On Varying Reactions

I am as offended as the next person that three drunken revellers, returning from a Canada Day fireworks display, chose to desecrate the national war memorial by urinating on it. I am pleased that the police are pursuing all leads and will (I hope) lay appropriate criminal charges for this act. But I am a little perplexed at the ferocity of the reaction in the Canadian blogosphere.

What’s worse? Three drunken louts choosing to relieve themselves on a war memorial on Canada Day, or person or persons unknown defacing a cenotaph with spraypaint on the eve of Remembrance Day?

Because that’s what happened in Kitchener a few years back: our downtown cenotaph was defaced, leading to a tradition of young cadets from the nearby barracks performing honour guard duty in the days leading up to Remembrance Day. (I can’t recall what was spraypainted on the cenotaph. I’m under the impression there were swastikas, while my father recalls anti-war logos, but it did happen when it happened, and everybody in the community was appalled)

It was all over the local news, but I can find neither hyde nor hair of this story on Google, or in any blogger memories. So, I have to ask, where was the anger for that cruel act of vandalism?

Is it because this is a national war memorial that got defaced the other day? Or the fact that we have photographic evidence that may lead to convictions?

My father comments: “Disrespect for war memorials goes way back to the 60’s when some UofT students painted out all the names on the memorial wall beside the Peace Tower next to Hart House. (That this has happened this past weekend is particularly bad) because they were commemorating the Battle of the Somme in WW 1 all week.”

It is bad wherever and whenever it happens, but I’m still perplexed at the amount of attention this particular incident has received, when other incidents go unnoticed. What’s behind that, I wonder.

Or maybe it’s the fact that there’s nothing else on the news to gripe about.

On Second Thought

I refrained from posting the above because a part of me wanted to think about this more, and this is what I’ve come up with.

First of all: why no anger? Well, while the event I’m thinking of happened recently, it did happen before the turn of the millennium; in other words, before there was a blogosphere to vent about this sort of thing. Doesn’t explain why I can’t find references to it in the usenet archives. Also, the fact that this occurred during a slow news week probably explains the attention it’s received.

And I want to reiterate that I understand some commentators’ initial reactions that can be summed up as “just five minutes, Worm, your honour, (them) and me alone.” That was precisely the reaction I had when the Kitchener cenotaph got spraypainted (although my reaction was more along the lines of Willow versus Faith: “if I was larger and had grenades.”). But I still think it wise that we keep this in perspective.

Because we have photographic evidence of this misdeed, these three individuals will likely get caught and face criminal charges. This is appropriate. And the fact that the media has caught interest in this story means that these individuals will be very famous indeed. And I think that’s also appropriate. Some level of public shaming may help prevent further desecrations from happening, and it makes a nice change from the stories we’ve heard where graves have been desecrated, but the perpetraitors never caught.

But let’s not forget that this is the action of three drunken louts, and nothing more. It doesn’t have the calculated approach of swastikas on gravestones, or spraypainting a cenotaph on the eve of Remembrance Day. And, at some level, we want to show that we are better, more civilized than these thugs.

I’m not defending this as a flag burning issue. For one thing, people who burn the flag tend to own the flags they burn. The people caught here will be charged for vandalizing property they do not own. But when people intentionally desecrate the memory of those who have sacrificed so much, they are thugs. We are the people our fallen soldiers laid down their lives for: we the civilized, the democratic, the respectors of property rights, and the rule of law. If we let that veneer slip, we lower ourselves to the level of the thugs. We have a right to be outraged only because we do not do thug things like actually get these twerps in a room alone with us, with them tied down and you holding the grenades.

But let’s not get hung up on a symbol, and that’s what this is. It offends me that these people disrespect our symbols and our memories, but in the end, these acts to not change what these symbols and memories represent. At the end of the day, you still have these. These are not taken away from you. In the meantime, there is so much else in the world to get frustrated and angry about. If we let every little thing anger us, then we ourselves are responsible for making our lives unhappy. There are better ways to channel our anger.

By far, the worst expression of thuggish hate can be seen vocalized by Fred Phelps and his crew shouting obscenities at mourners during funerals of fallen American servicemen, and I would say that it is absolutely remarkable that nobody has retaliated with violence. Indeed, the response by a group of motorcycle-riding veterans has been more than commendable. Their response, of peacefully revving their engines and drowning out Phelp’s hateful crew, has been creative, tactful, and very, very effective. This is the sort of response that we as a society should be aiming for in dealing with the thugs and the louts who desecrate our national monuments.

Further Reading

Happy Independence Day to our friends south of the border! We spent the day on our feet, having breakfast out, and then feeding ducks at a local cemetary. We passed a plot full of World War I veterans, and each grave had been given an flag. It was an interesting, solemn display, which I snapped a couple of pictures of.

I barbecued, and probably smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes on coals that were happy to smoulder, but reluctant to light. Fortunately, the burgers and hotdogs I cooked turned out well. Then we walked off dinner with a two mile stroll around Grays Lake. Vivian is asleep now, and I’m a little footsore, so I’ll probably miss out on the fireworks displays. We did light sparklers in memory of what would have been Wendy and Lars’ seventh anniversary, though.

Tomorrow, we’ll be heading over to Omaha in the early afternoon and meeting up with Erin’s best friend Therese. Then it’s off to Lincoln for a few more days of rest. See you then!

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