Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some thoughts on War, Tyranny, and Voter Fraud. . . .

Like many children during the Second World War, my father was evacuated into the countryside for much of the war. But he returned to London during the last couple of years of conflict and had many stories to tell about what he saw. One of the stories he told was of an occasion in which he and his mother went together to the market. While they walked there was a massive explosion a couple of streets away. The impact was tremendous and they felt its intensity even from a few hundred yards off. The explosion had been caused by a V2 rocket, many of which had been raining down on London for weeks. The government had attempted to deny the existence of the V2 because they were afraid of wide-spread panic. The V2s came in faster than the speed of sound so unlike the V1, or so-called 'flying-bombs,' you couldn't hear them coming. Instead, you would just be sitting there and suddenly you and your whole street were more or less vaporized. The government tried to tell the story that the explosions from the V2s were nothing but gas-line eruptions but rumours of a new, more dangerous, weapon, spread quickly. My dad's father had actually seen a V2 come down and thus he knew that the government was lying about what was going on.

Anyway, my dad watched the smoke rise from the explosion and he knew that people had just died and there were probably many laying about badly injured. But his mother, after taking a few moments to compose herself,  took his hand tightly and they continued on their way. Even as a kid my father was struck at that moment how even amid apparent chaos, life continued on more or less normally. He and his mother went into the market and she bought fruits and vegetables and talked with other women about the high price of bread, the inconveniences of rationing, and the latest film at the cinema. My dad sometimes felt kind of bad about his childlike attitude during much of the war. For him, not having lost anyone close to him, the war seemed somewhat exciting much of the time. It broke up routines and made life seem more interesting. He loved to see the dog-fights over London which he watched a number of times from the roof of his apartment building, and he knew all the different planes on sight, even the ones that were bombing and killing his fellow citizens. But at the moment of that explosion things changed for him. Life suddenly seemed out of joint as he realized that there was real killing and dying going on while other people just went about their business.

Thinking about this story reminded me of the time I lived in El Salvador. During my time there rumours of a military coup were rife and for a while there they seemed credible. A friend of mine who worked as a health-care worker in the countryside had actually seen large numbers of troops massing on the Honduran border and he had been on a bus that was stopped by soldiers. The bus's riders were taken out and forced to lay face-down on the road and he really thought they were going to be shot execution-style. One day during the height of the rumours I was sitting on the porch of the house were I was living and a jet fighter came roaring over the house only a couple hundred feet in the air. Anyone who has experienced this knows how frightening and intimidating this can be. Those planes are unbelievably loud and can shake the very ground underneath you. The plane headed straight for the Presidential Palace as though it were going to bomb the place. During those few moments a lot went through my mind. I wondered how I would get out of the country in the midst of a coup or whether events would deteriorate into civil war. Then I thought about my friends who had been in the war which had only ended a year or so previous to my arrival there. My good friend Guillermo Iglesias who was only twenty-one had been compelled into the war when his village was so terrorized by the government troops that he felt he had nothing to loose. He had been shot more than once and had watched many friends die. Yet despite these events, he seemed remarkably 'normal' and was just a young man with the same hopes and fears that we all have.

The jet fighter didn't bomb the Palace. It just flew very near it a number of times in what was obviously a show of intimidation toward the government. The President went on TV that night and claimed that it was all part of a military exercise etc. The next day my partner and I went on a trip to the Gulf of Fonseca. We had planned it a week before and people told us to go despite the rumours because it was a relatively safe road and not generally a dangerous part of the country. As we drove along I watched the people of El Salvador working in their fields, playing with their children, eating at roadside restaurants, and all the other stuff that people do. And I thought that even at the height of the brutal civil war all these same people were doing many of the same things.

Cut to today as I drove down a freeway in Ottawa to pick up one of my daughter's playmates who is here for the weekend. It occurred to me how even as it becomes apparent that our present government has been actively exercising voter fraud, we as Canadians go about our business. This government has shown itself to be willing to do anything to get and maintain power and not only has it broken many laws, if one has listened carefully over the years it has hinted more than once that it would be willing to keep the government by force if necessary. And yet, like the citizens of London during the War, or the people of El Salvador, people in Canada go merrily on with life. Until someone you love dies, war feels much like peace, only noisier. Countries often slip into tyranny slowly and if you ever wondered what it is like to live in a dictatorship, you already know, it feels the same as a democracy until you fall victim to the power that you have ignored.


Anonymous said...

My father put his life on the line to help in the effort to defeat fascism. As pilot of the Canadian 6th bomber group, he attacked Nazi shipping ports, Nazi oil refineries and Nazi manufacturing factories.

He was proud that his sons did not have to go to war to protect the freedom that he and his compatriots had won for Canadians.

Alas, with the fascist Harper conservatives, we have to engage in a fight against the fascism of our own government within our own country.

kirbycairo said...

I agree entirely Anonymous. But people must realize that the struggle for democracy is one that must always continue and that fascism is always waiting in the wings.

karen said...

I know a lot of people who think I am some kind of tiresome Chicken Little when I keep warning them. Its odd, my children and their friends are in their early 20's and many more of them get it and are outraged than my co-workers and acquaintances. I feel so much like I want to follow all those 'kids' of mine around and protect them.
But as for the acting normal in times of great distress, do you think it is denial or a coping strategy or some kind of unconscious collusion with evil? I have never lived through a war-like crisis or even a real natural disaster of any kind, but I imagine the human mind probably needs to fasten to something normal in order to not lose it all together. Esecially in front of people whose own sanity might depend on our keeping it together. I wonder how much fear your mom was trying not to show you?

meadowlark said...

There were six members of my family, in WW11. I was born during the war, some of my older siblings are old enough to be my parents.

My brothers and brothers-in-law, talked very little about the war. My one brother was 17 when he joined up. Later on in this war, he got the duty of, burying concentration camp victims with a bulldozer.
Another brother was in the, terrible battle of Ortono in Italy.

Another brother and and in-law brother, were in the liberation of Holland. The Dutch people they met, are still in touch with us to this day, even into the second generation. The Dutch are very sad by, what Harper is doing to their beloved Canada.

Our young Canadian boys were blown to bits, so we wouldn't have the evil, fascist, dictatorship of Harper governing our country.

Quite frankly, Harper is not worth our boys dying for then. Nor is Harper worth our young military, dying for him to-day.

Harper has destroyed our once good and decent country. There is now, no more pride, in being a Canadian.

Harper should be tried for treason, for giving Canada to China. This is our country, not fascist Harper's. We need to take our country away from, the evil of Harper.

kirbycairo said...

Thank you for sharing Meadowlark - my dad died a couple of years ago and he was very depressed about what had happened because his dad had struggled all his life for worker's rights. He had begun working in the early days of the 20th century when people could be compelled to work for next to nothing, when it was still dangerous to be a union organizer, and dangerous working conditions were barely regulated. He worked six days every week for much of his life and still took the time to be an activist for women's right to vote and other basic democratic rights.

And now we are watching all those things that people fought for both at home and abroad being gradually taken away and many people don't even notice. People really don't understand that any democracy is one bad leader away from fascism. My only hope is that if the Harpercons do every actually get taken from office (and I suspect this will have to be done by force) what ever government replaces them will create a much greater number of safeguards against this kind of abuse in the future.

The greatest guarantee against such tyranny would be proportional representation - because this would make sure that no party has unchecked power.

Anonymous said...

i would just *love* for an abortion/contraception debate to be happening in Canada just like in the USA. maybe more people will pay attention instead of beating off to the kardashians every night. and maybe young men and esp young women will wake up to how this government can ruin their lives.

thwap said...

I wasn't sure where you were going with that, but the last line was brilliant.

Living under a dictatorship is like living under a democracy.

Maybe a democracy that you don't give a shit about. A democracy that you can't be bothered to inform yourself about. A democracy that you can't be bothered to even try to defend.

Human rights that supposedly apply to all, some people imagine can be ignored in the case of an arbitrary few.

Then one day, you wake up and it's all over.

I knew a guy who had been a journalist in El Salvador. Him, his wife and brother-in-law all worked at the same textile mill as I did. His brother-in-law (about 20) wore a baseball cap with the initials FMLN. At the time I was only vaguely familiar with stuff I asked what it was about. The former journalist called the FMLN a bunch of trouble-makers.

Even in murderous dictatorships, the majority of the people just want to keep their heads down and try to "act normal." Except death squads aren't normal.