Guts over Fear

Vimy_Memorial(2)

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial

Originally posted in Alternatives Journal

Lest we forget: war is about power.

It’s mid September, 2014. We’ve been driving the North of France with Eminem’s new single, “Guts over Fear” in never ending rotation on French radio. Our theme over the past week has been the great wars, which makes it an appropriate anthem. Much better than “Gigo, gigo, gigotez”, the French version of one of the many songs reflecting pop culture’s newfound fascination with butt wiggling and which leave you wondering what all the sacrifice was for.

This is the Canadian pilgrimage, first to Vimy, then to Juno. It’s a fitting start to a world tour, a chance to reflect on power, freedom and sacrifice.

Vimy Ridge is embedded in our national lore as the time when the Dominion of Canada truly became a nation. Oddly enough, for the French, it’s a tiny point on the map and even tinier in their collective consciousness. Hardly anyone knew where it was outside of the locals.

Our base for Vimy was in the town of Villers Chatel, where we stayed at a four-century-old farmhouse with our hosts, Michel and Elizabeth. There we also met Andre Imbeau, a former Quebecer now living in France. They loaned us bikes, drew up a backroads route on a map, and the next day we cycled the eighteen kilometres to the Vimy memorial past sugar beet farms and through tiny villages.

Our introduction to Vimy was truly Canadian. As we cycled into the visitors centre, we were told to get off our bikes and walk them to the bike rack at the far end of the parking lot. We felt at home!

Vimy_Memorial

The walk up to the Vimy memorial.

It takes ten minutes to walk to the memorial, along a pock-marked young forest, grazed by a herd of sheep and fenced off to humans because of potential mines. Even a century later, you can sense how difficult each yard of ground would have been to gain. 3,598 dead and 7,004 wounded.

The memorial itself is stunning, white limestone imported from Croatia in two towers rising above the ridge. From the edge of the memorial, the view of the valley towards Lille makes it all too clear why, in the time of World War I, Vimy Ridge would be so important. A world war fought almost entirely across a stretch of several hundred kilometres, trench to trench, hole to hole.

From Vimy, to the World War II museum at Caen, the Canadian memorial at Juno Beach and the Canadian cemetery at Reviers. 359 Canadians died on the first day of Juno Beach, June 6, 1944, 5,500 in the 100 days of the Battle of Normandy and 45,000 during the Second World War. The town of Caen itself was heavily damaged in the ensuing battle and 1,500 civilians were killed from allied bombing and street warfare.

The Juno Beach Centre

The Juno Beach Centre.

These days, the region plays host to an invasion of tourists; a steady stream of the war-wise and wide-eyed innocents. There are the inevitable questions we ask ourselves each year on Remembrance Day: How did we let this happen? What have we learned? Can it happen again? Somehow, these questions are never answered to our satisfaction.

War is the conflict resulting from an ego gone wild, whether personal or societal. Mad dreams can be held equally by individuals, countries, companies, religions or ideologies. To succeed, they need power, and the acquisition of power usually involves the subjugation of others. Monarchy, religious edicts, political ideology, slavery and modern-day economics are all based on the centralization of power within a ruling elite. It is part of the human condition – we are social animals with a need to establish hierarchy and power. War is the failure to contain greed.

If you visit the war museum in Caen, be sure to see the cold war exhibit, where two screens alternate between East and West propaganda during the cold war years. Laughably obvious now, on both sides, but you can imagine how believable it was at the time. Laughable, until you realize it is still going on.

Today’s propaganda reflects today’s wars over ideology, religion and resources. We pride ourselves in the checks and balances that we now have in place with democracy and a market economy, but that only means that the rules of the game have changed. The game is still the same.

Politics in Canada is an exercise in power. Each party vies for public support and the ability to wield power through a majority government. The result is that elections are less about public service and more about marketing.

At the same time, our federal government is clamping down on the ability of Canadian charities to speak out in the public’s interest. They tell us that politics is for politicians, and charities should only be involved in social service. Nothing could be further from the public interest. Charities should have free rein to comment on politics, for their social mandates make them far more credible than the ideology that lies behind politics. It makes for a robust system and provides an essential check to the ego and power of politics.

The economic war is more pervasive. As John Perkins describes in “Confessions of an Economic Hitman”, the tools of global domination have shifted from the military to economics. What could not be achieved with weapons has been achieved through economics. Just recently the New York Times obtained a tape of a speech by Richard Berman, CEO of Berman and Company, where he advised energy executives that they were in “an endless war” that they could either “win ugly or lose pretty.” Berman was seeking $3 million for a propaganda campaign called Big Green Radicals.

If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, then Remembrance Day is an opportunity to remember that greed and the abuse of power is ever-present. Let us recognize that the front lines of freedom and democracy have shifted, and give thanks to those who are battling to maintain the balance.

Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers, France.

Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers, France.

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3 thoughts on “Guts over Fear

  1. Hi guys. Just laying here reading your blog. Am jealous that you are seeing so many fascinating things. You will be surprised to know I agree with most of your tirade on war and politics. Just two simple comments. People are wrong to associate war with Remembrance Day. War really has nothing to do with this special day. Remembrance day is simply a day to remember that many women and men had their lives ended much to early in a very unnatural manner. I am sure the dead don’t give a hoot about ego’s and polotics. So let’s leave ego’s and politics out of it when pausing to remember the innocent people, from all sides. Who had their lives taken away. I hear too many bleeeeping people that they do not agree with war so they do not care about Remembrance Day. They are two totally separate issues. Secondly, if you mean that war is about ego’s on both sides, I would strongly disagree. War is about bad people doing bad things. I’m sure Hitler had a big ego bot he was more about being a bad and evil person. In fact I think many wars are started by bad people with very small ego’s. Hitler was not brought to justice from people not with big ego’s. Rather it was from people who were tring to do the right thing. Because in the end war is usually simply about right versus wrong. That’s my tirade. If you read all of this then I congratulate you.
    I have enjoyed following your trip. You all are doing some amazing stuff. I wish all families could do it. Take care you all. Love Tom

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    • Hi Tom. We were thinking of you two when we were visiting the Colosseum. Good to hear from you, and I agree, Remembrance Day should be a day to remember those who gave their lives, but it is impossible to keep politics aside, whether in asking why it happened or in the ceremonies of remembrance. Wars cost countless lives and if we want to prevent them we should look at why they arise, and how they can be prevented.

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  2. Chris,
    OSGN now has a new leader, we just found out, and you throw out the following challenge to the nation ” They tell us that politics is for politicians, and charities should only be involved in social service. Nothing could be further from the public interest. Charities should have free rein to comment on politics, for their social mandates make them far more credible than the ideology that lies behind politics. It makes for a robust system and provides an essential check to the ego and power of politics. ”
    If you are looking for a new cause, I, for one, will be happy to support it.
    That, or equally “Guy Fawkes for sainthood”.
    Am loving this blog.
    Regards
    John

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