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The White Poppy of Remembrance

The park and the war memorial in London, England, are both postage stamp size. They stand –The Hermitage Wharf Memorial Garden and the People of London Memorial – on the south bank of the River Thames, a short walk from London’s classical Tower Bridge landmark.

The garden is just that, a small well-tended bed of flowers surrounding a circular block of stone with a dove in flight cut through the centre. There are two inscriptions. “In war resolution, in defeat defiance, in victory magnanimity, in peace goodwill” graces the circular stone on one side. On the other, there is a command: “Remember before God the people of London, 1939-1945.”

It is the lone memorial in London, the city of statues and bronze tablets marking historic happenings, to the 20,000 civilians who lost their lives in 57 nights of consecutive bombing raids – the London Blitz. On the last night of the blitz, May 10 – 11, 1941, more than 1,000 high explosive bombs smashed across the city with the heaviest concentrations in the East End and Thames dockside.

Over the course of the 57-night blitz mixed in with the heavy-duty bombs were 55 heavy oil canister firebombs and thousands of incendiary bombs. There were also 11 “blockbuster” parachute mines. A “blockbuster” would drift down and stand silently until the detonator-timer kicked in. It would destroy a full city block on explosion. The end results of firebomb explosions require no explanation.

While London was suffering its worst of the 57 nights, the historic town of Penryn, 435 kilometres west and close to the edge of Cornwall, was sleeping until one bomb from a lone aircraft fell on a row of modest houses. Today, flowers grow in Penryn’s Memorial Garden with a small tablet reading: “On this site stood homes which were destroyed during an early morning air raidwhen 18 lives were lost.” Each year the town remembers.

Details of the Penryn “raid” are hard to find but they still read out the names of the dead, including “four-year-old David Boxhall, and Percy and Ronald Pascoe, brothers four and two years old” who died with their mother and five other family members. John Rickard Rapson, 78, was a victim, as was Richard Ralph who, The Falmouth Packet newspaper reports, “had survived four years in WW1 trenches only to be killed in his own home.”

Penryn was a flea bite when compared with London or other major UK cities. And by 1945 the brutal devastation in UK cities paled when measured against the wreckage and loss of civilian lives in cities across Europe from the channel ports to Moscow.

Germany had lost as many as 500,000 civilians including 76,000 children – and their mothers.

Adding to the ranks of civilian dead were women who served as air raid wardens, in ambulance services, and as firefighters. There is a Memorial to Fire Fighters near St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is a bronze sculpture depicting a crew in action during an air raid when civilian firefighting casualties were high. Two members of the squad are female firefighters. There were many others

Last Thursday there was a letter in my local newspaper signed by a 90-year old woman who wanted people to know that on November 11 she would be attending a memorial service for the Spanish Civil War, the first democracy versus fascism war – 1936-39. She would, she wrote, be proudly wearing a white poppy.

I have never met or spoken to Alison Acker, the letter signer, but I salute her white poppy courage. The different poppy with its white petals and green centre has been around since the 1930s when a group of women, many of whom had lost husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers in WW1 decided to become advocates for peace. They would remember fallen soldiers, sailors, and airmen with a white poppy symbol of peace that would reach beyond the military and include the civilian dead.

It was not a popular movement and showed little growth over the years, but it never faded away. Many ex-service groups denounced it as unpatriotic and a betrayal of the men and women who served in the armed forces and helped keep the world and our nation safe.

The white poppy supporters denied the charges, insisted they respected and appreciated the sacrifices made but also believed that war should not be glamourized and that civilian dead deserved respect equal to that accorded the military. In the years since WW2 white poppy wearers have insisted they honour all war victims, especially the elderly and women and children who, since that conflict have been unarmed but in harm’s way once the fighting starts.

The white poppy received an unexpected boost a week ago when the 141-year-old St. John Ambulance organization changed its uniform dress code to allow its volunteers to wear the white poppy.

The Peace Pledge Union which handles white poppy distribution says it hopes to have 100,000 sold before November 11 – 10,000 more than a year ago. It sounds encouraging until measured against the war-like rhetoric hurled back and forth at the international level, and especially by our southern neighbour.

Our world leaders threaten but say what they really want is peace; and we, the people – or most of us – echo that we, too, want peace.

But not enough to wear a white poppy.

President Trump’s Final Solution?

 

The weather on January 6, 1864 was not unusual, but maybe just a little unexpected. Deep snow covered the hills surrounding Canyon de Chelly, and a cold wind was making things difficult for renowned Indian fighter Kit Carson. He and his 400-strong “army” had been charged with the task of clearing the canyon and the surrounding country of Navajo tribal natives.

Carson launched what would become a 16-day relentless assault on the Navajo. Every “Hogan” was burned, corrals were torn down, food supplies stored for winter were destroyed, and wells and water holes were filled with rocks and soil and rendered useless.

Then, Carson sat and waited for survivors to surrender – which most did rather than face death by starvation. Tribal histories say they realized they could not survive the winter. “They had no livestock, their homes were in ashes, and crops destroyed, children clad in rags and afraid to light fires because they would attract Carson’s attention.”

When they surrendered at Fort Defiance and Fort Wingate, they were, to their surprise, welcomed with gifts of food and blankets and roofs to sleep under. And, they were told that more food and blankets and permanent homes awaited them at a place called Bosque Redondo near the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. The military had an outpost there called Fort Sumner.

There was what Kit Carson and the army regarded as a minor problem: how to get them from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner. Some tribal stories handed down verbally estimate the final number of Navajo assembled by Carson in what is now Southeast Arizona in March 1864 was “around 8,500 men, women and children.” Whatever the total, on the day they moved, they had no idea their new home was close to 500 kilometers away – and they had to walk every kilometer. At least, those who survived what the Navajo still call “the Long Walk” – would have walked every kilometer.

Tribal histories say: “Soon the Navajo’s moccasins fell apart and their blankets turned to rags…… (many) became sick from different foods the soldiers gave them. They didn’t know how to use flour or coffee beans. They mixed the flour with water and drank it and the coffee beans they boiled in stews … Old people and young people fell along the trail. If they did not get up the soldiers either shot them or left them to freeze to death.”

Before reaching the Pecos River, they had to cross the Rio Grande and many drowned there before the military guard allowed the walkers to make a few primitive rafts. The number of deaths on The Long Walk varies between 3,000 and 5,000 – depending on who is telling the story.

The Navajo remained incarcerated in Fort Sumner for close to four years when a new treaty was negotiated, and the survivors rejoined a small band of Navajo warriors who had avoided capture and refused to surrender. The Navajo had survived.

The Fort Sumner concentration camp site is, by all accounts, better visited today than it was 25 years ago when I took my youngest son to see this rare historic site and learn a little harsh American history. He listened to my Navajo story, but couldn’t visualize a concentration camp on what looked like an empty field with a fence around it. He drifted off to Fort Sumner’s small cemetery for another look at a gravestone claiming to mark the last resting place of Henry McCarty or William Bonney – better known as “Billy the Kid.”

Billy the Kid was a 21-year-old murderer with eight victims to his name when Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed him at Fort Sumner in 1881 – and remains in the American psyche (and that of 10-year-old boys) a far more interesting historical happening at the old outpost than The Long Walk of the Navajos.

I think I owe readers a reason for reviving The Long Walk story. It was just curiosity. I got to wondering: How would Commander in Chief USA President Trump resolve his current troublesome problem of refugee “invaders” seeking food and a place to call home?

Late last Thursday afternoon via television he told me. At the first sign of trouble if/when the refugees reach the Mexico – USA border he would “use the rifle” to halt the cavalcade. And that brutal promised order from the Commander in Chief of the US Armed forces should be all his most ardent supporters need to trigger an already overdue farewell.

 

Return to the Dark Ages?

It is 15 years now since I revived a story written in the 1970s by the then-great San Francisco columnist Art Hoppe. I’m repeating it today because I think it even more pertinent, its conclusion more imminent than when Hoppe first wrote in the ‘70s and I rode on his pen in 2003.

I am aware the ancient Greek poet Homer once warned —  “And what so tedious as a twice-told tale”, but I also believe exceptions sometimes prove the rule.

Hoppe’s story was about a new country of a few thousand people united in a desire for freedom, justice, and equality. The people, he wrote, were “proud, independent, self-reliant and generally very prosperous.” And, above all else, “… they had faith. They had faith in their religion, their leaders, their country, themselves.”

The people of Hoppe’s new nation were also ambitious and determined to expand. To do that they had to subjugate what they regarded as heathen tribal peoples occupying the land the new nation needed to safeguard its extending borders. “First, they conquered the savage tribes that hemmed them in,” Hoppe wrote. “Then they fought wars on land and sea with foreign powers to the east and west and south. They won almost all the battles they fought, and triumphed in almost all of their wars.”

Eventually, the young nation took its place on the world stage, and not just any place. It became the “richest, mightiest nation in the whole world – admired, respected, envied and feared by one and all.”

The leaders of the nation and the people themselves were sometimes generous to a fault. And, together they seemed to have the earnest desire to share their wealth and their way of life with the rest of the world. They wanted, wrote Hoppe, to guarantee universal peace “and make everyone as prosperous and decent and civilized” as they themselves were.

The example set by this still growing nation was inspiring. It showed the world how to build good roads and super-highways; it taught the necessity of basic hygiene, of the need for cleanliness and sanitation. It led the world in transportation and “free speech.”

“And for a while”, wrote Hoppe “it even kept the peace.”

But power brought its own problems. “Being the mightiest nation meant that its leader was the mightiest man in the world. And, naturally, he acted like it. He surrounded himself with a palace guard of men chosen solely for their personal loyalty. He usurped the power of the Senate, signing treaties, waging wars and spending public funds as he saw fit.”

These problems were, suggested Hoppe 50 years ago, the first signs of decay. There were others.

“When little countries far away rebelled, (the leader) sent troops without so much as a by-your-leave. And the mightiest nation became engaged in a series of long, costly, inconclusive campaigns in faraway lands. Many young men refused to fight for their country, and in some places the mightiest nation employed mercenaries to do battle for its causes.”

On the home front, wrote Hoppe, “because it was the mightiest nation it worshipped wealth and the things wealth bought … the rich got richer, the poor grew poorer … many were idle and on welfare and lacked appropriate medical care.” To keep grumbles at a minimum the masses were offered entertainment by highly paid athletes, and at certain times of the year were urged to forget their day-to-day problems with festivals and circuses.

But the “entertainments” and the eat-drink-and-be-merry philosophy of a totally materialistic society brought its own problems. “Many citizens lost faith in their old religion and turned to mysticism,” wrote Hoppe. Dress and good grooming standards changed. Young people rejected clean clothes for the ragged look, long hair and sandals; and the most intimate of sexual relations became acceptable in public display. “Bare-breasted dancers, lewd shows and sex orgies (became) increasingly common. And the (national) currency was debased again and again to meet mounting debts.”

With its armies spread around the world, there were the beginnings of troubles at home as lack of respect for their leaders and their neighbours infiltrated daily life. “Citizens came to learn their leaders were corrupt – that the respected palace guard was selling favours to the rich … among the people … (there was) fear and distrust … So it was that the people lost faith. They lost faith in their leaders, their currency, … their postal system, their armies, their religion, their country and, eventually, themselves.

“And thus, in 476 A.D., Rome fell to the barbarians, and the Dark Ages settled over western civilization.

It was George Santayana who warned those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. We can only hope today’s great powers – all of them – remember that truth before they blunder today’s world back into the darkness of an age best confined to history books.

Don’t be Afraid to Listen to the Silence

It was in the 1860s that Henry David Thoreau, one of America’s great philosophers, wrote: “I have three chairs in my home; one for solitude, two for friendship and all three for society.”

Thoreau (1817-1862), writing about the simple life in the country, stressed the enjoyable times when one or two friends dropped in for a serious talk about weighty matters, and the more raucous times when his modest living quarters were jammed with neighbours for more boisterous and difficult-to-follow debate. He enjoyed them all but none so much as when “the solitude chair” sat empty and Thoreau had the luxury, and the wisdom, of being able to listen to its silence and learn.

It would be a hundred or so years after his death in 1862 that in the 1960s a couple of young folk singers would put a different spin on Thoreau’s praise for periods of solitude, where men and women could find the silence “companionable,” challenging and, if listened to, strengthening for society.

Paul Simon was 17 when he penned the lyrics of The Sounds of Silence, and with his partner, Art Garfunkel accused the world of living in a zone of silence and being too cowardly to respond to the ominous warnings it clearly conveyed. It was a timely call to conscience 50 years ago and is even more timely today.

Maybe you have forgotten some of the words: “Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again/Because a vision softly creeping/Left its seeds when I was sleeping/And the vision that was planted in my brain/Still remains/Within the sound of silence.”

He sang of his restless dream as he walked the cobbled streets of any town and every town until his eyes “were stabbed by the flash of neon light that split the night and touched the sound of silence.”

And then the great truth we witness every day; true when first spoken but more chilling now than ever they were: “And in the naked light I saw/Ten thousand people, maybe more/People talking without speaking/People hearing without listening/People writing songs that voices never share/And no one dare/Disturb the sounds of silence.”

And no one dare! Can that be true down south where a President appears to be running amok and beyond the control of the powerful men who are supposed leaders of the Republican Party?

“Fools said I, you do not know/Silence like a cancer grows/ Hear my words that I may teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you …“But my words, like silent raindrops fell/And echoed in the wells of silence.”

But I don’t despair. There must always be hope. Hope that someday, the corrupt silence that now binds so many world leaders to the pursuit of riches and power will end. Hope that the silence coveted by Thoreau can become the norm for our political leaders and ourselves.

It is 600 years or so since Blaise Pascal, a physics, math and geometry genius, said: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” He argued that we fear the silence, preferring entertaining distractions to thoughtful considerations and the stirring of conscience a session with “the solitude chair” could bring.

His challenge; Thoreau’s challenge; Paul Simon’s challenge; Our challenge: To listen to and in the silence – and not be afraid.

 

 

 

The Rough Road of Mental Health Care

Dates to remember:

1872 – British Columbia opened its first Asylum for the Insane in Victoria. Built on the Songhees reserve, it held 16 patients admitted for “disorders, nervous trouble, masturbation, injury to the head, intemperance, fright, (or) ‘unknown.’”

1878 – With the Victoria facility overcrowded and shadowed by scandal, the BC Provincial Lunatic Asylum was built on 100 acres of Crown land in New Westminster at a cost of $24,000. It eventually became known as Woodlands Hospital for the Insane and later, the BC Public Hospital for the Insane.

1892 – Woodlands Asylum connected to city water mains. Resident population – 135.

1896 – Clean bathing water available for each patient. Resident population – 171.

1930 – Patient per capita costs estimated at 72 cents per day. Resident population – 500+.

1940 – BC’s Mental Hospital Act amended to delete all mention of “lunatic” and “insane.”

1961 -Resident population  1,436 the highest recorded.

1982 – Government announces Woodlands to be closed. Resident population – approximately 900.

1999 – Government relinquishes any interest in the property for major health purposes, and the site reverts to surplus status

2003 – Government apologizes to former residents of Woodlands for any mental, physical or sexual abuse. Many hearings, inquiries, and a class action lawsuit follow over the rates and times of compensation until:

October 8, 2018 – British Columbia’s Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, announced: “This year, the BC government moved to finally do the right thing to extend compensation to Woodlands’ survivors denied redress for the abuse they suffered.”

Jane Dyson, former executive director of Disability Allowance BC, said she was thrilled that “after all these years of being told no, our Province is saying yes to the survivors of Woodlands.”

Time for rejoicing indeed – but with a great wave of sadness for the early victims of what our ancestors thought appropriate treatment for those who were mentally frail, and who died before public conscience could demand humanity and reform.

An example from Ken Scott’s research on the BC Public Hospital for the Insane: “In nineteenth-century British Columbia, both the medical community and the local public believed strongly in the importance of separating insane patients by gender. In 1869, two middle-class sisters, both school teachers, had been deemed insane. These ‘insane ladies’ were noisy and physically violent, and one refused to wear any clothing. They were kept locked in a bare brick cell in the Victoria city jail with only male staff supervision.

This challenge to Victorian respectability drew public attention to the severe lack of local psychiatric facilities. Eventually, a third sister, who was of sound mind, was permitted full-time access to the jail to care for her siblings. She wrote to the newspaper appealing to public respectability and arguing for gender-segregated facilities for the insane: ‘Men should be appointed to look after men – women to look after women. The cells for men and women should be in separate parts of the building … Men and women of Victoria, let us not rest until the evil is remedied.”

It took a while but “the evil was remedied” as were many others with the passage of time and flutters of conscience. But the road for mental health patients was rough as the records of “hitting, kicking, grabbing by the hair and dragging, very cold showers and very hot baths resulting in burns to the skin, extended isolation, wearing shackles and belt leash” demonstrate.

More disturbing than Scott’s grim picture of humanity at its worst are the comments from former Ombudsperson Dulcie McCallum who conducted an independent review of Woodlands’ care. She was careful to stress that while many Woodlands workers were honourable and dedicated, “there was a code of silence among many employees including those who were not engaged in abusive behaviour.”

The good guys disapproved of what some colleagues were doing, but balked at being a whistleblower and branded as “a snitch.”

We have come a long way since 1872 but it seems to me we all have a bit of that reluctance in our make-up which suggests that, while we can rejoice at the forward progress made as a society, we still have some old and nasty shibboleths to shake off before we get it right.

 

In Some Corner of a Foreign Field

It was on February 22, 1779, that Captain Charles Clerke of His Majesty’s Sloop Discovery committed the remains of fellow Captain James Cook of HMS Resolution “to the deep with all the attention and honour we could possibly pay in this part of the world.”

Ships Master Thomas Edgar tells us that, at five in the afternoon, Cook’s Resolution and the Discovery “hoisted ensigns and pendants half staff up and crossed over yards. At three quarters past the hour, Resolution tolled her bell and fired 10 four pounders, half minute guns, and committed the bones of Captain Cook to the deep.”

Fifteen minutes later, both ships “at 6 p.m. squared yards.” Most of the officers on board the two vessels presumed they would be setting course for home – that the third great voyage of Cook, the one that put the West and Northwest Coast of Canada and much of the Pacific Ocean on the maps of the world, was over after three years of discovering and charting new lands.

The officers were wrong. Captain Clerke, who had assumed command of the expedition and the Resolution after the assassination of Cook in Hawaii, said he understood the anxiety to get home after so long at sea, but felt it would be a betrayal of Cook’s plan to search northern waters once more for a dreamed-of northwest passage before heading home. He was determined, he said, to complete Cook’s plan even though he was seriously ill. His two ship fleet sailed north.

On August 17, 1779, while sailing the Bering Strait off the coast of Kamchatka just five days before his death, Clerke sat down to write a simple will and last testament. He was 38, ravaged by tuberculosis; reduced, according to his shipmates’ diaries, “to almost an absolute skeleton” of the man who had sailed them from the far side of the world.

He must have been feeling a million miles from home when he wrote: “In the name of God, Amen, I Charles Clerke (Captain) of His Majesty’s Sloop Resolution, having been long in a state of straighten (cct) and not knowing how soon it may please God to remove me from this life, I hereby make this my last will and testament that all my just and lawful debts be paid and which are as follows … ” The list was not long and basically contained the same beneficiaries as his first will, a will made by most early sailors before they launched on voyages of discovery expected to last for years, and from which there was always the danger of no return.

One bequest is a testimony to Captain Clerke’s character. “To my dear brother and friend Sir John Clerke, Captain in His Majesties (cct) Navy, 10 Guineas.” A generous gesture considering he’d once done hard time for brother John. Another brother didn’t fare nearly as well: “To my brother Joseph Clerke of Ipswich, Attorney at Law, one Guinea.”

No reasons were given for the difference, but, history tells us when Charles Clerke was posted to Captaincy of Resolution, he was in debtors’ prison serving time for brother John who had failed to pay back a loan. Charles had been his guarantor. Some historians suggest lawyer-brother Joseph, with only a guinea from his brother’s estate, had been lacking in family loyalty at the time and that it had taken intervention by friends who paid the bills to gain release for Charles in time for him to race to the coast and take command of HMS Discovery.

Unfortunately, he carried with him the early seeds of tuberculosis picked up during his grim incarceration in the notorious Fleet Prison. That wasn’t known when he finally sailed with Captain Cook who was in command of HMS Resolution and overall commander of the expedition.

It would be October 4, 1780, before the two ships returned to the Royal Navy yards in Deptford, England – four years, three months, and two days after they left. Both ships had lost their captain.

Cook’s remains had been “committed to the deep” off Hawaii; Clerke had sailed north to die and be buried – as requested – on land.

His grave was originally near the village of Paratunka on the Kamchatka Peninsula. In 1918, his remains were moved to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. A Royal Navy memorial stone and a Russian tribute remind the world that: “This officer made several trips to the opening of new lands.” In his short life span, Clerke had circumnavigated the globe twice and came close to completing a third.

The home of his birth, Brook Farm, Braintree Road, Wethersfield, Essex, England, still exists today as a bed and breakfast establishment of high repute. However, it makes only modest reference to its most famous resident who joined the Royal Navy at age 13, and 10 years later sailed on HMS Dolphin on his first circumnavigation – an unsuccessful search for Terra Australis Incognito – Australia.

In Wethersfield, there’s a wall plate in St Mary’s Church listing Clerke family accomplishments and, almost in passing, the contributions of Charles. In New Zealand’s Government House there hangs a portrait painting of Clerke with a Maori chief. But that’s about all we have as memorial tributes.

Captain Cook continues to command centre stage for Northwest and Pacific discoveries – and no one can deny the wonders of his perseverance, his discoveries, charts, diaries, maps, and descriptions of worlds once unknown. He is remembered each year and rightly praised for great achievements on the anniversary of his brutal death on a Hawaiian beach on the 14th of February, 1779.

I try to remember Captain Clerke from time to time. He’s not as high as Cook on the honour and memorial charts, although he did two circumnavigations of the globe and was second in command of the third when he died so far from home. I remember him and his lonely grave in a remote corner of Siberia with its bleak Royal Navy reminder that Captain Clerke also made “several trips” to open up new lands.

Rupert Brook penned better and longer lasting words than I for those who, worthy of higher honours, die and lie in far away and oft-forgotten places.

“If I should die, think only this of me;

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam.

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.”

 

I think Captain Clerke, a quiet hero, would be happy to be so remembered in a small patch of Russian soil  “for  ever England.”

 

Don’t Bury The Past — Learn From It

It broods over Dublin on even the finest of Irish mornings. A silent, glowering, monolithic monument to evil times and wicked men; to injustice and executions so vile they turned the conscience of an Empire and the world.

When it was built in 1796, it was called “the New Gaol,” designed to replace what was described as “a noisesome dungeon.” It would eventually be named Kilmainham Gaol and serve with a disgraceful record in England’s attempt to bring Ireland under submissive control.

Almost from opening day, the Irish called Kilmainham “The Irish Bastille,” with public hangings just outside its front doors and ghastly conditions inside. Encyclopedias tell us there was no segregation of prisoners in the early years of Kilmainham. Men, women, and children could be housed in same cells – 28 meters square. There was no running water and after dark, illumination and heat came from a wax candle. Each prisoner was issued one candle every two weeks.

As the years went by, there was little improvement in conditions. Public hanging was getting an unseemly reputation and was moved “inside” to a specially built hanging cell. Prisoners still existed under abominable conditions with women suffering far more than men.

In1809, the Inspector of Prisons reported male prisoners were provided iron bedsteads and a slim mattress while female prisoners slept on straw “on the flagstone of the cells and common halls.”

Kilmainham reached a zenith of evil in 1916, the year of the great Easter Rising when a volunteer Irish army challenged the military might of Great Britain and was badly mauled in the process. In May, the now old jail became the execution headquarters for the rebel leaders.

On May 3, 1916, Thomas James Clarke, the first signer of the Proclamation of Independence, led the parade of the doomed to Kilmainham’s inner courtyard of execution. Nine days later, on May 12, James Connolly was the last to face the jail firing squad – in a way that brought world condemnation on Major-General Sir John Maxwell, commander-in-chief of operations in Ireland, and his country.

Connolly had been badly wounded in the few days of fighting. And his leg wounds had turned gangrenous. He was unable to walk or stand when he was transported to Kilmainham, where he was tied to a chair, allowed a few minutes with a priest, and executed. Between May3-12 more than a dozen executions after brief and cursory military hearings were carried out at Kilmainham.

A few years later, Kilmainham was closed and, by 1936, plans were considered for its demolition. However, there was a stirring among the people that it would be wrong to demolish – to obliterate – such a powerful monument to the growth of a nation. By the 1950s, rumours that the Office of Public Works was about to seek tenders for the demolition sparked action, and in 1958 the grassroots preservation people formed the “Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society.”

Wikipedia informs us that in May 1960, 48 years after Connolly’s execution “with a workforce of 60 volunteers, the society set about clearing the overgrown vegetation, trees, fallen masonry and bird droppings from the site. By 1962, the symbolically important prison execution yard … had been cleared of rubble …” But not of memories.

Today, Kilmainham Gaol jokes about being the largest unoccupied jail in Europe – maybe the world. Empty of prisoners, but now a national museum jammed with history, it tells the world the story of a nation’s journey through tragedies to today’s point in time.

And, it tells us that story, warts and all, the good guys and the bad, the unimaginable cruelties and the equally unimaginable beauty of the courage of people who believed things could be better and made them so.

Maybe Canadians – native and immigrant – should think of Kilmainham the next time we get the urge to hide a statue or eliminate a building with harsh memories.

An Old Soldier’s Rejected Plea For Peace

It is an often-repeated theme of mine that while mankind gets smarter with each passing year, we don’t seem to learn much. We make remarkable progress in the battle against disease while developing weapons to more efficiently kill enemies real or perceived.

It was 65 years ago – in April 1953 – that then USA President Dwight D. Eisenhower touched on the dilemma in his first major speech since assuming the Presidency three months earlier – and shook the conscience of the world. But, without lasting effect.

In his speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, President Eisenhower urged the men and women who controlled the printing presses of North America to understand their power and use it wisely. “You are,” he said, “in such a vital way, both representatives of and responsible to the people of our country. In great part, upon you – upon your intelligence, your integrity, your devotion to the ideals of freedom and justice themselves – depends the understanding and the knowledge with which our people must meet the facts of the twentieth century.”

He suggested editors should focus their energies, as he intended to focus his, on the one great issue “which most urgently challenges and summons the wisdom and courage of our whole people. This issue is peace.”

It was a courageous speech given just eight short years after cataclysmic nuclear blasts had demolished Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II and touch off the great arms race between Russia and the USA. He admitted that the chilling rhetoric of the times had seen his dream of peace “grow dim and almost die.” He warned that unless the world could, with newspapers cultivating understanding and knowledge, find the way to peace, the worst outcome would be an atomic war. And, then “the best would be this; a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labour of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.”

We can be thankful we missed the worst option – even as we confirm the accuracy of Eisenhower’s vision of “perpetual fear and tension” in today’s world which still lacks the will to find peace. And, sadly, also now lacks a powerful Press voice urging a great nation to continue the search.

The editors of 1953 listened respectfully to the President but didn’t do much to change their ways. The world heard his words, even praised them, but preferred to be entertained by media rather than informed. A few old-timers may remember what Eisenhower said 65 years ago, and a few more might like to hear them spoken again by more presidents and prime ministers.

Eisenhower 1953: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities; it is two electric power plants, each serving a town with a 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals … We pay for a single fighter plane with half a million bushels of wheat … We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed 8,000 people.”

Not much has changed since the son of pacifist Mennonite parents broke traditional family beliefs, joined the army, became a general and overall military commander of the Allied forces in WW2, and then President of the USA.

Having seen war at its bloodiest, and maybe with memories of childhood in a home governed by peace and love and the security both can bring, he said the world of 1953 was not a pleasant place as it raced for bigger and better arms.

“This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that comes with this spring of 1953 …”

Eight years later, on January 17, 1961, in his farewell speech from the White House, he warned that while it was vital for the USA to maintain a military establishment “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

I wonder what the old soldier would say today. Would he still have “faith that God created man to enjoy, not destroy?” And, would he still hold firm his belief that one day the world would see lifted “from the backs of men and from the hearts of men, their burden of arms and of fears, so that they may find before them a golden age of freedom and peace?”

Maybe, but he would surely weep at the bellicose threats issuing from the man who now holds his old job and the scavenged press so much-diminished as a responsible force for good.

 

 

An End or a Beginning?

After careful consideration, I am prepared to forecast that the pending open marketing sale of what we politely call non-medical cannabis will not be anywhere near as confusing as the last time our provincial government bulldozed its way into the lucrative “forget your worries” drug distribution business. 

That was a couple of world wars back when thousands of young men came wandering home from the WW1 battlefields of Europe unable to find a friendly estaminet or pub for a relaxing glass of wine or a pint of beer. Our soldiers, sailors, and air force personnel were not pleased when they discovered that the mixed-up liquor laws in effect when they shipped out had been consolidated nationally in 1918 to a total prohibition of the sale of alcoholic drinks. 

Total prohibition didn’t last long. Officially it lasted until 1921. In reality bootlegging kept the liquor trade alive – and profitable enough to make the government envious. 

During the early half-hearted prohibition period, medical doctors boosted their incomes by charging $2 to sign a prescription for “medicinal liquor” which could then be legally purchased at a government outlet or a drug store. A Brief History of BC Wine and Liquor Laws (http://www.winelaw.ca) informs us that in 1919 alone “181,000 prescriptions were written by the provinces’ doctors at $2 each. The government eased its conscience by stressing the medical values of booze as recommended by doctors and joyfully banked $1.5 million in liquor sale in that same year. 

That was peanuts compared with when the United States introduced national prohibition (1920-1933) and the east coast of Vancouver Island from Nanaimo to Victoria held pride of place among “rum runners” anxious to quench the great American thirst. 

Duty bound to respect American law, the provincial government declared rum runners criminals and made a few arrests. But high on its “things to do list” were new laws designed to make sure a goodly portion of all liquor sales ended up in the provincial treasury. Big Brother was discovering people would willingly pay to soften their sorrows. 

On Oct. 20, 1920, a plebiscite vote was held “to ascertain whether the electorate was still in favour of BC’s 1917 Prohibition Act or wanted a milder form of government liquor control.” The questions: “1) Do you favour the Prohibition Act; or 2) An Act to provide for Government Control and Sale in Sealed Packages of Spirituous and Malt Liquors.” 

The answer was clear with 55,488 voting to retain prohibition and 92,095 voting to get liquor sales out in the open under government control. A few weeks later a general election was called with revised liquor laws the main issue. The Liberal government lost half a dozen seats but still held power and the electorates support to control the sale “of spirituous and malt liquors.” Prohibition was over in BCand the government was in control of sales.

By 1921, back street government liquor stores – with no products on display – were opening, but customers had to go through several procedural steps before they could obtain the bottle of their choice. Pubs and cocktail bars were still officially unknown but “beer clubs” flourished. 

In 1924 there was a fight was over the sale of beer by the glass “in licensed premises without a bar.” It failed with 73,853 no votes and 72,214 yes. 

Although the “no” vote prevailed overall, many communities had voted in favour of beer by the glass in licensed pubs and were allowed to open. They were not pleasant places. No food was allowed and patrons were forbidden to stand while drinking. In 1927, women were allowed into the once all-male sanctum – but only if they entered by a separate entrance to men and if they drank in a separate room. 

In 1952, the government reintroduced the beer by the glass issue with the plebiscite slightly reworded to ask: “Are you in favour of the sale of spirituous liquor and wine by the glass in establishments licensed for such purpose?” 

Yes votes totaled 315,533; no votes were 205,736; and an astounding 20, 856 spoiled their ballots – whether by tantrum or spilled drinks is not recorded. The vote led to the establishment of the Liquor Inquiry Commission which in turn led to the Liquor Distribution Branch and explosion of pubs, bars, and nightclubs around the province. In the early going, patrons drank behind frosted or curtained windows – presumably to avoid being seen imbibing or to shield the eyes of passersby from temptation. Women were allowed to enter bars if accompanied by a man and eventually were granted to come and go as they pleased.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s, when Dave Barrett was premier and neighborhood pubs were making their debut, that most of the old taboos disappeared. And, while the world did not come to end, it’s hard to make a case that the more we drank the more we made the world a better place. 

So, we wait for October 17, the day the federal government legalizes marijuana. Significantly in BC, the Liquor Distribution Branch is in charge of the launch as it seeks the largest slice of the free-enterprise gold mine via wholesale and retail stores and a full-blown BC Cannabis Stores Internet presence with two separate websites “to fulfill online orders; one for consumers and another for private retailer stores.” 

Remembering the past history of the government’s progress from bystander to chief distributor of pleasurable and dangerous drugs based on alcohol, I wonder: will non-medical marijuana remain alone as a government sponsored aid to dreamworld? Or what might next be added to the list?

 

20/20 Vision Will Be Required

School teachers in British Columbia lost the right to vote in provincial elections or even participate in election campaigning in 1878, just seven years after BC elected its first provincial government in 1871. They joined native-born first citizens and Chinese immigrants on the list of residents disenfranchised, banned from the ballot.

The latter half of the 1800s was an unsettled time for a brand-new provincial government, not quite sure of its responsibilities and nervous about possible challenges to its authority.

A historical timeline published by today’s BC Teachers’ Federation is designed to guide its members and the general public through the steps leading to today’s full collective agreement bargaining rights. It starts: “In 1872, the initial Public Schools Act for BC contained few rights for teachers (who) were organized into a Teacher Institute dominated by government officials.”

Item two in the timeline jumps to 1917 when the BCTF was officially formed to deal “with economic, professional and social concerns …”

There is no mention in the timeline of the earlier draconian suspension of the right of teachers to vote or participate in an election campaign and I could not find a written record as I combed through hard-to-read ancient Daily Colonists and volumes of major and minor Statutes of BC. I found a statute number announcing the prohibition – SBC 1878 c.22 – but with no meat on the bone. (A data contribution from any amateur or professional historian with better eyes and/or a quicker mind would be gratefully appreciated.)

For now, let me just say that as the new provincial government began to flex its muscles in the 1800s, banning people from voting became a favourite form of discipline. The prohibition against teachers voting was withdrawn in 1883 which indicates teachers were banned from participating in two general elections – the year of the ban, May 1878 and the vote in July 1882.

Teachers were not the only target group to be denied the vote by a nervous government trying to curb costs by holding down wages and refusing to even consider social benefits for their workers. Obviously, come election time, the government of the day couldn’t be punished by those denied the vote. Other groups excluded over the years included civil servants, judges, police officers, political agents, the military and “the inmates of insane asylums.”

Among the last to be removed from the list of the disenfranchised were “the clergy.” Why they were ever on the list is a mystery, but men of God (no women in the pulpit at the time) were not allowed to vote until 1916 – one year before women finally got the franchise in 1917.

A year later on January 12, 1918, Mary Ellen Smith won a byelection in Vancouver. And, two years after that, two clergymen transferred from the pulpit to political soap-box and the legislative debating chamber. Reverend Thomas Menzies was elected in Comox and Canon Joshua Hinchcliffe in Victoria as they made the jump from preaching to politics in 1920.

We have come a long way from those bad old days when the government thought its power unchallengeable and the populace accepted ridiculous decisions without question. Governments did become wiser with the passing of the years but only because their people made them.

A hundred and forty years ago, in 1878, a total of 6,377 voters elected 25 members to a new legislative assembly with government playing tough guy with a handful of poorly organized school teachers. In 1916, some 179,774 voters elected 47 MLAs and a year later in 1917 the fledgling BC Teachers’ Federation was born.

Today, the BCTF is a formidable organization ready enough, rich enough, strong enough, smart enough to fight and protect its members. Sometimes it gets too smart for its own good, forgets its role in the grand scheme of things and the fact that the many benefits of the teaching profession are paid for by people who can only dream of such good fortune.

Over the next few months – maybe for as long as a year (the current agreement expires June 30,2019) – the BCTF will be engaged in debate with the government to hammer out a new collective agreement. On October 26 and 27, the BCTF will be holding a members bargaining conference to discuss its “vital” objectives when formal negotiations begin late this year or early next.

We, who will pick up the tab for whatever the teachers win at the table, can only wait and watch and hope that BCTF demands are reasonable and that the government’s response is justifiable and affordable, and that the outcomes are the product of honest explanations of costs for the benefit of those of us who pay the bill.

Our representative at the table is the government – and we of voting age have full rights to run, vote and/ or campaign in the general election scheduled a blink in time after the new BCTF collective agreement is signed.

20/20 could be an interesting time with clear sight on political issues more important than ever before.