Yesterday I published a blog post about my powerful experience at the Canadian War Museum. Several people “liked” the Facebook link, including someone who I know is an active serviceman and another who’s former activist street medic. I was pretty happy to have written something about a powerful personal experience that appealed to people across both ends of the potential debate.
And then I received this comment:
As the daughter, niece and grand-daughter of war veterans, some of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice, I’m outraged that you can even consider your efforts to the peace/antiwar efforts as sacrifice.
You didn’t risk your life, lose loved ones, friends and comrades. You didn’t pull injured fighters out of burning planes. You didn’t talk (air traffic control) hundreds of bomber pilots and their crews through night flights, coming home with damaged planes and injured crew.These shifts sometimes were over 20 hours long. My mother was mentioned in dispatches for her efforts. For years after she suffered from what we now know as PTSD.
My grandfather was bombed at his workplace – the Liverpool docks – unloading supplies to keep Britain in food and material to support the efforts against Hitler.
My father was injured by bomb fragments from an exploding fighter plane, my great-uncle’s ship was torpedoed and sunk in WW!, he survived but suffered from the effects for the rest of his life.
My Uncle Walter’s name is on the wall of the Liverpool City Hall, he and many others paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending the Western world from Hitler, his ship was sunk off Normandy.
Not sure that standing in a cold street, holding a sign, wearing a badge, and being disrespected for your stance measures up. I know you are an honourable man who truly believes in your anti-war, peace efforts. Please stop characterizing your experience as sacrifice.
(I originally responded as a “reply” to her comment, but this morning I’m cut-and-pasting my reply below as a blog post, because I think it stands up on it’s own.)
First off: at no point in my blog entry did I directly compare my efforts in the anti-war and social justice movements to the experience of someone in a war zone. I have a lot of friends who are currently on active service or who have returned from active service — particularly in Afghanistan. I was also part of a men’s talking circle which included several Afghanistan veterans who were coping with some fairly serious PTSD, so I’m going to be forward and say that I do have some small idea of what a combat soldier goes through… and what he faces when he returns home to the ugly joke of a support system that this country claims to offer.
And with that knowledge, do I think that my sacrifices as a social justice activist the same as those of a serving combat soldier? No, absolutely not. It’s like comparing apples to oranges… which is why I didn’t compare my experience with theirs.
But to say that I haven’t made sacrifices? To be “outraged” at the fact that I would be deeply moved to see the War Museum recognizing the sacrifices of activists in promoting peace? I think the kindest reply I can offer to her “outrage” is that she really missed the point.
Remember those people I mentioned in the blog, the ones which regard me as somehow less than Canadian for having the gall to protest? This is exactly what I was talking about. And that’s why I’m so offended at her comment… and by her using veterans in the family as an excuse for her so-called outrage. Too many people in this country buy into the fetishization of the military, a fetishization which is being exploited — and I use that word deliberately — exploited by a cynical and callous government in order to cover up their own disgraceful treatment of serving soldiers and veterans. The commenter said her relatives served their country and their fellow-man, and that is admirable… but a quick look at her linked facebook profile revealed that she hasn’t. Her outrage on their behalf fails to impress me.
How dare she presume to speak for them? She has veterans in the family? Everybody does — that’s one of the things that happens when the entire world goes to war twice in half a century. Soldiers aren’t the only people who make sacrifices…. and how dare she presume, from her obvious ignorance of what an activist actually does, of what I actually went through, that I don’t know the meaning of the word “sacrifice.”
I know what sacrifice is: Sacrifice is putting your personal life on hold to go do what you believe is right; sacrifice is risking your personal safety and freedom in order do take a stand to defend your country; sacrifice is taking wounds in defence of your comrades; sacrifice is facing down people who would love to harm you; sacrifice is putting your body between an injured person and hostile fire; sacrifice is being prepared, should the situation warrant, to lay down your life, your freedom and your sacred honour to defend what you believe is right.
And do you want that direct comparison? Here it is: I’ve done all those things. I’ve put my life on hold to travel to demonstrations and to do the hard, boring and utterly necessary day-to-day work within the community — sometimes for years; I’ve risked arrest and jail time for exercising my democratic right to protest; I’ve been shot with rubber bullets; I have burns on both my hands from a tear-gas canister; I’ve been flash-banged and pepper-sprayed; I’ve been beaten by police; I was hospitalized after a hit-and-run while I was acting as a street medic in 2003; and as a medic I’ve covered the bodies of injured protesters with my own while the police fired baton rounds and teargas indiscriminately into the crowd.
And before anyone jumps on me and claims that I’m some kind of terrorist, let me say I did it all with an unwavering commitment to nonviolence. Just writing that feels like unseemly boasting, but it needs to be clear… and I think it’s something I have a right to be proud of: that in seven years of sweating-hard effort and struggle, of stress and trauma and in the face of brutality and violence I never once raised my hand against another person in anger.
Did I have a reasonable expectation of that I would get home safely at the end of the day? Yes, absolutely. I had that luxury. I knew it was highly unlikely that deadly force would be used against protesters in Canada… but then, at the back of your mind, there’s always the knowledge that the protesters at Kent State in 1970 probably thought the same. In truth, however, what I feared most wasn’t death, it was either serious personal injury (and that happened) or imprisonment… or at least the thinly-veiled house-arrest of punitive bail conditions on charges which conveniently get dropped just before trial, which thankfully I was spared.
A soldier joins the military knowing that he may die: Whether through an accident in peacetime or being killed by enemy fire in war, it is something they have to face. It is an act of courage that I have nothing but admiration for… which is why it infuriates me when the Canadian government treats its soldiers the way they do, throwing away their lives without debate, providing them with poor or faulty (or nonexistent) equipment, or worst of all sending them home without support or assistance to deal with the scars on their minds and bodies. And it infuriates me when people wave their little flags and put those stupid made-in-China yellow ribbon-stickers on their cars and yes, wear their little poppies… and then don’t bother to do a damn thing to actually support serving soldiers and veterans. The vapid mouthing of the phrase “Support Our Troops” is as offensive to me as the phrase “My Country Right Or Wrong”; both have been used to whitewash a multitude of sins.
A solider sacrifices — and I’m grateful that they do, as should we all be — but they don’t do it because they’re soldiers: They do it because they’re people who’ve made a choice to stand up for their country because they believe it is their duty.
That’s what I respected about the War Museum — they focussed on the individual Canadians who made that choice, rather than the politicians or the generals or the government of the day. And that’s why the exhibit Peace hit me so hard: because they acknowledged that serving as a soldier isn’t the only way to serve your country. And that making that choice to serve — one choice or the other — doesn’t invalidate either of them.
You don’t have to agree with what I did as an activist. You don’t even have to like it. But to insist that activists don’t make sacrifices simply because we don’t wear a uniform is downright insulting… and it was an insult made all the crueler because it came on the heels of the tiniest glimmer of hope that our sacrifices — my sacrifices — might have possibly have earned the respect of our fellow Canadians.