Daily Archives: November 11, 2010

War Criminal

We can’t let this Remembrance Day pass without citing George W. Bush’s latest so-sue-me confession to war crimes.

The gorge-filling moment comes when Bush explains his decision to waterboard  prisoners by passing the buck to those who provided him with legal opinion on the matter: “I’m not a lawyer.” It wasn’t Bush after all.  The President of the United States of America pursued a policy of torture on the advice of counsel.

The war criminals at Nuremburg claimed to be subordinates following the orders of the executive.  Bush may be the first executive war criminal to claim to be following the orders of subordinates.

“Remembrance goes beyond the military”

Jeff Mahoney reminds us that the values people fought and died for in two world wars somehow got lost in the peace thanks to corporate indifference to the common good.

Money quote:

We know it so well here. Siemens is pulling out of the city. This week Maple Leaf sold its meat plant in Burlington.

When these things happen I like to go to the company websites and read their value and mission statements. U.S. Steel: “ … guided by a new vision for its second century of business. Building value for its stakeholders.”

Siemens: “Values: Highest performance with the highest ethics. Excellent: Achieving high performance and excellent results.” Wow, the specificity!

Maple Leaf: “Six Sigma embodies our commitment to continuous improvement and provides our people with the discipline to never accept status quo . . . .”

Six Sigma? Did they get that from one of Keanu Reeves’ Matrix movies?

Please, captains of industry, spare us the halo-polishing and bust down your zen-for-dummies rhetoric costs. Here, have this one on me: “Valuing excellence, excelling at values, valuing valuable values, excelling at most excellent excellence, Teletubbies, big hug.”

Translated it means “more gold faucets in the yacht — we remain leaders in the all-important layoff sector of the economy.”

Remembrance of sacrifice on the battlefield is supposed to instil in us  the value of courage and honour in the pursuit of social justice.

Armistice: An Eyewitness Account

The inside cover of Gordon Agnew’s diary

Here is about as moving an eyewitness account from the front on November 11th, 1918 as you’re likely to come across.  It’s from the diary of Gordon Agnew, a Gunner with the 25th Battery, 2nd Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force.  After the jump is a beautifully rendered account of that day which very few people before now have had the opportunity to read.  The entry for November 11th begins at the bottom of the first page.

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Remembrance Day


The lament playing over this footage from the First World War is “Sgt. MacKenzie” by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie

Here’s Frye in “Hart House Rededicated,” delivered on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Hart House, University of Toronto, November 11th, 1969.  As so often happens with Frye on public occasions, somehow everything comes together with a resonance that is immediately recognizable.  In this instance, the elements are the anniversary of Hart House, Remembrance Day, and our hard won — and too easily lost — sense of community.

Since 1919, a memorial service at the tower, along with an editorial in the Varsity attacking its hypocrisy and crypto-militarism, has been an annual event of campus life.  Certainly I would not myself participate in such a service if I thought that its purpose was to strengthen our wills to fight another war, instead of to fight against the coming of another war.  That being understood, I think there is a place for the memorial service, apart from the personal reason that many students of mine have their names inscribed on the tower.  It reminds us of something inescapable in the human situation.  Man is a creature of communities, and communities enrich themselves by what they include: the university enriches itself by breaking down the middle-class fences and reaching out to less privileged social areas; the city enriches itself by the variety of ethnical groups it has taken in.  But while communities enrich themselves by what they include, they define themselves by what they exclude.  The more intensely a community feels its identity as a community, the more intensely it feels its difference from what is across its boundary.  In a strong sense of community there is thus always an element that may become hostile and aggressive.

It is significant that our memorial service commemorates two wars, both fought against the same country.  In all wars, including all revolutions, the enemy becomes an imaginary abstraction of evil. Some German who never heard of us becomes a “Hun”; some demonstrator who is really protesting against his mother becomes a “Communist”; some policeman with a wife and a family to support becomes a “fascist pig.”  We know that we are lying when we do this sort of thing, but we say it is tactically necessary and go on doing it.  But because it is lying, it cannot create or accomplish anything, and so all wars, including all revolutions, take us back to square one of frustrated aggression in which they began.  (CW 7, 397)