing a new round of killing. It is a cynical and disgusting dance that sees the predicable buzzwords of “self defense” and “resistance” spewed by political and military leaders of both sides while the people of Gaza, and to a much lesser extent of Israel, pay the price of militaristic jingoism.
If we want to remember something, let’s remember the lasting truth of Patch’s words in his auto-biography The Last Fighting Tommy, “politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.”