Shortly before the close of the nineteenth century, Cecil Rhodes was able in four succinct sentences to sum up the imperialist mindset common to many of Great Britain’s industrialists and wealthy, political elites. His belief in the supremacy of the white Anglo Saxon man was not unusual for his time -- after all, Great Britain had by this time become the great world imperial power, and with Rhodes’ vision of a British-controlled southern Africa, British preeminence would continue for about another forty years.
Never one to be accused of magnanimity, Rhodes’ breathless evocation of all that could not ultimately be his is truly staggering:
'The world is nearly all parceled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered, and colonized. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.'
Of course, the great Empire would crumble into oblivion for our British friends not long after the Great War’s end; but in the meantime the imperial baton had been passed along to Britain’s friends in America, and the US would soon take up the mission to subdue the less civilized (albeit it superbly blessed with natural resources) parts of the globe and soften them up for a new century of exploitation.
The war-mongering and exploitation continue, uninterrupted globally, to this day. Has there ever been a season in recent memory that did not bring with it the news of bodies broken abroad, innocent civilians brought to ruin and destruction and obscenely-christened with that ugly euphemism, “collateral damage?” And has there ever been a season when lies didn’t trump truth in defense of the vilest of war atrocities?
I’m ruminating on war again. (When didn’t I? It’s been that kind of life, I suppose). This time the ruminating comes on the heels of the first hundred years since the commencement of the Great War, a conflict that forever changed Europe and the rest of the world.
As I travel through this beautiful province again this summer, I cannot help but feel saddened as I cast eyes upon the many war memorials that stare down at the road-weary traveller. Beneath these monuments to past sacrifices one often sees the many names of the fallen from those tiny hamlets and villages that people the southern Interior highways and byways of this province. There’s dozens and hundreds of them, long-forgotten markers from another century’s battles. In all, nearly 67,000 Canadians died in the Great War alone. It’s hard to believe.
Which is why it is equally disheartening to think that so many did not need to die at all if they had simply not obeyed the call to arms at that time. We hear the old cliche constantly, that Truth is the first casualty in times of war. And it’s true. It’s counter-intuitive that we don’t seem to remember this truism every time a new war-monger tries to persuade young men and women to take up arms against yet another demonized enemy.
Karl Kraus, our favorite Austrian observer of those times in the early twentieth century hit the nail on the head when he opined: “How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print.”
How awfully true this is. And fast-forward to the current times we know that nothing has changed since the public-relations industry suited up and waged its own war against the truth in favour of unfettered capitalism ploughing under the untamed corners of the planet. It has worked in virtually every single war that you can point to since the dawn of the twentieth century.
So I have a suggestion for you, if you’re as sick as I am of the Culture of Death, don’t go to war if you’re ever tempted to. Resist the call to arms. Ask your political leaders why they think it behooves Canada to support war-mongers; and if they can’t offer you the truth, call them liars and make your voices heard.
We may eventually be hauled off to the Canadian gulag for unpatriotic naysay-ism; but I will bet you, in another hundred years, if there’s any humans left at all, they will be erecting monuments for those of us who were the truly brave and truly free: the pacifists and the conscientious objectors. To echo Joe Strummer, that great punk philosopher from the dying days of the last terrible century, “It’s up to you not to join the Call Up/ You must not act the way you were brought up.” Amen, brother. Amen.
— Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)gmail.com