The Importance of Remembering

A Commentary on the victims of war.

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Once again, the November 11th Remembrance Day is upon us. It is the day of the year that marks the anniversary of the official ending of World War I. In Canada Remembrance Day is a national holiday and all Commonwealth Nations observe this day as a day to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. For those that don’t know, the Commonwealth is an organization of 53 member states that were mostly territories of the former British Empire, which includes the United Kingdom. The United States has a day of remembrance called Veterans Day, which is an official federal holiday that is observed annually on November 11. Its purpose is to honor people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, that is, veterans.

Allied military cemetery in Normandy, France

Since visiting Vimy Ridge and the Normandy Beaches in France two years ago, my wife and I have a stronger appreciation for all soldiers and the sacrifice they made to maintain freedoms. Visiting both WWI and WWII military commentaries was truly a humbling experience. What struck us both was the age of many of the soldiers, some as young as 17 years old. We now attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies with much more gratitude and appreciation for all soldiers.

Remembrance Day is an important day and it is imperative that we remember the soldiers who have lost their lives or put their lives on the line to protect the rights of its citizens. But what about the countless civilians that lost their lives during times of war or worse, through genocide. Article II of United Nation’s 1948 Genocide Convention describes genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Countless numbers of people have lost their lives as a result of genocide or because of bombing runs or merciless killing because they were considered enemies. Shouldn’t they be remembered too?

I would like to believe that one of the reasons the world went to war in 1939 (WWII) was because the Nazis were exterminating not only the Jews from continental Europe, but millions of others it deemed “undesirable.” By the end of the war in 1945, some eleven million people—over half of them Jews—had died, either through mass extermination, deportation, starvation or overwork in his prison camps. However, much of the world ignored or denied that the Nazis were doing this.  There is little doubt in my mind that it was a genocide that occurred.

Also during WWII, the Rape of Nanking took place. We seldom hear about this event as most schools in the West focus on the fascist Nazis. The Rape of Nanking began on December of 1937 when the Japanese Imperial Army marched into China’s capital city of Nanking and proceeded to murder 300,000 out of the 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city. The shocking violence consisting of citywide burnings, stabbings, drownings, rapes, and thefts which continued for about six weeks. The Japanese troops are most notorious for raping over 20,000 women, most of whom were murdered thereafter so they could never bear witness. Clearly this was a genocide.

Then there was Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1929 to 1953. Stalin ruled by terror, and millions of his own citizens died during his brutal reign. It has been estimated that between 1934 and 1939, one million party members were arrested and executed. During the same period, it is thought that 10 million were sent to the gulags (system of forced-labor camps in the Soviet Union) with many of them dying either in transit or as a result of the terrible living conditions they had to endure.  This certainly was a genocide.

Bones of victims at a memorial to the Rwandan genocide By DFID.

Many of us older people remember the Rwandan Genocide which began on April 6, 1994. This was when groups of ethnic Hutus, using mainly machetes, began a campaign of terror and bloodshed the Central African country of Rwanda. For about 100 days, the Hutu militias followed a premeditated attempt to exterminate the country’s ethnic Tutsi population. The killings ended after armed Tutsi rebels, invading from neighboring countries, managed to defeat the Hutus and halt the genocide in July 1994. By then, over one-tenth of the population, an estimated 800,000 persons, had been killed. At least the history books label this event as a genocide.

There are many, many other genocides that have occurred in history. Those listed above are but a sampling. Shouldn’t the innocent victims of genocide as well as civilian casualties— referred to as “collateral damage” by the military, be remembered? Many of these victims were children.  Now I’m not suggesting this be done on Remembrance Day, but perhaps there could be another day set aside as a holiday to remember civilian victims of war and of genocide. Perhaps this day could be called Victims of War Day or Victims of Genocide Day. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Diane Samuels, a British author and playwright, said, “How can I pretend that nothing happened?”  Sometimes I feel like that is what is happening. We pretend that these genocides or civilian deaths did not happen because we focus solely on our soldiers.

But perhaps Aldous Huxley, an English writer, novelist, philosopher, said it best when he said,

“The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings, and that these individual beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own.”

We need to pay more homage and respect for those who innocently have lost their lives in conflicts that were not of their own making. They deserve that respect and honour.

Artists May Have the Answer

A commentary on the wisdom of war.

I came across a rather unsettling headline on the CBC News website: North Korea warns of nuclear war at ‘any moment’. There really hasn’t been much concern about nuclear weapons since the former Soviet Union fell. Whenever the topic of the United States comes up, I hear concern in people’s voices over what is transpiring with the North Koran leader, Kim Jong Un and the current resident of the White House. There has been a war of words between the two of them, each calling one other names. Trump called the North Korean leader ‘Rocket Man’ and Kim Jong Un responded saying Trump was “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard”.  In other words, Jong Un is insinuating that Trump’s mental faculties are declining. One has to wonder if there is some truth in that.

Seriously, these two world leaders are acting just like children act in the school yard. As a retired teacher, I have personally witnessed much bullying on the school playground. Donald Trump has made threats such as; “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”. (see NYT) and Jong Un has uttered such things as; “If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The United States must choose! It’s up to you whether the nation called the United States exists on this planet or not.” (see NYT). Watching these two world leaders act like school yard bullies is really reminiscent of the numerous supervision shifts I did as a teacher. You expect children to act this way but it is just sad when grown-ups behave this way especially if they are leaders of a country.

My wife and I attended a Chris De Burgh concert earlier this week. We haven’t been to a concert of his since the late 80s. My wife is an avid fan of Chris De Burgh and was long before I met her, and that was how I got to know his music. It was a fabulous concert and he can still put on a great show even though he just started touring after 30 years in the past few years. I was reminded of why I used to go to his concerts and listen to his records. The messages of his songs are so powerful and usually touch people at the soul level.

Why am I bringing up a Chris De Burgh concert? Well, it struck me, listening to Chris De Burgh sing his songs that his messages could teach these leaders a thing or two. Perhaps instead of looking to our politicians to solve conflicts, we should be looking to our artists. One of the songs that De Burgh sang at his concert was one he dedicated to the Canadian soldiers who liberated Vimy Ridge during WWI from the Axis powers, not without a high cost of lives. The song was Borderline. If you’ve never heard it, hear it is.

The song is about a soldier leaving to go to the front in WWI but the soldier is torn because he didn’t want to leave the love of his life, hence the lyrics; I hear my country call me, but I want to be with you. But the most powerful message of the song is the soldier questioning what he is about to partake in when he says; How men can see the wisdom in a war… Is there wisdom in a war? I can’t think of any. It was U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “War is young men dying and old men talking.”  That is so true! The reality is a leader can only take his or her country to war if the people that they oversee agree with them and follow. It was Adolf Hitler who said, “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”  The only wisdom related to war that I know of was by Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher and writer of the Renaissance period. In one of his writings, The Prince, he says “Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.” Perhaps it was said better in the movie, Pearl Harbor (2001), by Admiral Yamamoto (Mako) who said, “A brilliant man will find a way not to fight a war.”

Chris De Burgh has another song, one of my favorites, which unfortunately he didn’t sing. The song is called, Up Here in Heaven and it too has a very powerful message. In case you’ve haven’t heard it, here it is.

The song talks about visiting a military cemetery. Two years ago, my wife and I visited several military cemeteries while visiting the Normandy beaches and Vimy Ridge in France.  It was probably one of the most humbling and emotional experiences of our trip. The lyrics of Chris De Burgh’s song say:

What of the children caught in the war,
How can we tell them what it’s for,
When they cry, when they cry are voices heard anymore?

Are you listening, are you listening men of the war?
There is nothing, there is nothing worth dying for;

Up here in heaven, we stand together,
Both the enemy and the friend, ’till the end of time,
Up here in heaven, we are forever,
There is only one God up here, for all of the world.

Allied WWII military cemetery visited in Normandy, France.

His second song touches on the same theme. As the lyrics say; What of the children caught in the war, how can we tell them what it’s for. When they cry, when they cry are voices heard anymore? The characters in the song are questioning if war is justifiable, especially when it comes to the young men and women who are expected to fight it. It certainly isn’t the politicians who are battling it out. But the most powerful part of the song are the lyrics: Up here in heaven, we stand together, Both the enemy and the friend, ’till the end of time. Up here in heaven, we are forever, there is only one God up here, for all of the world. I believe when our souls arrive on the other side, heaven if you will, we will discover a God that sees no differences; that loves everyone equally. There are no enemies. Even though in our societies, God is referred to as Yahweh by the Jews, God by the Christians and Allah by the Muslims, as the lyrics say, there is only one God.

For me anyway, there is so much truth in these two songs. When the soldier in the song Borderline wonders; How men can see the wisdom in a war, the truth is, there is no wisdom in a war.  War is merely a school yard fight carried out in a big way. This is the message that needs to be sent to the bully politicians of the world. There is no wisdom in war! There is simply no way to justify war to those who are expected to fight it which is usually our young people. You might ask: What do we do when a bully leader threatens a sovereign state?  It was World War 1 veteran, the late Harry Patch, who once said:

“If I had my way I would lock all leaders in a room, and let them fight it out. Then there’d be no need, for lads like me, to go to war. Why should the government send me to a battlefield, to fight a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives, lost in a war, finished over a table. Now where’s the sense in all that? Give you leaders give them each a gun, and let them fight it out themselves”.

That is what needs to be done. Place the North Koran leader and the current resident of the White house into a room and let them ‘duke it out’. No more young soldiers need to die, or in the case of a nuclear holocaust, people of all ages all because two world leaders are behaving like school yard bullies.

Do We Really Want to Erase History?

A commentary on how to handle controversial historical figures.

It seems there is a call for us North Americans to take another look at our history. That is a good thing. As a retired Social Studies and history teacher, I emphasized to my students that history is NOT fact since it is past events that have been interpreted by historians. In other words, historians analyze past events whereby they use diaries, archeological artifacts, and so on, to determine what happened. This is not without their biases and beliefs, or as Napoléon Bonaparte once allegedly said, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” History is a historian’s interpretation of the past.

In  the United States many people are calling for long-standing monuments that honour confederate generals to be removed. A similar debate is also developing in Canada involving the country’s first prime minister (PM), Sir. John A MacDonald. Canada’s first PM was one of our more colourful politicians as he was a notorious drinker. It is well documented that MacDonald was a regular binge drinker.

I first heard of the controversial issue of removing statues of U.S. Confederate generals in April of this year when I watched a news report of New Orleans removing a monument during the dark. Numerous statues in various U.S. cities have been removed since. So why are they being removed?

General Robert E. Lee located in Charlottesville, Virginia

The Currents, CBC Radio program, addressed the issue of U.S. Confederate statues represent ‘image of America as a white society’. The article quotes Eric Foner, the author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. Foner argues what many Confederate statues actually represent is “this image of America as a white society. That’s why people object to them, not because of a lack of interest in heritage or legacy.” Foner says, He goes on to say, “These statues actually don’t have a lot to do with the Civil War …They were put up mostly to be part of the legitimacy of white supremacy, of the Jim Crow system in the South, long after slavery.” The Jim Crow system was a system of racial segregation in the southern U.S. Foner explains that many of the statues were erected in the 1890s when the rights of black people were severely reduced.

What is the debate in Canada about?  For those who don’t know Canadian history, Sir John A. Macdonald was one of the founders of the Dominion of Canada and during his terms as prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891) he had a transcontinental railway built. The controversy regarding him comes from the fact that during that time, the federal government approved the first residential schools in Canada.

Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first PM

The Global News’ article, The controversy over Sir John A. Macdonald, explains that the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO), one of the teacher’s unions, is lobbying to remove MacDonald’s name from schools across the province. The union claims using Macdonald’s name creates an unsafe environment for kids to learn and work in because of what it calls Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.”

James Daschuk, an assistant professor of history at the University of Regina and author of Clearing the Plains says. “It wasn’t just with Indigenous people. In 1885, Macdonald told the House of Commons that Canada should take away the vote from people of Chinese origin on the grounds that they were a different race than Europeans.”

It isn’t just about Sir. John A MacDonald. In July, CBC reported in its article, Statue of Edward Cornwallis, that the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia will make a decision on the fate of the city’s controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis, a military officer who founded Halifax for the British in 1749. It was Cornwallis that issued the so-called scalping proclamation, offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaq person.

So where do we draw the line? Do we stop at prime ministers? Fathers of Confederation? The Ottawa Citizen’s article, Where will it stop? refers to Michel Prévost, president of la Société d’histoire de l’Outaouais and a University of Ottawa archivist.  He says some people have lobbied for the removal of Mackenzie King’s statue from Parliament Hill for Canada’s decision in June 1939 to deny entry to more than 900 Jewish refugees who had fled Germany. Already barred from docking in Cuba and the United States, their ship, the MS St. Louis, returned to Europe, where more than 250 of them subsequently died in the Holocaust.

Prévost also explains that a Father of Confederation, Hector-Louis Langevin, would have his name stripped from the Wellington Avenue building that both bears his name and houses the prime minister’s office. Langevin was one of the original designers of the residential school system.

Preston Manning, one of our conservative Canadian politician on CBC Radio’s, The Sunday Edition said,

“I think there are unsavory aspects to populism. And I think one need to deplore those, but I think one needs to focus more on the root causes of that alienation, rather that fixating on just the negative eccentricities of it.”

Most often I disagree with Manning’s views, but I agree with this one. We are fixating on the negative. It is shameful to remove those names and statues of important figures in Canadian and American history. This is not the answer. Having said that, it is important to recognize the atrocities that these people have done. We mustn’t forget that Sir John A MacDonald was the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.” or wanted to take away the vote from Chinese people. Or, that Confederate statues represent an image of America as strictly a white society. As a retired teacher, the teacher in me says these could be some teachable moments. Instead of removing the names of these historical figures from buildings and streets, or taking down statues; instead we should be using them to educate people about both their achievements and the horrific things those historical figures did.

Debate about our histories is healthy! We should re-evaluate our history. Some historians agree with me. Don Doyle, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, (see Historians Warn) says.

“I find it very exciting and refreshing that Americans are revisiting their history and questioning just why we honor some people, some events, and not others. It is a healthy reminder that history, as the search for understanding of the past, must always challenge public history as monuments and hero worship in the public sphere.”

Perhaps people are over reacting. Instead of removing all of these controversial statues of historical figures, erasing history so to speak, let’s relocate them to museums where people can be educated on both the positive and negative aspects our history. Good or bad, these people are still a part of our histories. Perhaps a plaque could be associated with each historical figure explaining the good achieved by the figure, as well as explaining the atrocities they are associated with that historical character. These people were only following the belief system of their time period. They didn’t know any different. When I taught history, I emphasized the importance of practicing historical empathy.  Historical empathy is the understanding of why people in history did what they did, as opposed to simply knowing what they did.  Instead of attempting to erase the dark periods of our histories, we need to practice historical empathy and acknowledge them. We should attempt to understand why these horrific things happened in our past so that they might not happen again. Maybe then healing can occur.

What is up with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples?

A commentary on the Plight of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples

Recently, while my wife and I were travelling in the province of Newfoundland, we met a newlywed American couple from Atlanta, Georgia.  They were a delightful couple who we started chatting with while touring an archeological dig in Ferryland where one of the best preserved English colonial sites in North America is located. The colony was established in 1621 by Sir George Calvert and was known as the Colony of Avalon. What surprised me was the groom randomly asked us if Canadians treated their Indigenous Peoples as badly as they did.

Now this really struck me because all over Newfoundland, we were learning about the Beothuk. I used to teach about the Beothuk when I taught Social Studies.  We visited the Port au Choix National Historic Site of Canada where burial sites were uncovered in the 1960s & 70s. The archeological digs have provided evidence of its earliest settlers such as the Maritime Archaic Indians and the ancestors of the Beothuk. You’re probably wondering: Who are the Beothuk? Here is a short history of their sad story.

The Beothuk lived throughout the island of Newfoundland, and because of the Europeans’ arrival, the Beothuk were forced away from their coastal homelands and fish camps to inland territories. Possible violent encounters with the Vikings between 800 and 1000 CE likely caused the Beothuk to avoid the European newcomers as much as possible. The establishment of permanent European settlements in the 1700s significantly altered the Beothuk way of life. causing them to become increasingly isolated. With the increasing English settlement, the Beothuk now had to compete with the European fur trappers. The Beothuk were increasingly denied access to bays where they fished. This created tension, and at times, conflict, between the Beothuk and the Europeans. Many of the Beothuk were hunted and slain by the Europeans.

Shawnadithit

Sadly, as a result of European encroachment, slaughter and diseases to which they had no natural resistance, the Beothuk’s numbers diminished rapidly because of European contact. The last known surviving Beothuk, Shawnadithit, died of tuberculosis in St. John’s in June 1829. In essence, the Beothuk are now extinct.

Hearing the sad story of the Beothuk people got me thinking about how the Indigenous people were treated. I started paying attention to the news stories about our First Nations people. There has been a lot about the indigenous people in the Canadian news lately.

The CBC article, Gord Downie takes to Parliament Hill, describes a rare appearance that Gord Downie made on July 1st during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill. Mr. Downie is the lead singer for the Rock Band Tragically Hip and he rarely makes public appearances because he has brain cancer. On Canada Day, he said Canada’s young Indigenous people are still suffering the same kind of pain that aboriginal youth suffered in the residential schools. Downie told the crowd that young Indigenous children in parts of the Canada still must travel great distances to go to school. He said, “It’s time to listen to the stories of the Indigenous [people], to hear stories about now. We are blessed as a young country to be able to look to the wisdom of a really, really old country.”

In another CBC news article called, Cornwallis statue removal, is a story on the controversial statue erected in the 1930s of Edward Cornwallis, founder of the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia. The statue first became controversial in 1993, when Mi’kmaq writer Daniel Paul released the book We Were Not the Savages. Mr. Paul describes the treatment of the Mi’kmaq people by Cornwallis and the early British settlers whereby the British took land from the Mi’kmaq people, attacked their communities with the aim to drive them out of Nova Scotia, and in 1749 Governor Edward Cornwallis offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaq person.

Municipal crews draped a black cloth over the statue of Cornwallis on July 15th when protesters gathered with a plan to remove the statue. The protesters were told that the city would shroud the monument as a sign of good faith. (see Offensive and disgraceful). Indigenous protestors said they will continue negotiating with the city to peacefully remove the statue. Patrick LeBlanc, one of the protesters, said the statue is a painful reminder of the oppression of First Nations people in Canada. LeBlanc said, “This gentleman [Cornwallis] here represented a genocide for our people and to see it every day, it just brings back memories and it also brings back pain.”

In still another CBC news story, Indigenous leaders boycott, it is explained that leaders from the three national Indigenous organizations refused to attend the meeting of Canada’s premiers in Edmonton, Alberta, saying the format does not adhere to the spirit of reconciliation. Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Métis National Council President Clément Chartier told reporters in Toronto, Ontario that the current format subjugates Indigenous issues, because they cannot participate in meetings as full members of the Council of the Federation with province-like powers. In other words, these Indigenous leaders feels that they are not being treated as equals.

Canada is currently celebrating 150 years as a nation, as we should. But let’s be clear. What Canada is really celebrating is 150 years since Confederation, when Canada was granted freedom from British Colonial Rule with the passing of the British North America (BNA) Act. I really like Gord Downie’s words, “We are blessed as a young country to be able to look to the wisdom of a really, really old country.” We are a really old country! Canada is much older than 150 years and it is time to fully recognize and honour the first occupants of our country, our Indigenous people.  There is a reason the Indigenous people are referred to as Canada’s First Nation peoples. They were here first.

Shortly after returning to our home province my wife and I attended a Pow Wow at a nearby Cree Nation Reserve. A Pow Wow is a social gathering of different American Indigenous communities where people meet and dance, sing, socialize, and honour their cultures. It often involves dance and drumming competitions. I was amazed by the elaborate, colourful regalia (costumes) and the supple movements of the ceremonial dances. It is truly an amazing culture and I felt privileged to experience some of it.

A CBC article entitled, Archeological find, describes the ancient archeological find of a Heiltsuk settlement on Triquet Island on the coast of British Columbia. The Heiltsuk are an Indigenous people centred on the island communities of Bella Bella and Klemtu. Archaeologists have excavated a settlement in the area and dated it to 14,000 years ago, during the last ice age when glaciers covered much of North America. William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation said, “This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years,” This means the Indigenous people were here at least 14 000 years ago. The English and French didn’t arrive until the 1600s. That is less than 500 years ago.

Our Indigenous people are right to demand to be heard and deserve to be heard. Let’s face it, our European ancestors did not treat the Indigenous people very well, and I have to wonder if we are treating them any better today. If we are, then why are our First Nations people still protesting and demanding equality.

Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in his statement to Canadians on Canada Day said,

“As we mark Canada 150, we also recognize that for many, today is not an occasion for celebration. Indigenous Peoples in this country have faced oppression for centuries. As a society, we must acknowledge and apologize for past wrongs, and chart a path forward for the next 150 years – one in which we continue to build our nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, and government-to-government relationship with the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation. Our efforts toward reconciliation reflect a deep Canadian tradition – the belief that better is always possible…”

I wholeheartedly agree.

Who really discovered the Americas?

Some thoughts about history

I was taught in school that Christopher Columbus was the first person to “discover” America. I never gave that a thought until recent years after learning about the Viking settlement that archeologists discovered in Newfoundland, Canada. My wife and I are presently touring the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; a wonderful province filled with natural beauty, fine sea food, and wonderful, friendly people. We recently visited L’Anse aux Meadows where excavations of a Norse settlement occurred. This got me thinking. Who really discovered the Americas? Was it Columbus? Was it the Norse? Was it the Irish? Was it the Chinese? Or was it someone else? Truth is, no one can really answer that question with certainty. Of course, we must not forget that there were indigenous people here long before North America was “discovered”. Scientists know that First Nations people have lived in North America for at least 12,000 years because they have found bones and artifacts that go back that far.

L’Anse aux Meadows, whom the Norse explorers and traders called Vinland, is really a fascinating place. It is located on the northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in the province of Newfoundland in Canada. ThoughtCo is a website about learning which says in 1961, archaeologists Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine discovered an irrefutably Viking settlement. Eleventh-century Norse artifacts recovered from l’Anse aux Meadows numbered in the hundreds and included a soapstone spindle whorl and a bronze-ringed pin process, as well as other iron, bronze, stone, and bone items. Carbon dating placed the occupation at the site between 990-1030 C.E.

Reconstructed Norse buildings in L’Anse aux Meadows

The site consisted of three building complexes and a bloomer, a building where they made iron products such as nails used to repair their ships, but there were no barns or stables that would be associated with farming. It is inferred that the elites, such as Leif Eriksson, resided in one end of the large hall, ordinary sailors slept in sleeping areas within the halls and servants, likely slaves, resided in the huts. L’Anse aux Meadows housed between 80 to 100 individuals, possibly up to three ship crews.

Leif Eriksson is generally credited as the first European to set foot on the shores of North America, nearly five centuries before Christopher Columbus would arrive in 1492. Most scholars agree that Eriksson was most likely a member of an early Viking voyage to North America, if not, in fact, the leader of that first expedition. Our interpreter told us that it was the Norseman who established the settlement, and not the Vikings as Vikings travelled about raiding and pillaging. Norsemen refers to explorers and traders.

So why were we taught that Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in North America. According to LiveScience, Columbus didn’t even set foot in America since he actually landed in the Bahamas, an island later named Hispaniola.  Today that island is split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On his subsequent voyages, he went farther south, to Central and South America. He never set foot in North America in what is now Canada, the United States and Mexico.

So why does the United States celebrate Columbus day? I was surprised to learn that this is because the 13 colonies (the beginnings of the United States) rebelled against and fought with England. It was John Cabot who “discovered” Newfoundland in England’s name around 1497 and paved the way for England’s colonization of most of North America. This is why the American colonialists turned to Columbus as their hero, not England’s Cabot. This is also why the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C. which stands for District of Columbia and not District of Cabot.

What about China being the first to “discover” the Americas? An amateur historian and author Gavin Menzies in his controversial book “1421: The Year China Discovered the World” (William Morrow, 2002), claimed that a Chinese fleet helmed by Admiral Zheng had sailed to the Americas in 1421 and left behind ample archaeological and genetic evidence of their journey. Menzies’ claims were roundly criticized by respected researchers and historians (see LiveScience).  Now this begs the question: Did the Chinese discover America before the Norse?  Just how credible is this hypothesis?

The article, Did China discover AMERICA? claims researchers have discovered ancient scripts that suggest Chinese explorers may have discovered America long before Europeans arrived there. They have found pictograms etched into the rocks around the United States that appear to belong of an ancient Chinese script. These pictograms could have been inscribed there alongside the carvings of Native Americans by Chinese explorers thousands of years ago. This means ancient Chinese people were possibly exploring and interacting with the Native peoples over 2,500 years ago. John Ruskamp, a retired chemist and amateur epigraph researcher from Illinois, discovered the unusual markings while walking in the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Our interpreter at L’Anse aux Meadows mentioned that St. Brenden, an Irish monk, was another European who potentially “discovered” North America. According to Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador, a case can be made for transatlantic voyages made by medieval Irish monks. During the fifth and sixth centuries CE, Irish monks ventured out into the North Atlantic in pursuit of some kind of divine mission. According to legend, Brendan was in his seventies when he and 17 other monks set out on a westward voyage in a curragh, a wood-framed boat covered in sewn ox-hides. The monks sailed about the North Atlantic for seven years, according to details set down in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis in the tenth century.

But would a trans-Atlantic voyage have even been possible in the sixth century? According to the History Channel’s story, Did an Irish Monk “Discover” America? a modern-day adventurer, Tim Severin, attempted to answer the question. In 1976, based on the description of the curragh in the text, he crafted an identical vessel and began his voyage where St. Brendan had been entranced in prayer prior to his voyage (now named Mount Brandon in the saint’s honour). He followed the prevailing winds across the northernmost part of the Atlantic Ocean, and crossed it using landing points such as the Aran Islands, the Hebrides, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland as stepping stones before arriving in Newfoundland, proving that is was a possibility. As of yet, there is no reliable evidence to indicate that Brendan ever reached Greenland or America.

from monovisions.com

I love learning about history, but keep in mind that history is merely a person or person’s interpretation of the past. Do we really know who was first to “discover” North America? No, we don’t. We can, however, confidently say that the First Nations people have lived in North America for 12,000 years or longer. Perhaps we should be celebrating and emphasizing that fact along with our colonial roots. Canada is 150 years old as a nation this year but she has been a nation for much longer than that because of our indigenous peoples who were our nation long before the Chinese or Irish or Norse ever arrived.

Not Another Terror Attack

A commentary on the latest terror attack in England.

from Huffington Post

Yet again, the world has witnessed a horrific terror attack by a radicalized 22-year-old individual linked to ISIS. On Monday, May 22 where twenty two mostly young people were killed. In fact, 12 children under the age of 16 were injured or killed, one as young as an eight-year-old. At least 59 people were injured by the suicide bomber attack in total.  This terrible event occurred at a concert of singer Ariana Grande in Manchester, England. (see CBC’s Taken too soon).

Reflecting on this latest act of terrorism, I began to wonder: Are we presently living in more turbulent and unstable times compared to other times in history? Is there more terrorism today then before? If you listen to and believe the rhetoric coming from the American president, you would likely answer yes. I did some research to find out.

I focused on the historical time period in which I was alive. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, so I’ll look at each decade starting with the 1960s. Here is but a small sampling of terrorism and turmoil starting with the 1960s.

1960s

  • In Canada, Quebec separatists set off bombs and robbed armories in a bid to establish a separate French-speaking country. The Front de libération du Québec, or FLQ, (in English “Quebec Liberation Front”) was a separatist and Marxist-Leninist paramilitary group in Canada’s province of Quebec. The FLQ promised to destroy “all colonial symbols and institutions, in particular the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the armed forces.
  • On August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected in the dead of night. It was a physical division between West Berlin and East Germany in order to keep East Germans from fleeing to the West.
  • The disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion occurred. This was when a CIA financed and trained group of Cuban refugees to invade Cuba attempting to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro. The attack was an utter failure.
  • The frightening Cuban Missile Crisis befell with the confrontation between the United States and the former Soviet Union over the American deployment of missals in Italy and Turkey causing the Soviets to deploy missiles in Cuba. The confrontation is often considered the closest to a full-scale nuclear war the world has ever come.
  • On November 22, 1963, President, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while he and Mrs. Kennedy were riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
  • On April 4, 1968, American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee while standing on a motel balcony.
  • On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy, presidential candidate and brother of John F Kennedy, was assassinated at a campaign victory celebration in a Los Angeles hotel after primary victories.

Regarding terrorism in 1960s

  • It was in the 1960s when “The Troubles” occurred in Northern Ireland eventually ending with the Good Friday “Belfast” Agreement of 1998.This was a conflict between nationalists (self-identified as Roman Catholic) and unionists (self-identified as British or Protestant). Although the Troubles mainly took place in Northern Ireland, violent acts of terror (bombings, etc.), spilled over into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England and mainland Europe.

1970s

  • In Canada, the FLQ or October Crisis of 1970 happened. Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s federal government reacted toughly to the kidnapping of two high-ranking men and murder of Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. A state of war was declared in Quebec when the War Measures Act was instituted. Hundreds of intellectuals, political activists and trade-union leaders were imprisoned.
  • The Munich massacre takes place at the 1972 Summer Olympics Munich, Germany, where Palestinian Arab terrorists of the Black September terrorist organization kidnap and murdered eleven Israeli athletes.
  • United States President Richard Nixon resigned as President on August 9, 1974, while facing charges for impeachment for the Watergate scandal.

Regarding terrorism in 1970s

  • The use of terrorism by militant organizations across the world such as the Red Army Faction in Germany, Action Directe in France and the Red Brigades in Italy escalated in 1970s.
  • On September 6, 1970, the world witnessed the beginnings of a series of plane hijackings. It started on what is today called Skyjack Sunday. Palestinian terrorists hijacked four airliners and took over 300 people on board as hostage. The hostages were later released, but the planes were blown up.

1980s

  • The 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India took place. This was when Hindu militants rioted against Sikhs in response to the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by a Sikh militant.
  • In 1989, the Tiananmen Square protests occurred in the People’s Republic of China, in which pro-democracy protesters demanded political reform. The protests were crushed by the People’s Liberation Army.
  • Canada saw political unrest in the province of Quebec, due to the differences between the dominant francophone (French) population and the Anglophone (English) minority,  which caused the provincial government to call a public referendum on partial separation from the rest of Canada in 1980. The referendum ended with the “no” side winning majority (59.56% no, 40.44% yes).

Regarding terrorism in 1980s

  • Air India Flight 182 was destroyed on June 23, 1985, by Sikh-Canadian militants. It was the biggest mass murder involving Canadians in Canada’s history.
  • On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the village of Lockerbie, Scotland, while on route from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s JFK. The bombing killed 270 people who were citizens of 21 nationalities. The bombing was and remains the worst terrorist attack in United Kingdom.
  • The Rome and Vienna airport attacks took place on December 27, 1985, against an Israeli airline. The attack was done by militants loyal to a militant Palestinian splinter group backed by the government of Libya.

1990s

  • The shameful Rwandan Genocide occurred between April 6, 1994 until mid-July 1994 involving mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutu political moderates. Over the course of approximately 100 days, at least 500,000 people were killed. It resulted in serious criticism of the United Nations for failing to stop the genocide.
  • Oka Crisis

    In 1990, Canada had the Oka Crisis involving an armed standoff between people of the Mohawk nation (indigenous peoples in Canada), and the Canadian military over a dispute involving land held via treaty to the Mohawk people.

  • The 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty was held in the province of Quebec in Canada. If accepted Quebec would become an independent country with an economic association with Canada. The proposal is narrowly rejected by Quebec’s voters by 50.4% no, and 49.6% yes. 

Regarding terrorism in 1990s

  • The 1993 World Trade Centre bombing occurred when a truck bomb detonated in New York City intending to send the North Tower crashing into the South Tower potentially killing tens of thousands of people. Thankfully, it failed to do so but killed six people and injured over a thousand.
  • In 1995 was the Oklahoma City bombing when a bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma killed 168.
  • After the bombings of United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Al-Qaeda militants, the United States naval forces launch cruise missile attacks against Al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan in 1998.
  • Ironically, on 15 June 1996, the IRA set off a bomb in Manchester, England targeting the city’s infrastructure causing widespread damage in which 212 people were injured.

2000s

  • In 2001, the war on Terror was launched largely against Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas from posing a threat to the U.S. and its allies.
  • 2003–2011 was the Iraq War when the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia and Poland invaded and occupied Iraq.
  • 2001–2014 was the war in Afghanistan when the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Canada and Australia invaded Afghanistan seeking to oust the Taliban and find al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Regarding terrorism in 2000s

  • We all remember 9/11 when on September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the World Trade Centre towers in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
  • On the 7th of July 2005, London experienced bombings in which a series of coordinated terrorist suicide bomb attacks targeting civilians in London’s underground public transport system during the rush hour was carried out.

Sadly, there has not been a decade in my life time where there has not been turbulence and terrorism happening on our planet. It seems we humans just can’t seem to get along with one another. Why can’t humans just be loving and get along? My answer is ego. Vocabulary.com defines the ego as an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority of others. It is ego that causes us to push our beliefs and values onto others. The Rig Veda the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu sacred scriptures, says “Ego is the biggest enemy of humans.” I would have to agree. Dorothee Solle, a German theologian once said, “With the disappearance of God, the Ego moves forward to become the sole divinity.” Until humanity learns to control the ego, nothing will change.

Should the World be Worried About Trump?

A commentary on the actions of Trump’s first week in office.

8409107_origJanuary 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  This is a day in which the victims of the Holocaust are to be remembered. The Holocaust was a genocide (the methodical killing of a large group of people) that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime during the 1930s and 1940s. As a social studies teacher, I taught my students about this event and emphasized the importance of remembering such events so that such atrocities would never happen again. Now I have to wonder if history is about to repeat itself.

My New Year’s resolution this year was to watch less news which I’ve been successfully doing for the most part, but on January 27th, everyone that I met or connected with on social media was talking about Trump’s travel ban.  Mr. Trump signed an executive order implementing a travel ban of people from seven majority Muslim countries for 90-days. The seven countries are Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. This order also suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days with “case-by-case” exceptions and suspends entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. This caused confusion as permanent residents and green card holders didn’t know if they could enter the country due to conflicting advice sent to airlines by the White House. It also sparked outrage in the form of protests across the United States (see Protests Held). The President claims he is “Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States”.

According to the Huffington Post, from 1975 to 2015, foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen killed exactly zero Americans on U.S. soil. The article sites an analysis of terror attacks by the Cato Institute.  In 2016 alone, 188 people were killed on U.S. soil in mass shootings not involving Muslim American extremists, the report says. Meanwhile, there have been 230,000 murders in the U.S. since 9/11. These are Americans shooting Americans.

The White House stated “Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001,” when it issued the order. What is interesting to note is on Sept. 11, 2001, 19 militants hijacked four commercial airlines to carry out terrorist attacks on the U.S. that killed 2,996 people and wounded more than 6,000 others. The 19 men were associated with al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. Of the 19 hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. None of these countries are on the ban list. People from those three countries are still welcome to apply for U.S. visas and travel permits. This made no sense in my mind. The question is why? According to the Daily News,  Trump’s business empire holds multi-million dollar licensing and development deals in all of those countries raising alarming questions over what actually went into the decision process behind the executive order.

On Facebook, a video went viral of an Irish Senator, Aodhán Riordáin, reacting to the victory of Donald Trump. I encourage you to have a look. (see Trump is a Fascist). What struck me is that the senator referred to Trump as a fascist. During the U. S. Primaries last year my son sent a text me and referred to candidate Trump as a “modern day Hitler”. I’m now beginning to wonder if there might be some truth in his assessment of the man. There are several definitions of fascism but I like the definition on businessdictionary.com. It defines fascism as a

“Political ideology that imposes strict social and economic measures as a method of empowering the government and stripping citizens of rights. This authoritative system of government is usually headed by an absolute dictator who keeps citizens suppressed via acts of violence and strict laws that govern the people. The most noted form of fascism was implemented under Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, who both stripped citizens of their rights and maintained strict regimes that resulted in the deaths of thousands of humans. Some of the defining characteristics of fascism are: (1) racism, (2) militarism, (3) dictatorship, and (4) destructive nationalistic policies”.

rtx1gzco (1)Now if we look at the entire definition, we cannot say with conviction that the Trump administration is a fascist government. The key part of the definition that would dispute this is “headed by an absolute dictator who keeps citizens suppressed via acts of violence.” Mr. Trump was elected democratically, has not carried out acts of violence to my knowledge and is not an absolute (as in his word is final) dictator although signing executive orders is sort of dictatorial since it hasn’t been approved by the Senate or House of Representatives.

Are citizens being stripped of their rights?  The January 21 Women’s March was held because woman, believed women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights were all threatened under a Trump presidency.  The Independent reports that Donald Trump’s travel ban has been denounced by the UN as “mean-spirited” and illegal under international human rights law. Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law. Essentially, this ban is removing human rights on the basis of nationality and religion. There is little doubt that citizen’s rights are being infringed upon. That smacks of fascism to me.

The above definition says, “some of the defining characteristics of fascism are: (1) racism, (2) militarism, (3) dictatorship, and (4) destructive nationalistic policies”. Are these characteristics of the Trump administration?

Racism:  According to dictionary.com, a definition of racism is “intolerance of another race”.  The travel ban targets Muslim majority nations, and one could argue the Muslim religion, since no terrorist acts on US soil have been carried out by people from these seven countries. How does this protect Americans? Sounds like intolerance to me. The only logical explanation is racism. So is the Trump administration racist? Looks that way to me.

Militarism: Is Trump militaristic? He just signed an executive order to rebuild the military. You be the judge.

Dictatorship: Is Trump a dictator? He has signed several executive orders. These orders were not investigated by legal, policy, or political staff to ensure acceptability. An executive order is an official statement from the president about how the federal agencies he oversees are to use their resources. The president’s executive orders are recorded in the Federal Register and are considered binding, but they are subject to legal review. What this means is Trump is governing by decree; as if he had been elected dictator. One definition of a dictator is undemocratic rule. Close enough for me.

Destructive Nationalistic Policies: Is Trump putting into place destructive nationalistic policies? The travel ban sounds destructive to me or at the very least divisive, and is certainly a nationalistic policy since it is a policy based in fear. Nationalism is the policy of asserting the interests of one’s own nation separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations. According to that definition, all of Trump’s actions are nationalistic. Sounds eerily like fascism to me.

donaldtrumpadolfhitler
from .breakingnews.ie

I think it is fair to say that some of the things Trump is doing draws parallels to the Nazis. Hitler was able to tap into the Germans’ frustration by blaming the Jews. He claimed the Jews were taking over the country by stealing high-paying jobs. He was able to animate the uneducated by saying that Jews were destroying Germany. Now compare that to what is happening now. The Trump “movement” claims that the Mexicans are stealing jobs and are responsible for much of their crime. He is also perpetrating the idea that Muslims are terrorists. Most of his support appears to come from the uneducated. The Vox article, Election Results 2016, reports, Trump won “on the basis of overwhelming support in rural areas, particularly among non-college-educated whites” 

Now there are two ways to look at this mess. We could all be fearful and think the worst convincing ourselves that the beginnings of WWIII are happening. I refuse to believe that. It excites me that the actions of Trump appear to be “waking” the American people up. Perhaps this will force the United States to decide what type of a society they truly desire. Do they want a society based in fear, isolationism, individualism, and nationalism; a society that seems to have lost the of values “human dignity and respect.”  Or, do they want a society that cares about its citizens or even better all citizens; a society that values human dignity and a society that loves, cares and respects all people and not just their own. I like to think that Americans desire the latter and are waking up to the reality that Trump is creating the opposite of what American’s desire; a society built on fear, intolerance and perhaps even hate. The Huffington Post has an article called, The Inevitability of Impeachment, which states “Impeachment is gaining ground because it’s so horribly clear that Trump is unfit for office”. I sincerely hope they are right!