In our war memorials and our remembrance holidays, whom do we honor and why?
On November 17th, reporter Jeff Outhit of the Waterloo (Kitchener-Waterloo Ontario Canada) Record, wrote about German Remembrance Day, which takes place in Kitchener, a day or so after Canadian Remembrance Day. The German Remembrance Day takes place in a section of Woodland Cemetery where about 137 Nazi soldiers and about 50 soldiers from the First World War are buried.
Apparently the bodies of the Nazi soldiers and others who died during their detention in Canada during World War 2 were moved from cemeteries near the facilities where they were kept to all be re-buried in Kitchener, known for its large number of German immigrants, especially in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Mr. Outhit writes that “It’s no small thing to see former enemies mourned.” He states that a crowd came to remember their sacrifice, to honor all who are victims of war, and to reflect on how to stop it from happening again.”
The reporter talked to three young people, of German heritage, who attended the ceremony.
“It’s very moving to have all of us be able to get together, and pay our respects,” said one. Another was struck by how the ceremony aims to remember not just the fighters but also the civilians who perished.
“I think it’s important to remember and celebrate the lives of everybody,” she said.
A third appreciated that she has the freedom to mourn, and not just for the losses that Canada suffered. The reporter noted that people “divided in life are one in death.”
This raises four questions:
1. Should we pay our “respects” to enemy soldiers?
2. What does it mean to be an “enemy” and should we mourn their deaths?
3. Are we “one in death” with Nazi soldiers?
4. Should we also respect ISIS fighters including those from Canada who now want to return home?
Firstly, then, should we “respect” enemy soldiers especially when they enabled the “Final Solution” to kill all Jews in the world and millions of others? Respect, it must be pointed out, refers, according to the Oxford Dictionary, to “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”
And here is the problem: surely we do not, and should not, feel a deep admiration for any of the Nazis or even the civilians who enabled them in their genocide and cruelty. And surely there is no admiration for the “abilities, qualities or achievements” of the Nazis that would justify paying our “respects.”
Secondly, an enemy in this context was someone who was fighting for the evil ideology of the Third Reich and the Final Solution. This was a state that did not respect the Geneva Convention or any laws of warfare that might elicit some tolerance of their actions. No, the enemy wanted to indiscriminately torture and maim and kill in the name of Nazi supremacy and world conquest. Such were our enemies in World War 2, along with the Japanese who undertook genocide and torture on a massive level in China.
Third, are we “one in death” with them? I find this to be offensive. Major religions such as Christianity and Judaism believe in the concept of a “soul” which hopefully has an afterlife and this hopefully rewards Good, not Evil.
Fourth, the idea of respecting the enemy and allowing former ISIS fighters back into Canada, because our Prime Minister believes in nothing so much as Inclusive Diversity, should be understood as an immoral act. ISIS should be regarded as Evil by all moral people and we must not welcome the perpetrators of terrorism against civilians to come back to our shores.
So what is the source of what I view as a sad confusion about respecting and honoring enemy soldiers?
In our current world of cultural and moral relativism where we are supposed to believe that we should tolerate and respect every culture and every belief system equally, Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans’ Day in the U.S. are more and more the last bastions of traditional patriotism.
When we remember the soldiers who gave up their lives, or were disabled, for the maintenance of our way of life, our liberal democracies and our freedoms, we necessarily hold that our way of life is superior to those whose totalitarian illiberal governments forced the necessity of war upon us.
Cultural relativists would have us believe that Tolerance and Respect are the new primary values, and that if all peoples are equally deserving of respect, pacifism is so obviously more moral than war, since if everybody is like us, who would bother to attack us, and even if they did, submission to their values would, according to the relativists, be a lesser evil than fighting them.
In my book, Tolerism: The Ideology Revealed (Mantua Books), I suggest that adherence to a tolerant worldview has now passed beyond mere respect for the idea of diversity – and become an ideology that holds that we must have not only a sympathy but an indulgence, that is an excessive leniency, for beliefs or practices conflicting with our own.
Accordingly, are we in Remembrance Day mourning all soldiers of every state, or only those who proudly represented liberal democracies against such forces as Nazi Germany?
The recent movie Midway, about the American destruction of much of the Japanese air force and navy at Midway Island, which corrected the intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor, was dedicated to both the American and Japanese soldiers. Remember, the Japanese committed numerous war crimes, especially in their genocide of about 250,000 Chinese. What do we think about the moral equivalency?
In 2006 at the German Remembrance Day, the German Ambassador to Canada decided to include in his speech in Kitchener a substantial remembrance of the Holocaust. This so bothered the local German organizations that they felt it necessary to write an open letter to the German ambassador noting that his talk “certainly fit into the theme of holocaust [sic] education,” but expressing their “community’s extreme disappointment that its focus created the impression of a political demonstration of ‘Vergangenheitsbewaltigung’ (meaning “”struggle to come to terms with the past”).
The Kitchener Germans protested that this speech “missed its mark” because in their view the ceremony was for the purpose of remembering all victims of war and political persecution anywhere “and our compatriots in particular.” (emphasis added)
Are we comfortable with this? Should all ethnicities or immigrants have their own Remembrance Days? What about Muslims who might want to honor radical Islamists who kill and terrorize to try to force a submission in western nations to a worldwide Caliphate, Sharia Law, murder of minority religions, and persecution of women and children who dishonor dress codes, and LGBT, etc.?
What about war memorials to remember Confederate soldiers in the Civil War?
In Europe some Muslims do not want the Holocaust taught in schools lest it promote tolerance toward Jews whose homeland is where the Arabs want a 23rd Muslim nation in the Middle East.
As Canada and the U.S. take in more immigrants, will these immigrants share in a Remembrance Day or Veterans’ Day to remember why our soldiers die, or will they want their own remembrance days, commemorating values that may be very different from those of a liberal democracy?
Already in Ontario, Canada we have Islamic History Month (Canada) and Islamic Heritage Month (Ontario), both starting on October 1st.
What does it mean when we honor the heritage of a group (Muslims), who have radicals among them and will view this cultural recognition as not just elementary respect but rather a submission to Islamist supremacism, Sharia Law and the worldwide Caliphate? Perhaps naive politicians, with an eye toward getting more votes, don’t want to think about the underlying messages.
The cultural relativists would probably be happy with a new holiday called “Everyone is Equal Day.” They probably wouldn’t understand the satire in the proclamation in Orwell’s Animal Farm that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
To avoid this, let us, as part of the education we give to our students, emphasize that we are remembering those who gave their lives for the maintenance of liberties in a liberal democratic state. Let us not mistake multiculturalism (that is, the acceptance of diversity as long as the constituent parts all respect our main liberal democratic values) for cultural relativism, that leads to the position that all beliefs and cultures are equal.
Let us remember, but let us first put some context to that remembrance. And that context is that we remember with pride those who did not just die, but died for the purpose of maintaining a free and democratic country, which, while always capable of improvement, represents a political system and a cultural milieu of which we can be proud. We should not welcome a plethora of confused memorial days to spring up and turn multicultural sympathies into a cultural relativism that doesn’t understand the difference between Good and Evil.
Howard Rotberg is the author of The Second Catastrophe: A Novel about a Book and its Author; Exploring Vancouverism: The Political Culture of Canada’s Lotus Land; TOLERism: The Ideology Revealed, and his latest, The Ideological Path to Submission…and what we can do about it. He is the founding publisher of Mantua Books www.mantuabooks.com. and resides in Hamilton, Ontario.