Artists May Have the Answer

A commentary on the wisdom of war.

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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.

When the Nest Empties

A commentary about dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome.

Robert Neelly Bellah, an American sociologist, once said, “However painful the process of leaving home, for parents and for children, the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home.” 

This quote really resonated with me because this week my wife and I, along with two of our adult children, said goodbye to one of our two daughters who flew to Dublin, Ireland to attend Trinity College. Mr. Bellah is right, it is a painful process for both the parents and the child leaving home. I’ve watched my wife cry a few dozen times before our daughter left. I have to be honest, I’ve shed the occasional tear myself thinking about her leaving and while watching her leave. I’ve watched my daughter get emotional talking about saying goodbye to her many friends. It is indeed a painful process.

Our instincts as parents is to keep our children nearby so we can protect them and rescue them when in need. I’ve watched many parents do this as a school teacher during my 35 years of teaching, especially in recent years. We teachers called them ‘helicopter parents’ because they hover and swoop in to rescue their children when the children whimper or if there is any chance their children might fail at something. These parents never want their children to fail or feel bad. As a teacher, I found these parents difficult and inflexible. Even more, I saw the damage they did to their children. What is even more disturbing to me is this is a phenomenon occurring with adult children.

In a blog called, Parenting Grown Children: What Dr. Spock Forgot to Tell Us, has a really interesting blog post called, Letting Go. This article describes what helicopter parents of adult children looks like. It says,

“What does this look like? Millennials’ parents joining their adult children at interviews; parents calling managers to lobby for better reviews or higher raises. Or parents actually doing the work for their adult children – which all unravels when the employee doesn’t have the luxury of time to participate or complete a task.”

If parents are rescuing their adult children when they go off to college or get a job, then in a way those children really haven’t left home, even though they may physically live in their own places. These young people are still being protected by their parents just as they would be when they were living in their parent’s dwelling.  Could this be what Robert Neelly Bellah meant when he said, “the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home.” I’m beginning to wonder if Mr. Bellah was referring to overprotective, meddlesome parents.

In the blog post I sited earlier, the author wrote,

“Many of us raised our children to be independent. Once they were adults, we wanted them to come to us for our advice, good counsel and, yes, the occasional handout. But in college, they would be on their own in dealing with professors and deans. In finding a job, we might prep them on how to put their best foot forward, but they would be on their own. Once on the job, they would figure out how to perform and to stand up for their rights and benefits.”

That is how we raised our children. I am so grateful to have a life partner who thought as I did. We wanted our children to be independent and be able to handle things on their own. We travelled with our children extensively so they would be able to confidently travel on their own. That is the reason our daughter was able to go half way around the world to attend graduate school. We gave her the confidence, knowledge and desire to do so. I am proud of that and I am even more proud of her. A friend recently reminded us of that. She told us that the reason our daughter is able to do this is because we raised her to be strong, brave and independent. She is a strong, brave woman and will be even a stronger woman because of this new adventure. Roy T. Bennett, author of The Light in the Heart, wrote, “It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” She is able to step outside her comfort zone because of my wife and I. She did this once before when she flew to South Africa alone to volunteer at the age of 21.

llustration by Andy Chase Cundiff

Having said that, seeing your daughter trek across the ocean to live far, far away is not easy. I have a whole array of emotions as does my wife and our other two children.  I was excited for my daughter, yet I was afraid because I would not be nearby to help her should she need help. I was a proud dad, because she was so strong, brave and independent, yet I had all the symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome. Empty nest syndrome is when a parent has feelings of loneliness or sadness after children grow up and leave home. I was feeling sad. I was feeling lonely even though she just left. I felt so lonely, seeing her go through the airport security gates. I just wanted to give my little girl one more hug and tell her that I loved her one more time.

So many people, without really saying it, communicated to us with their body language and with words left unspoken, that they would not be able to let their child fly across the world to live. We could have expressed to our daughter our displeasure with the idea which would have influenced her decision, but we didn’t. You might be thinking, Why didn’t we? I think Terry Pratchett, an author from the United Kingdom answers that question best when he wrote, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”  How could any good parent prevent their child from having an experience of a lifetime? An experience where she will grow tenfold in her confidence and maturity. I know that this is part of our daughter’s journey and that she will return a better person.

I admire her. She inspires me. She inspired me when she bravely left for South Africa to volunteer. She inspires me even more now. She will make this world a better place because of what she will take from this experience. I’ll miss her, but love for a child should be unconditional. I love her no matter what, as does my wife, and that is why she is free to experience life. I can’t wait for her to share her experiences with us.

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.

Do Europeans Really do Things Better?

My wife and I recently watched Michael Moore’s latest movie called, “Where to Invade Next”. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Michael Moore as he is not afraid to question the status quo in his homeland, the United States of America. In the movie, Moore leaves North America and heads to Europe with a stop-over in North Africa, ready to claim any policies that would make the U.S.A a better country. If you’ve never seen it, I would encourage you to do so. Here is the trailer.

According to National Observer, Americans kill 51 times more people with guns than Canadians do. That is but one reason why I’m thankful to be living in Canada; a country with strict gun controls (for which I am grateful), a country that has pretty good social programs, free health care, and is a very safe country to live in. Having said that, my wife and I were still blown away by some of the European polices and attitudes. Canada, like the United States, could learn a thing or two from the Europeans.

flag_of_europe-svgHere are some of the things Europeans do that Mr. Moore claimed as ideal policies for his country.

ITALY is a country that knows how to have balance when it comes to work life. Italy has one of the highest rates of paid vacation, maternity leave, and honeymoon allowance in the world. That is not even mentioning the two-hour workday lunches.  Italians seem to know how to take the stress out of a working life. Being a bit of a cynic, I did some research. Time reports that the American Psychological Association found that average stress levels in the U.S. rose since 2014, from 4.9 to 5.1 on a 10-point stress scale. Statistics Canada reports that in 2015 Canadian workers ages 15 to 75 that 28.4% reported high work-related stress. That is not to say that there is no stress among Italian workers. Eurofound, a European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, reports (2010), 33.6% of respondents consider their work as a source of excessive stress. These figures were higher amongst respondents selling and/or promoting financial products.

FRANCE is a country that feeds its school children with amazing, almost gourmet style healthy food. In the movie, school children shun Moore’s offer of a coke and feast upon a four-course healthy lunch. Lunch hour in France is considered a course where students are taught proper etiquette.  In the French school system, adolescents also learn about the realities of sex and respectful relationships.

FINLAND is a country whose school system went from being one of the worst in the world to one of the best.  What is their philosophy? Children spend less time in school (about three hours a day), no time doing homework, write no standardized tests, and lots of time playing.  As a retired teacher, I wondered how this could be and if indeed it is true. In 2015, Finland was ranked 5th in the world. (see The Best Education Systems in The World in 2015). Canada was ranked tenth (not to shabby) and the U.S. was ranked 29 out of 76 countries.

SLOVENIA is an eastern European country where school is considered a basic human right for all. As a result, students can get a complete college education costing them nothing. Not only is it for Slovenian students, but a college education is afforded to anyone no matter what passport a student may hold. This is not unique to Solvenia as  schools and universities are free in many European countries.

In GERMANY employees are given an equal say in business matters as company boards are composed of at least 50% workers.  If workers get stressed, a doctor can authorize a stay at a government funded spa since Germany prioritizes health before productivity. It is also noteworthy that Germany does not ignore its dark past regarding Hitler and the Holocaust. This country has a policy of acknowledgment and understanding of the past to affect a positive future.

PORTUGAL’S answer to the war on drugs is to decriminalize its usage and offer free treatment and comprehensive healthcare. In the words of a Lisbon police officer, “Human dignity is the backbone of our society.”

NORWAY’s penal system is one of rehabilitation and not revenge.  Prisons in Norway offer a chance for prisoners to rehabilitate and regain self-worth. There are no guard towers, no fences and no beatings in Norway’s prisons; even in their maximum-security prisons. Instead, prisons have a fair amount of freedom with four prison guards carrying no weapons responsible for over 100 inmates. It is also amazing to learn that of those coming out of the penal system, only 20% reoffend in Norway. Compare that to the United States.   A Bureau of Justice Statistic study reported that of inmates released from state prisons, 76.6% have a five-year reconviction rate. Canada’s reconviction rate is in the range of 41% to 44%, according to Public Safety Canada.

TUNISIA is a majority Muslim country, yet it provides government funded abortions and free women’s health clinics to ensure women are in control of their reproduction and in turn their basic rights.

ICELAND is a country that during the 2008 economic crisis had three of its major privately owned commercial banks default, all of which were run by men. The only bank that did not fail had female executives. It is also a country that had the first female president. Iceland empowers its women. The Economist named Iceland the world’s best place for working women in 2016. In comparison, Canada was ranked 11th and the U.S. was ranked 20th.

One thing that struck me was that in every country visited by Mr. Moore, the interviewees always stressed the importance of human dignity. What is human dignity? Oxford dictionary defines dignity as the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dignity as the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. All humans deserve to be treated respectfully. Really, it boils down to the Golden Rule which the Christian scriptures state as, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12).

So, do Europeans really do things better? According to the article, 16 Ways Europeans Are Just Better At Life, Switzerland came in second to Japan for the world’s longest life expectancy, according to a 2015 World Health Organization study. In fact, eight European nations have a life expectancy of 82 years. Canada is also at 82 years. In fact, 24 European nations rank ahead of the U.S. on the list, which comes in at number 33, just one spot ahead of Cuba at 79.3 years.

As the new Trump administration repeals Obamacare, Europe offers a number of examples of far more efficient health care systems. According to a Bloomberg study, America is number 50 out of 55 countries that were assessed for their health care systems. All European countries ranked higher than the U.S. Canada ranked 16th which is pretty good but still five European countries ranked ahead of Canada.

Who are the top nations in the world, in terms of time off? According to USA Today, all are European. Austrians get 35 paid days off per year. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the sole developed nation that requires no paid vacation time or holidays by law. As for Canada, the law is employees must receive at least 2 weeks of vacation per year for the first four years of employment, and a minimum of 3 weeks of vacation after the fifth consecutive year.

It seems to me that Europeans do know how to live life better. We Canadians do a pretty good job, but we could still learn a thing or two from the Europeans. According to Business Insider, every European nation has a higher standard of living than the United States which is ranked number 19. I’m proud to say, Canada is ranked second. Michael Moore is on the right track looking at the Europeans.

Now I’ve heard Americans refer to Canada and the European nations as socialist countries. Peerform, an American financial institution, lists Canada (along with 7 European countries) as socialist countries. One definition of socialism from yourdictionary.com is a system based “on principles of community decision making, social equality and the avoidance of economic and social exclusion, with economic policy should giving first preference to community goals over individual ones”. The way I see it is, I would rather live in a socialist country where we take care of each other as opposed to a strictly capitalist country where individualism is the focus, where individuals fend for themselves, and the sole goal is to get wealthy. It seems obvious to me that countries who adopt “socialist” ideals do better. The statistics speak for themselves.

What a difference eight years can make!

A commentary comparing the inauguration of President Trump to that of former President Obama.

FILE - In this July 5, 2016 photo, President Barack Obama waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington, as he returns from Charlotte, N.C. where he participated in a campaign event with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Obama is interrupting his summer vacation to do some campaigning for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee. Obama is slated to headline a Democratic Party reception Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, on Martha's Vineyard, the tony Massachusetts island where he's been vacationing with his family. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

I remember inauguration day eight years ago when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. It truly felt like history was made. “A New Birth of Freedom” served as the inaugural theme and there was a larger than usual celebrity attendance. In his inaugural speech President Obama talked about renewal, continuity and national unity. There was so much optimism and hope that day. The world rejoiced as the first African American president took office.

Now compare that to the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017. There were only five notable celebrities who attended the Trump inauguration. Instead, many of the same celebrities who criticized Trump during his campaign attacked him on social media during his inauguration  The Atlantic described the inaugural address as “unusually dark and political, delivered in a forum where new presidents have tended to reach for a language of unity, positivity, and non-partisanship”. There lacked enthusiasm and a feeling of hope. Instead, many people appeared to have a cautious wait and see attitude. I personally felt some trepidation for the future when the 45th president was sworn in.

Let’s compare the two men; the one coming into office and the one leaving. Earlier this month, veteran news anchor, Tom Brokaw, said this about former President Barack Obama. (see Tom Brokaw praises Obama)

“He’s been scandal-free, frankly, in the White House. We haven’t had that what for a while. There have been some issues around his campaign, but they’ve not settled on him.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Brokaw. Obama’s presidency has been relatively scandal free. There were no wars fought during the eight years of the Obama administration. There were no marital affairs or scandalous words said by Mr. Obama. He tried to make life better for ordinary Americans with his Obamacare. There certainly were no personal scandals like those of Nixon or Clinton. When you Google scandals involving President Obama, all you find is controversies surrounding decisions made by his administration. These were controversies such as Benghazi, a terror attack in Benghazi, Libya which resulted in four Americans dying. The criticism is that help could have been sent, but wasn’t. It is argued that requests for security prior to the attack were repeatedly denied.  Then there was “Operation Fast and Furious” in which the Obama administration is accused of arming drug cartels south of the border as a means to undermine the Second Amendment. It doesn’t matter which president in history you look at you will find these kinds of scandals.

09-donald-trump-bully.w536.h357.2xNow let’s compare the now President Donald Trump, who has only been president for a few days. The Atlantic provides a list of numerous scandals surrounding Donald Trump. There are numerous sexual-assault allegations with the most famous being the 2005 video, exposed during the campaign, in which the now president boasted about sexually assaulting women. On the infamous tape Trump brags about groping at women’s genitals. He says to Billy Bush of Access Hollywood, “And when you’re a star they let you do it.” There are scandals involving beauty pageants, racial discrimination allegations, the Trump University fiasco and even allegations of Mafia ties. The list of scandals goes on and on. It is unfair to put these two men into the same category.

Pew Research Center studies trends in U.S. politics and policy, global attitudes, and numerous other trends. In June 2016, the Center published, As Obama Years Draw to Close…, in which they reported that across the ten EU nations polled, an average of 77% have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs.  When asked about Trump, just 9% of Europeans trust he’ll do the right thing in world affairs. That is a stark difference.

Pew Research Center reports the majorities in nine of 10 European countries surveyed express confidence in Obama’s ability to handle international issues whereas, overwhelming majorities in most of the countries surveyed have little or no confidence in Trump’s ability to handle international affairs. Again, that is a shocking difference. In 2008, the Pew Global Attitudes Project reported that the majorities in 19 of the 24 countries had little or no confidence in then President George W Bush. I think it is fair to say that Obama is the only president to have the confidence of much of the world community in recent years.

What about the world’s opinion of the United States? Research conducted by the  Pew Research Center in 2016 shows 13 out of 15 countries surveyed have positive views of the United States. In many of these countries, notably France, Poland, Spain, the UK and Japan, favourable views of the U.S. have endured since 2009, when President Barack Obama first took office. The Los Angeles Times reports that in early 2007, when George W Bush was president, a mere 29% of those polled in 18 countries viewed the U.S. mainly as a force for good in the world. It seems former President Barack Obama did more for the reputation of the United States than his predecessor and based on world opinions of his successor, Donald Trump, it’s unlikely that that positive international reputation will remain.

Now let’s go back to the January 20, 2017 inauguration day. According to the article, Trump’s Inauguration.., about 250,000 people came out for Donald Trump inauguration. By comparison, 1.8 million people came out for Obama in 2009. There were no protests during Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Contrast that to the numerous protests which occurred in Washington DC, as well as other American cities, during Trump’s inauguration. Some of these protests turned violent causing police to use tear gas, water cannons, and pepper spray. Protests not only occurred in the United States, but around the world. According to The Guardian, protests occurred in London, Tokyo, Berlin, in the West Bank, the Philippians, Rome and even Russia. The Canadian Press reported protests in Montreal and Toronto. When I learn of these kinds world events, it does not give me confidence in this new president. I fear turbulent times may be ahead for our southern neighbours and perhaps the world.

The article, A nation of dissent, reports that demonstrations were held during George W Bush’s inauguration in 2001. Four years later, for Bush’s second inauguration, more than 1,000 protested the Iraq war. A difference is, these protests did not involve violence. There haven’t been violent protests during an inauguration since Richard Nixon. Burning miniature flags and stones were hurled at police during the inauguration of Richard Nixon in 1969 to protest the Vietnam War. We all know what happened to Nixon. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended Articles of Impeachment to the House of Representatives, but Nixon resigned before the House voted on the Articles. Could this be an omen for President Donald Trump?