Friday, November 11, 2022

What Do We Mean When We Say We Remember?


"These comments are sure to be welcomed by fifty or sixty people; a large number given the times in which we live and the gravity of the matters under discussion." [Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988)]

On October 24, 2022, Melanie Joly, Liberal Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote that “we mark the 77th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, the document that created the UN.” The same day Canadian Ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae tweeted out "Happy UN Charter day. Worth fighting for!" [exclamation point!] Comrades, have you ever heard anything so nakedly cynical in your entire lives?

What are the very first words of the Preamble to the UN Charter? Does anyone know? Everyone should. These words should be branded on the hearts and minds of everyone who loves peace. It reads: "We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind."

In his statement on so-called ‘Veterans Week,’ this past week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote, quote: "In times of war, in military conflicts, and in times of peace, we’ve counted on our women and men in uniform." Hashtag 'Canada Remembers.' What does this even mean? ‘Counted on them’ to what end?

What is it which Canada Remembers? Does Canada remember that the two world wars directly consumed one hundred and forty-five millions souls, and tens of millions more who died from the destabilization, displacements, degradations of conditions of life and rampant illnesses which the world wars gave rise to? What is being remembered when we remember on remembrance day? Is it blonde haired blue-eyed hometown boys dying in the trenches for freedom and democracy? Is it Paul Gross in Passchendale (2008) in a pornographic aestheticization of Sir Douglas Haig shoving 150,000 men into a mud coated meat-grinder? Why were the wars?

This past week Kentuky Fried Chicken apologized because its German chains had somehow sent out an app alert which read - and I quote - "It's memorial day for Kristallnacht! Treat yourself with more tender cheese on your crispy chicken. Now at KFCheese!" Incredible. Incredible! Akin to Robert Musil’s ‘A Racehorse of Genius.’ A phrase which immediately decontextualizes its referents beyond all recognition. It’s the anniversary of Kristallnacht, be sure to remember with fried chicken.

This is how ‘remembrance’ occurs for us today. As a totally recuperated pastiche, with the most heinous crime known to man, the foundation stone of the Holocaust, being casually juxtaposed into an advertizement for fried chicken. There is infinitely more truth in this than falsity. The truth is in the desensitization and decontextualization of the Holocaust which it is exemplary of. This ad is representative of the anaesthetic quality of the spectacle, how it inures and makes one numb to the horrors of the twentieth century by evacuating them of any meaning.

I remember that this past month, 52 nations – most pale as ghosts, or otherwise honorary whites – voted AGAINST a UN resolution to condemn the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other forms of racial discrimination. More open ambivalence towards the glorification of historical fascism than at any point save for the 1930s. In. . . uh. . . I guess, solidarity with Ukraine?

What do we mean when we say we remember?

I remember that settler-colonialism inflicted tens of millions of deaths on the pre-Columbian indigenous populations of what are called North and South America. I remember that this was, and remains, the most heinous genocide known to human civilization, and that the Holocaust is merely a rationalized form of colonial depopulation, imbued with twentieth century technology. I remember that our state, Canada, continues its genocide against indigenous peoples to this day, and that this is reflected in indigenous populations’ overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, in poverty and desperation of First Nations communities, and the development of the Residential School System into the Ministry of child and family services.

I remember that Britain was an enthusiastic participant in the slave trade until 1807, and only abolished slavery throughout the Empire in 1833. Between 1640 and 1807 more than three million Africans were trafficked to the colonies under the aegis and flag of the British Empire. The funds generated by this trade were used to found the Bank of England.

I remember that in the 1870s British rule starved five million people in India to death as its bountiful grain was was plundered and exported for profit. I remember that it was the British who first rationalized the use of concentration camps in the Boer War. I remember that tens of millions of Africans were exterminated by various colonial powers in the so-called ‘scramble for Africa’ between 1890 and 1914.

I remember that while Hitler exterminated six million Jews, three million Poles, and three million captured Soviet citizens, Winston Churchill concertedly starved four million Bengalis in 1943. I remember that he said of the famines, occurring under intense grain import sanctions imposed by Britain, that the famines were the Bengalis own fault for breeding too much.

What are the wars? What do we mean when we say we remember the wars?

In the meeting of the Reichstag of December 2, 1914, Karl Leibknecht was the only member to vote against the provision of war credits. It is often misunderstood to be the case that Liebknecht spoke at this meeting, he didn't. He was forbidden to do so by the President of the Reichstag. Instead, the text of his reasons for voting against the provision of war credits was circulated to the German Press, all of whom declined to print it. We receive Liebknect's remarks, historically, from their printing in foreign presses.

Liebknecht wrote that "this War, desired by none of the people concerned, has not broken out in behalf of the welfare of the German people or any other. It is an Imperialist War, a war over important territories of exploitation for capitalists and financiers."

Liebknecht wrote of the social chauvninists of the day, who rationalized their calls for belligerence under the banner 'Against Czarism!,' that such slogans had been quote "invented for the occasion. . . to exploit the noblest inclinations and the revolutionary traditions and ideals of the people in stirring up hatred of other peoples."

The same is true of Social Democrats and the American Empire today. Those who marshal together lofty phrases and high-minded ideals in the service of the model of reaction, the United States.

I remember that the United States stands before us today dripping from head to foot in the blood of over a million Iraqis, and several decade or longer occupations, just in the past twenty years. I remember that the United States lied us into these wars by claiming that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which never materialized.

I remember that it was the US who gave rise to Al Qaeda, the force that perpetrated 9/11, by arming, training and facilitating extremist groups as a cudgel against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and that the response to even the slightest blowback from doing this – a tiny sampling of what the US habitually inflicts on other countries, over decades and decades – was unimaginable carnage. In the first month of the Iraq War the US directly killed 15 thousand Iraqi civilians.

I remember that it was the United States which engineered and inaugurated the now eight year long civil war in the Donbas. I remember that the US doesn’t care about the societal catastrophe they inflict, so long as it secures more territory for accumulation.

I remember the regime in Kiev openly celebrating perpetrators of the Holocaust in the street for the past eight years. I remember that the figures lauded as the ‘Heroes of Ukraine’ in ‘Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes’ killed - by the conservative figures of Raul Hilberg, in the volumes of The Destruction of the European Jews - between 700,000 and 900,000 Jews, Poles, and other ethnic minorities over the course of the Second World War.

I remember the mad chocolate baron, Poroshenko, speaking of the Donbas, saying “We will have jobs, they will not. We will have pensions, they will not. We will have support of children and pensioners, they will not. Our children will go to kindergartens and schools, theirs will be sitting in cellars." I remember their failure, or refusal, to implement the peace agreements which they agreed to.

I remember that the international working class has no stake in this present war. I remember that this war, like the First World War, is an imperialist war, a war fought by monopolist blocs for territories of extraction. I remember that the pious banners flown in support of the present war are as cynical as they were at the outset of the twentieth century!

There is no profit to the international working class in the prolongation or exacerbation of this war, in subsidizing and escalating a war of aggression to conquer and subdue the eastern regions! The watchword of the international proletariat must be peace! Peace now! Peace without pre-conditions, peace without the prosecution of further war as some kind of prerequisite!

One year after the outbreak of hostilities in the First World War, Leibkneckt wrote that "The masses in the warring countries have begun to free themselves from the official webs of lies. . ." and that "The mad delusions about the ‘holy aims’ of the war have given way more and more, the enthusiasm for the war has dwindled, the will for a rapid peace has grown powerfully all over. . . The enemies of the people are counting on the forgetfulness of the masses – we counter this with the solution: Learn everything, don’t forget anything!"

If it is to pierce through the spectacle which surrounds us and numbs us, anesthetizes us to the reality of history, this is what I believe remembering has to mean: Learn everything, don’t forget anything!

No comments:

Post a Comment