Remembrance Day: Ask the Question WHY?

My friend was paying for a coffee when a young barista asked him a question that left him speechless:   “Why are all the men wearing red flowers on their jackets?”  Are you serious?  Um yes…So my friend gave her a 20 second history lesson:  WW1, Flanders Fields, poppies on Remembrance Day to mark the sacrifice of the 125,000 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in the first and second world wars, the Korean war, Afghanistan and other peace keeping activities.

How did she not know this?  Had she forgotten?  Did she not learn it in the first place?

Then I recalled my trip to the Dutch Resistance museum and realized I was being too harsh.  The young barista should be applauded for asking the question “why”.

The Dutch Resistance museum is a beautifully designed building in the Plantage district of Amsterdam.  The first thing you see upon crossing the threshold is a large sign that says:  Ask The Question.  Then Ask It Of Your Friend. 

Dutch Resistance Museum, Amsterdam
Dutch Resistance Museum, Amsterdam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the question?  The visitor is left to figure that out for himself as he moves through the exhibits.

Germany bombed Rotterdam on May 14, 1940.  Eight hundred people died, 80,000 became homeless.  Germany threatened to continue bombing unless the Dutch surrendered.  The Netherlands capitulated five days later.

At first the occupiers were friendly.  They set up a seemingly benign governing structure and made “minor” bureaucratic changes in the interests of greater efficiency.

Government employees were required to fill out forms declaring their ancestry.  Some Jews balked—why this information necessary?  Others argued that refusing to provide the information could be interpreted as a lack of pride in one’s heritage, what harm could it do?  All the Jewish employees were fired a few months later.

More rules followed as the oppression increased in intensity.  Everyone over the age of 14 had to carry an identity card.  The identity cards of Jews were emblazoned with a large “J”.  Jews were banned from public transit and public spaces including parks, swimming pools and cinemas. They were segregated in Jewish districts and Jewish schools.  They had to wear the Star of David.  Eventually they were ordered to leave the Netherlands and go to work in German factories and labour camps.  Some refused and went into hiding.  Others complied.

A walk through the museum is a walk through time.  Exhibits include photographs, Nazi posters, video clips, newspaper articles, contraband radios, mock ups of prison cells and the tiny little fragments of ordinary people’s lives.

The “Adapt” exhibits reflect Dutch attitudes at the onset of the occupation (if we work with the Germans it will be fine in the end).  By 1943 the exhibits change to “Collaboration” exhibits, which include heartbreaking photographs of the betrayer and the betrayed, and “Resistance” exhibits, which demonstrate the ingenuity and resourcefulness required to forge ID cards and food coupons, hide one’s neighbours and communicate with the Allies on handmade radios while staying one step ahead of the Germans.

Ask The Question.  Then Ask It of Your Friend. 

As I moved through the exhibits, the question became clear.  What would you do:  adapt, collaborate or resist?

I am grateful that I live in a different place and in a different time, in a world that exists because hundreds of thousands of Canadian soldiers fought in WW1, WW2, Korea and Afghanistan to protect the ideals on which our democracy is based.

As a result of their sacrifice, we are not faced with the Dutch question, whether to adapt, collaborate or resist, we’re faced with the barista’s question…why?   Why is the government taking these steps and making these laws?

Here are two examples:

Why did the Redford government eliminate the “public interest” test in Bill 2, a piece of legislation intended to streamline the regulatory process for energy producers?  The “public interest” test is the only way to balance the legitimate interests of landowners and environmentalists with the economic interests of oil and gas companies who want to develop our natural resources at breakneck speed—and now it’s gone.

Why is the Harper government creating new guidelines for the “net benefit” test, which will determine whether a Chinese state-owned entity can take over a Canadian energy company, behind closed doors and signing the China/Canada trade agreement (FIPA) in secret without first consulting with the Canadian people who’ll be subject to this agreement for the next 31 years?

These questions go to the root of our democratic process.  We’ve asked these questions many many times.  We can honour the memory of the thousands of Canadians soldiers who died protecting the democratic rights of others by continuing to ask these questions.  It’s the only way to ensure we will never be faced with the Dutch question:  Should we adapt, collaborate or resist?

God bless the little barista who had the courage to ask the question:  Why are all the men wearing red flowers on their jackets?  The most important question is:  Why?

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8 Responses to Remembrance Day: Ask the Question WHY?

  1. John Gulak says:

    Good piece, Susan!

  2. carlosbeca says:

    A very interesting post with some important issues in it.
    I personally do not have doubts answering the two examples of your post. The reasons to me are obvious. The reasons why both at the Federal and provincial levels there is a clear avoidance of a democratic process is simple because these people not only are not democrats, but they do not even believe in it. What else can the answer be? The question you should be asking is why Canadians in general accept this kind of violation and do not even react? This is the crucial question to me. I can answer that very simply – for the most part we also are not democrats and we do not understand democracy either. Most people think that capitalism is what created democracy and as long as we have freedom to vote we are doing well. These same people are told over and over that individualism and success (lots of money) is the only objective in life and as long as one can pursue both, democracy is working. If you doubt this just ask as a curiosity how many of people you have contact with, a very simple question – which one came first democracy or capitalism or even if they are one and the same.
    Young Canadians are told in school that democratic values came to Canada with British Parliamentarian traditions when we know that the very first democratic institution in Canada was the Iroquois Confederancy believed to have been created around 1451, centuries before Canada became a country. In fact the highly democratic Europeans did not adopt a very important aspect of the Iroquois constitution – women’s rights. These same very democratic Europeans, just like they are doing now at the federal and provincial levels, went about to take away native rights with the creation of the Indian Act of 1876.
    I guess we are coming full circle onto our own now rights now.

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    Just as a curiosity, the question I suggest about democracy and capitalism came up on a talk given by John Ralston Saul here in Edmonton a few years ago. He mentioned that even teachers were not sure which came first.
    I did a little survey on my own and the most answered question was – Capitalism definitely first because it was the prosperity created by the system that allowed democracy to exist.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    Well no one is saying anything so I guess I must be saying something right.
    I just thought that to celebrate the ‘free’ enterprise/democratic/capitalist government of Alberta accomplishments (i.e. borrowing money for infrastructures because we do not even have cash to do that), I would like to give the last total of the SOCIALIST Fund in Norway – 650 billion and counting. What is the difference you may ask? In free enterprise Alberta we own nothing and we get paid 14% once the capital the free enterpriser used to build the plants is totally recovered. In Norway the socialist government owns everything and they get 85% of the royalties, the rest belongs to the companies operating there.
    By the way our deal was done by the Order of Canada recipient Ralph Klein, yes the same Ralph Klein that deregulated the energy system which is just so hapens to produce the highest energy costs in Canada and also the same who started the destruction of our Health Care System and treated our teachers and homeless as if they deserved to be in jail.
    Wake up Albertans, time to think about realities and not spin.

  5. Thanks for all your comments Carlos. They’re very helpful. I’m afraid I’m in a state of amazed disbelief with this government. If it’s not one thing it’s another. First their unrelenting effort to dismantle the democratic process by killing the public interest test and wiping out the right of appeal in Bill 2 then upending our economic future by telling us that the economy “changed” since the election and that’s why they have to renege on their budget promises and go into debt in order to pay for much needed infrastructure. As you said…the contrast between the PCs squandering our resource wealth and Norway’s prudence and secure financial future says it all.

    But people are starting to wake up. In Calgary Centre the federal Conservative Joan Crockett is getting a run for her money from Harvey Locke (Lib) and Chris Turner (Green), this would have been inconceivable even a year ago. That tells me that the masses are getting tired of being pushed around. Nov 26 will be the day when we find out whether this is just an illusion or the start of real change on the federal political front. Fingers crossed!

  6. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan I love your optimism. You always end your notes with a positive message and I have to confess that I envy you that way. I am not a negative person but I am certainly a realist and as far as politics, experience tells me that very rarely a person comes up that has the interests of the people as his/her main objective.
    Caring for a nation and its citizens is a skill that is more developed than inate and unfortunately we do a very poor job at it. The reason Canada is especially blooming with writers and musicians is because we have developed these skills in our schools from a very early age. Now, as far as citizenship we are even affraid of touching the subject and the results are obvious.
    Take a look at the last survey done in the Americas just last month on the trust people have for their leaders. Stephen Harper scored dead last with 16%. In the meantime, just like the old South America dictators, he pushes his agenda and is transforming Canada into a second decrepit US. Will not be too long before we have to travel with another country’s flag on our suitcases.
    In Alberta I have to confess I have given up reading on this clueless/incompetent government. It is very concerning considering the opportunities we are missing which will be gone for good.
    Talking about common good, take a look at this article. It must feel great to see your own country making progress and moving towards a better quality of life.

    • Carlos, sometimes even I sink into despair. There are only so many articles that you can read about Redford bragging about her great track record on transparency at the same time as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is filing FIOP requests for her London expenses and is told to go look it up in the Legislature Library. Of course now that we know about her $12,555 air fare we know why she was trying to deep six these receipts.

      We have to keep hammering away at these guys. I think Harper’s government was truly surprised by the outcry over the China/Canada trade treaty and the CNOOC takeover of Nexen. If nothing else it shows them that we’re not all asleep out here in the hinterland.

      Thanks for the article on Germany moving to 100% renewable energy. That demonstrates it can be done, no matter what the nay-sayers tell us.

  7. Carlos Beca says:

    Alison Redford said this yesterday in Halifax

    “We’ve never been shy about standing up for our ideals in many forums in many ways, whether it’s human rights, social justice or democracy,” she said. “And energy can help to serve those ends.

    So I guess she meant by democracy excluding citizens from the process just like your article explains.

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