I remember my short stint as a Legion bartender in the early 1970s. I was young, a post-war kid, a member of a privileged generation that never had to face an opponent in a deadly battle. (The veterans I know today are older or younger than me.)
In those days, many soldiers suffering from the experiences and memories of their war visited the Legion to sip on beers, dance, play games, and tell stories. On occasion, belly to the bar, a vet would feel the need to share. They would recount their horrors, reaching back to the slaughters of the Great War, through the butcheries of the 40s, and on to the regional decimations of the 50s and 60s. For them, as I saw it, the Legion was a safe place to talk.
The veterans I encountered trumpeted two messages. The first was the familiar message of “Lest We Forget.” We see these words emblazoned on almost all the artifacts of their experiences. They call on us to recount the veterans’ stories. It is good that we do this, though not for military recruitment. Instead, we appreciate their sacrifices and learn. Our veterans are our teachers leaving us with a task.
“Never again,” the veterans said. That was the task and the second message. It underscored the purpose of their original sacrifices and left the future generations (my generation) to work for peace. Sadly, I don’t hear those two words often, and a casual glimpse at our media tells me they are less recognizable in our behaviours today.
I think about and treasure these veteran men and women for what they went through. I wonder what they would make of notions like peace and freedom in the Putin-Trump Age. How would they feel about the full and self-service totalitarianisms humanity currently endure? How would they respond to our time’s intolerances, vulgarities and cruelties?
And so let us embrace their second message and put it at the top of our cultural lists. We need to eliminate violence as a principal problem-solving strategy. We need to build peace for the recovery of humanity and the planet and, yes, to respect the wishes of these soldiers.
And to the honoured and deceased veterans I knew back then, I echo your second message in the following song:
The more I watch the behaviours of the great superpowers, the more I see them articulating some form of totalitarianism. I break these down into two basic forms.
Full-service totalitarian regimes terrorize and inflict control over populations through centralized governments and an imposing military presence. The state is the economy. Dissent is met by arrest, imprisonment or execution at the direction of the centralized powers.
Self-service totalitarian regimes terrorize and control populations through chaos, misinformation (allowing) and neglect (poor education and medical care) enabled by decentralized governments and a minimal military presence. The economy is the state. Dissent is often irrational and frequently subject to bronze and iron-age belief systems. Gun violence is the trademark impulse of an unregulated and unrestrained population.
Both forms of government assert that they are free, but by most accepted economic or happiness measurements, they are far from it. They can be dangerous places to live.