11 November 2013


I am a pacifist for many reasons.

War is wasteful – of lives, of resources. Politicians send thousands of men and women into battle … and those who decide that our soldiers need to fight will not, themselves, be on the battlefield like the kings of old. They will sit safely ensconced behind oak desks and order men and women into strange lands to kill other people, to dodge IEDs, to watch for treachery among the civilians they are supposed to be protecting, to be on guard every moment of every day.

And then we bring those soldiers back, and expect them to go back to home and hearth and adjust.

More and more, those soldiers cannot adjust. It’s always been hard – “battle fatigue” was identified centuries ago – but modern warfare seems to be taking an even greater toll on our soldiers. They don’t just march out to a big open field and line up against the enemy for a day or two of living hell: now the enemy could be around any street corner, could be a woman with a stroller, a bomb on a deserted road. There is no “eve of battle” … the war goes on and on and on, every moment of every day.

Is it any wonder that when they come home they cannot unwind? That the nightmares deprive them of rest? That they cannot let their guard down enough to love their families and children freely? That the suffering and pain drive many to suicide?

I live with a relatively mild version of PTSD – and it has turned my world upside down.

Canada is making efforts to care for our soldiers (and our police officers, who, more and more, are dealing with the kinds of violence and trauma that lead to mental health crises). Our efforts are not always successful, of course, but there is at least official recognition of the “human cost of military operations”. Even the military admits, however, that their resources are overstretched: new clinics have been set up to address Operational Stress Injury, but people still have to wait for help, and they suffer while they wait.

There is more awareness about PTSD and Operational Stress Injury in the general public, but we still have a long way to go. People are still told to “suck it up” to “stop being a wuss” to “get over it already”. Nobody would ever say that to someone who needed physiotherapy to get an injured leg back to full functionality, but we haven’t quite gotten to the place where everyone recognizes that the brain – like any other part of the body – may be injured, and need treatment and therapy to heal. Like any other part of the body, healing may be complete … or not. Someone might be left with a limp after having a leg shot or crushed or broken. A mind might be left with a limp, too – situations or smells or sounds that trigger unavoidable (and probably embarassing) overreactions.

Be kind. You have no idea what kind of battle another is fighting inside their mind – whether the trauma they lived through was combat, a horrible accident, abuse, or a close call with death. It hurts. Help them heal.

And since it is Remembrance Day …

Yes, wear your poppy for remembrance, and work for peace. But please, don’t thank our soldiers for “fighting for our freedom”.

Think back over your history lessons …

The War of 1812: Okay, yup, our borders were threatened. It happened because we were a British Colony, and the only way the US could strike at Britain was through us, but hey, we were in the way, and we got shot at. We shot back. Of course at the time we weren’t even a country, and didn’t have our own military, so really, this was a battle between the US and Britain. No “Canadian Military” fought in this war. There wasn’t a Canadian Military then. It went on for a couple of years and in the end, the borders were put right back where they had been at the start.

Now, we did have our own army by the time World War I came about. Were our freedoms threatened by anyone in WWI? (World War I was primarily about imperialism, trade, and power). Nope, we joined because we were legally bound to help Britain. But it wasn’t about us or our freedoms. It was about our obligation to help political allies.

Okay, but WWII … the Holocaust! Yes, the Holocaust was an evil that needed to be stopped: but the war began out of the ashes of the first war. The ‘war guilt’ clause of the Treaty of Versailles created many of the conditions for the second war … and once again we had nationalism, economics, and the desire for military power in play. The racism came in later. (It hasn’t gone away, either – “ethnic cleansing” still happens: sometimes we step in, and sometimes we don’t.)

Korea? The Gulf War? Afghanistan? Iraq? Libya?

None of this has had anything to do with Canadian freedoms. So  let’s stop saying it, shall we? Our freedoms were negotiated by – heaven help us – politicians. 

The Canadian military does plenty for Canadians: the Red River Flood, the Ice Storm, the BC Fires. And they participate in peacekeeping missions … which are not always very much about peace, but are one way of helping to make the world a better place.

Let’s thank them for what they really do, and make sure they never actually have to fight for our freedom.

Let’s see if we can make sure they never have to fight at all.


  1. Thank you, Lonna. As usual, your insights are spot on. This from a military wife.

  2. You have hit the nail head on...and spotlighted a reason that I too am a pacifist.

    It makes my blood boil when our governments do not understand or help treat PTSD....I was taught in nursing school that not all injuries can be seen, but that doesn't mean they are not there, not real.

    If we are going to send people to fight wars, and thank them for "keeping us safe" we need to take care of them (and their families) while they are gone and when they return. If not, our words are empty and mean nothing.

    Thank you once again for showing me that my feelings are shared and not silly.

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