1. Liberty and Justice, huh! For all?
Veterans in New Brunswick are calling for retailers to not put out Christmas decorations until after Remembrance Day.
Poirier feels it’s wrong that some retailers put out their Christmas decorations and stock before Remembrance Day.
“A lack of respect, that is what I feel it is.”
Out of respect to veterans, he said retailers should hold off on Christmas commercialism to honour those who fought for our freedom.
I agree that retail workers should be spared hearing the same Christmas CD on loop for at least a little longer, but I’m failing to see the connection between Christmas decorations, and disrespect to veterans. I suppose if someone interrupted the moment of silence on November 11th with a giant blow-up Santa while blasting “Jingle Bell Rock” that would be inappropriate, but simply having decorations in stores has no bearing on attitudes towards veterans.
Remembrance Day seems to be becoming less about remembering the horror of war and pledging “never again,” and more of a bludgeon by conservative forces in society to police others and enforce conformity.
The image of the veteran becomes invoked as a symbol of order and is particularly used against social protest or demands for social justice. Colin Kaepernick’s protest against the US national anthem is condemned because it “dishonours veterans” and the military. Occupy Halifax willingly relocated from Parade Square in 2011 because public discourse invoked “respect” for veterans and the ceremonies — then the police promptly arrested protesters and destroyed the camp.
In a bid to respect Remembrance Day ceremonies planned for the Grand Parade — Halifax’s main square and the site of the original Occupy encampment — the protesters had moved their camp to Victoria Park earlier this week.
Minutes after the Remembrance Day events were completed, city officials delivered printed notices to the new tent camp with a clear message: move out.
A bylaw states that no one can camp in a park without the city’s written permission.
The protesters had planned to move back to the Grand Parade on Nov. 12 and remain indefinitely. But Kelly said the campers will not be allowed to erect tents again in Grand Parade.
The timing of the eviction immediately after the services suggests the ways that “respect for veterans” lined up with “tolerance for police violence” and “silencing of public protest against the state.” Increasingly the services become not about remembering war – which has always historically been accompanied by calls to end war – but about glorifying militarism. And the military state is also accompanied by surveillance, by intrusions into privacy, by increased incursions of the state into our lives, which is why Remembrance Day now is also associated with increased policing of people’s behaviour.
After the shooting on Parliament Hill in 2014, armed police were introduced to Remembrance Day ceremonies.
In Halifax, Sydney and Amherst, there are plans to bring in more officers on Nov. 11.
Unlike in past years, Halifax Regional Police officers will be armed at Remembrance Day events.
“That will add to the police presence that will be on the various sites,” said police chief Jean-Michel Blais.
In a statement to CBC, the chief of the Amherst Police Department wrote that community safety is not just about the community being safe, it’s about citizens feeling safe.
“We feel the sight of additional officers at this year’s ceremonies will help to address concerns/anxiety being felt by attendees and participants,” said Ian Naylor.
The collapsing of “military” with “police” should be alarming — while the military (supposedly) uses force against external threats, police are empowered to use force against citizens. When the police become militarized, and treat the public like an enemy threat, we get police shootings, brutality at protests, and erosion of civil liberties.
The arming of police with literal military surplus indicates how the police are now imagined as an army doing battle in the streets. Remembrance Day becomes an opportunity to flex these muscles in the name of “safety,” a perversion of the original intent of the ceremonies to deter us from violence. This is why we get shaming and manipulation around not putting up decorations in private residences or spaces — because what is really at issue is the state’s intrusion into our lives.
Alongside with the literal growth of police involvement and presence at these ceremonies, there is increased policing of how people conduct themselves on Remembrance Day. The poppy is itself accompanied now by militaristically precise rules of how to wear them. Lists of regulations around poppies are now common, including dictates around not using a different pin, wearing it on the correct lapel, and how to correctly dispose of poppies. (And, despite complaints about “commercialism,” we are told it’s not acceptable to save the poppy for another year, and that we should always buy a new one.)
People who don’t wear poppies are regularly shamed by outraged talk show hosts. This level of policing of people’s clothing and bodies is both part of a security state that normalizes surveillance (who is looking that closely to see what kind of pin a poppy has?) and also part of a broader conservative culture that sees bodies as public property. It’s now acceptable to harass people over what they choose to wear or not, in the name of “respecting veterans.”
When we normalize intrusion into people’s choices about their bodies and what they wear, it legitimizes attacks on bodily autonomy which are used to deny reproductive rights to women, or to shame victims of sexual assault (“what did she expect wearing that?”).
The same people invested in policing whether people are wearing a poppy correctly are also interested in controlling and surveilling the bodies of Black people, women, refugees, people on welfare, workers, etc. There is a continuum between the policing of poppies and demands for welfare recipients to be drug tested, the surveillance of workers in the workplace, and other erosions of privacy and freedom.
Poppies, once made by disabled veterans in Canada, are now made by a private contractor. Yet another illustration of how the neo-liberal state exploits the image of veterans for profit.
In Britain, this post-9/11 growth in poppy outrage is referred to as “poppy fascism.” Unsurprisingly, Muslims in particular have been subjected to scrutiny and even violence over poppy-wearing. Racial abuse is directed towards people who forget or decline to wear poppies, indicating yet again how the symbols of Remembrance Day are increasingly appropriated and used by those who also oppose immigration, or racial diversity.
No doubt if any Black celebrity is seen without one they will be accused of being a “Black Lives Matter terrorist” and publicly attacked and threatened. Eighty-two per cent of people in Britain supported prosecuting a Muslim man who burned a poppy in protest of the wars in the Middle East.
It’s ironic, of course, that rhetoric around veterans fighting for our freedom is consistently used to repress freedom to protest, resist, or dissent.
And, of course, veterans like Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon are never invoked nor are their anti-war words shared. Sassoon wrote a letter of protest to the war department accusing them of prolonging the war for their own gains. He despised the “hollow patriotism” and propaganda of politicians and people who sat around glorying in war while condemning people to die.
The House is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
And cackle at the Show, while prancing ranks
Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din;
“We’re sure the Kaiser loves the dear old Tanks!”
I’d like to see a Tank come down the stalls,
Lurching to rag-time tunes, or “Home, sweet Home,”
And there’d be no more jokes in Music-halls
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.
Rather than honouring the complexity of the experience of veterans, one monolithic (conservative, white) image is created that stands for “peace, order, and good government” and is used to silence others.
And, also of course, the same people who most vigorously hector others about honouring veterans are the people who cut health care and supports for veterans. Nothing illustrates more starkly how the symbol of the veteran is seen as useful in enforcing compliance with the state which is also intolerant of the mentally ill or those who can’t “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” At the point where veterans require care from the state, they become inconvenient.
The argument about commercialism being “disrespectful” is particularly interesting, as it suggests that war is disconnected from capitalism. Perhaps we forget George W. Bush urging Americans to go shopping after 9/11. Ordinary citizens are shamed about shopping Christmas sale before Remembrance Day, while war profiteers make billions selling arms to the Saudi regime. The Irvings can make billions off the shipbuilding contract, and the entire city of Halifax can be in thrall to “ships start here,” but God forbid someone attend a Christmas sale.
The original Remembrance Day ceremonies prominently featured calls for peace. As the War Museum website notes, “The 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1995 marked a noticeable upsurge of public interest, which has not ebbed in recent years.”
Ceremonies throughout the 1920s, by contrast, were small and informal gatherings to remember the fallen, to mourn, and to speak about the horrors of war. The growth in Remembrance Day in the 1990s coincides with the expansion of colonial interventions into Africa and the Middle East — invoking World War II and the “good” wars serves as a rhetorical cover for the unpopular wars actually being waged now.
The anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s also created calls for global disarmament and and end to war. The current “popularity” of Remembrance Day and the shaming tactics used to force people to comply are hardly about veterans of the World Wars, and much more about support for the current colonial military state.
As Yves Engler writes:
For example, the First World War had no clear and compelling purpose other than rivalry between up-and-coming Germany and the lead imperial powers of the day, Britain and France. In fact, support for the British Empire was Ottawa’s primary motive in joining the war.
As Canada’s Prime Minister Robert Borden saw it, the fight was “to put forth every effort and to make every sacrifice necessary to ensure the integrity and maintain the honour of our empire.”
To honour Canada’s diversity, how about this year we remember some of the victims of that empire?
For Africans, the First World War represented the final chapter in the violent European scramble for their territory. Since the 1880s the European powers had competed to carve up the continent…
…About one million people died as a direct result of the war in East Africa. Fighting raged for four years with many dying from direct violence and others from the widespread disease and misery it caused. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were conscripted by the colonial authorities to fight both in Africa and Europe.
This is the obligatory part where I say my Dad’s father was a veteran of World War II. Actually, members of my Dad’s family, non-conformist Welsh pacifists, were imprisoned during World War I for refusing to fight. When my brother joined the military, my father invoked all his relatives who had their lives ruined because of their pacifist beliefs. My grandfather felt is was imperative to fight Hitler, but couldn’t justify killing. He signed up early for the ambulance crew, and was first in and last out of battles. He was massively traumatized from his experiences in the war — he soothed himself by sewing clothing for hundreds of dolls, and playing the organ. He was a great scholar of classical poetry, but the war interrupted his studies and he never returned. When he died we found a thesis he had completed on his own on “Poetry as Incantation,” hundreds of pages ranging from analysis of Aeschylus in Greek to modern poetry.
My mother’s father was an anti-colonial activist in Trinidad. Family legend has it that when he saw the troops marching for King and Country, he remarked, “You have a king? You have a country?” He was threatened with sedition charges on the eve of World War II for singing the calypso “Class Legislation,” which contained the lyrics:
Class legislation is the order of the land
We are ruled with an iron hand
Class legislation the order of the land
We are ruled by an iron hand
Britain boasts of democracy
Brotherly love and fraternity
But British colonies have been ruled in
Grandaddy, a brilliant chemist denied his degree because he was a Black man, fell back on making fireworks. During the war, I am told, the American military approached him to create some kind of smoke bomb. Grandaddy did, and after the war, when he went to patent his invention, they had stolen it from him. Soon after, he was banned from making explosives for potential “terrorist” activity. My mother remembers the house being raided by police and Grandmummy calmly standing over the stove in her apron while the oven was packed with gunpowder and fireworks.
Two poets, one a Welsh methodist, the other a Trinidadian, both with family histories of political resistance, improbably brought together by the marriage of my mother and father across colonial and racial lines. What room is there for the honouring of these complex histories, for these colonial legacies, for pacifism and the price people paid, for traumatic memories, in the current hectoring of the public around what pin is in their poppy, or when we put out decorations? Which histories are we honouring in ceasing to talk about peace, and in allowing remembrance to be co-opted by support for police brutality, for constant surveillance, imposing upon other people’s bodies and space? My brother served two tours in Afghanistan, and my mother panicked every time the phone rang long distance wondering if he was dead, and none of that is honoured or respected, not to me, by pretending that war can be boiled down to whether we decorate before November 12th.
“It was the first time I ever dealt with a pig while on the job,” says constable.
Y’all need to stop.
“When Halifax Regional Police Const. Cody Schultz heard dispatch say there was a pig on the loose in Dartmouth Tuesday, he and his partner were on it.”
“The pot-bellied pig is Kevin Bacon…”
Police took pictures of Bacon sniffing Schultz’s hand and another of Bacon in the back of the police car. Since the images were released Schultz said the response has been very positive.
“It’s been a lot of laughs. I got quite of few text messages, phone calls, emails because you don’t see that every day, especially in a city you don’t have a pig running around every day.”
Seriously, y’all, you ain’t even right over at CBC.
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStNYC) April 22, 2014
Hmmm, difficult choice. The desire for positive propaganda of police with cute animals vs. the possibility of “I smell bacon” jokes. Hey, remember when Montreal police tried to get it made illegal to call cops pigs?
It’s amazing how the media picked this up and covered a picture of a pig sniffing a cop’s hand in every newspaper, but you can’t get any coverage, say, of the prison strike. Isn’t this like at least the third viral image from the Halifax Regional Police?
I’m just saying, y’all are encouraging some thirsty behaviour. Soon the police won’t be doing anything but driving around looking to stage viral photos, and then God help you if you’re walking a cute puppy by a cruiser or something. And then there’ll be some internal scandal over people doctoring pictures. Ugh.
Anyway, I checked out the responses on Twitter, and Halifax, I’m disappointed in you. There were a couple of strategically deployed pig emojis, one comment about how a Black or brown pig would have been shot, and one “takes one to know one,” but otherwise, people pretty much fell for the whole “Footloose” thing. (Police: “We thought folks might have fun with this one.”)
I wonder what happened with this mystery disappearing picture, which now leads to “this tweet is unavailable.” I like to imagine some disgruntled employee seized control of the account and tweeted a picture of the chief or something.
Of note folks, this pic is not "Kevin Bacon" the potbellied pig we helped return home Mon.The resemblance is uncanny.Sorry for any confusion https://t.co/oCPihU4c53
— Halifax_Police (@HfxRegPolice) November 3, 2016
Jeez, are Black people even allowed to laugh in public between Halloween and Remembrance Day?
3. A Christmas Story
Sobeys’ is remaking some Christmas commercial.
Hey, that Black kid in the back is stealing! It must be cheque day! Look, he’s caught right there on tape shoplifting. I bet he robbed a nearby liquor store too.
Good thing we have this surveillance footage.