Remembrances of things past present an ethical dilemma
Canadian Arab News
November 10, 2008 (Updated)

(THE SCENE: A coffee bar on a university campus. A group of friends from a history class are having lunch and discussing Remembrance Day.)

Reg: “I don’t know about you guys, but I sure could use the extra day's rest on Monday.”

Judith: “Typical. The one day a year when we’re expected to honour our veterans and reflect on their sacrifices and all you want to do is sleep…probably watch football, too.”

Reg: “Why not? I’m beat, and you’re just as tired as I am. Look, it’s not that I don’t respect what they did. I just don’t see why I have to get up early and freeze my tail off at some ceremony.”

Judith: “I bet Stan doesn’t agree. His family has a long military tradition. Isn’t that right?”

Stan: “Yeah. My father was a company commander in the Korean War. My grandfather was an artillery sergeant in World War II and was invalided home after a losing a leg at Anzio. His two brothers both died during the Battle of the Ardennes. My great-grandfather fought in the trenches in World War I. He won the Victoria Cross during the Second Battle of the Somme and the Distinguished Service Cross at Passchendaele. You could say Remembrance Day was a day I wasn’t allowed to forget.” (Reg rolls his eyes and shakes his head)

Judith: “I could but I won’t. Say, do you want to go to the memorial together?”

Stan: (takes a deep breath looks blankly at his cappuccino). “Thanks, but I’m not going.”

Reg: “Great! You can watch the game with me! Bring chips!”

Judith: “What do you mean you’re not going!”

Stan: “I can’t do it any more. I can’t lie to myself.”

Judith: “Lie about what?”

Stan: “About Remembrance Day being meaningful.”

Reg: “Wait a minute! You just rattled off your family’s history of military service. Have you chosen to ‘forget’ them?”

Stan: “Of course, not. That’s why I’m not going. (Reg and Judith stare blankly.) Look, I didn’t wake up this morning and tell myself. ‘Gee, I think I’ll give Remembrance Day a miss this year.’ I’ve been considering it for a couple of years.”

Judith: “What brought about this sudden change?”

Stan: “Actually I haven’t changed—the world has.”

no more poppies
Reg: “Riiiiiight! And this is something you just realized? Time does move forward, you know?”

Stan: “You ever watch those old black-and-white Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episodes? My favourites were the ones that played with time and reality. One day, Mr. So-and-so is enjoying life in some idyllic suburb like everybody else. He has a good white-collar job, a wife, 2.5 kids and a dog. All’s right with his world. He wakes up the following morning to discover that everything looks the same, but the values and moral outlook supporting that reality have reversed polarity.”

Judith:“You mean he goes to bed in a democracy but wakes up in a police state?”

Stan: “Exactly.”

Reg: “Look. You are not Rod Serling and we are not characters in a TV show.”

Judith: “How do you know? You ever see Pleasantville?”

Reg: (to Judith) “Cute.” (to Stan) “Are you having an out-of-mind experience? Maybe you should rest, too.”

Stan: “I’m perfectly sane.”

Reg: “Convince me.”

Judith: “I’d better get refills. This could take a while.” (She heads for the coffee counter.)

Stan: “First of all, Reg, Remembrance Day, like any observance, must maintain its historic relevance to have any value. The message of the initial event must at least appear to be incorporated into society and generally accepted. When I look at the atrocities that the U.S. has committed, and continues to commit, in the Middle East and Afghanistan—with Canada’s support—I see no vestige of my family’s honour and sacrifice.”

Reg: “Stan, whatever you think of Harper, Bush or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the fact remains that your family and thousands of other families fought against the fascists in WWII and we came out ahead thanks to them. The good guys won. Isn’t that worth celebrating!”

Stan: “No, Reg, the good guys didn’t win—not really. That's the point.”

Reg: “We were the bad guys?!”

Stan: “No. I mean that we didn’t actually defeat the enemy; it escaped.”

Reg: “So, Hitler didn’t die in his bunker?! The Allies didn’t win the war?! You have lost your mind.”

(Judith returns with the cappuccini) “What did I miss?”

Reg: “Stan was just telling me how we didn’t win WWII and how Hitler got away.”

Judith: “Stan?!”

Stan: “You know, Reg, you wouldn’t hurt yourself so much if you didn’t jump to so many conclusions. I did not say we let Hitler escape. If you were paying attention, I said it escaped—‘it’ being the enemy. Hitler was not the enemy. (Reg and Judith stop in mid sip of their coffees) He was just a manifestation of it. The enemy was fascism.”

Judith: “You lost me.”

Reg: “Me, too.”

Stan: “The problem for me is that the world wars set in granite our definitions of who was good, who was bad; who was an oppressor, who was a victim; what was lawful behaviour, what was criminal behaviour. For most of the 20th century these definitions appeared defensible, but now they are obviously inverted: The victims of the Nazi holocaust are perpetrating their own holocaust on Palestine; The U.S. republic that led the free world after the war, is now a degenerate gangster state reduced to doing Israel’s wet work; Bush did to Iraq what Hitler did to Poland; and Censorship of Nazi atrocities has been superseded by censorship of zionist atrocities.

“The whole cost of WWII is still being added up since, as I said, fascism was not defeated in 1945. Therefore, Remembrance Day celebrations are at best premature and at worst hypocritical, so I want nothing to do with them.”

(Stan’s last comments managed to reach the ears of their classmate Ezra, who had been in line and has just picked up his coffee.)

Allies Jump the Gun on Victory
premature WWII celebration

Ezra: “Stan, I had no idea you were an anti-Semite.” (At this utterance, other patrons stop talking and turn to watch)

Stan: (to Ezra) “Still trying to make friends and influence people, I see.”

Ezra: ”It is a monstrous lie to equate Jews with Nazis. It’s anti-Semitic and it cheapens the Holocaust.”

Judith: ”The way you go on you’d think that Jews were the only people who suffered under Hitler.”

Stan: (to Ezra) “Believe it or not, I’m glad you stopped by to make yourself obnoxious. You just proved a point I was making. I was just telling Reg and Judith…"

Ezra: “I know what lies you were telling them.”

Stan: “Lies, eh? I guess you didn’t know that Ehud Olmert called the settler terrorist rampages in Acre a pogrom. Did you read that the editor of Ha'aretz newspaper called Israel an apartheid state? No? Well perhaps you heard former education minister and Meretz Party chairwoman Shulamit Aloni refer to Ehud Barak and Gen. Dan Halutz as war criminals. No? Well, I guess they must be anti-Semites.”

(Reg and Judith laugh. Ezra starts to get agitated.)

Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that the absolute image of Jews as victims of state terrorism prevents us from recognizing that Jews can also be perpetrators of state terrorism. Even anti-zionist Jewish activists openly equate the Gaza Strip to the Warsaw ghetto, and liken the State of Israel to Nazi Germany.”

Persistence of Fascism

Ezra: “I think the Dean of Arts would be interested to hear about your anti-Israel revisionism!”

Reg: (to Ezra) “What? I can’t believe it!"

Ezra: “Believe it!”

Reg: “No, I mean I can't believe that a pro-Israel militant like you would resort to whole-cost denial!”

(Stan and Judith break out laughing as do others. Ezra is stunned by Reg’s artful barb and the sympathetic reaction.)

“Hey, Ezra, B’nai Brith called and left a message. Your brown shirts are ready for pick up.”

(The laughter increases and Ezra searches his mind for a witty rejoinder, but it’s a long, long tour of an empty cave. At length, he responds the only way he knows how.) “JEWHATERJEWHATERJEW…” (He stops in mid rant to see that the laughter has suddenly stopped and the café patrons are appalled at his behaviour. He turns sharply to make a quick exit and splashes coffee on his shirt.)

Judith: “Karma!”

(The three watch Ezra storm out.)

Judith: (to Stan) “I see what you mean, and I have to admit I never thought about Remembrance Day like that. Nevertheless, I’m still going to the ceremony. I think it’s important.”

Stan: “Great. I think I’ll just stay home and look over my family’s war medals and letters. I think they would approve.”


UPDATE: On this same topic, see Robert Fisk’s piece: “Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?