By Mark Tymm, MCC Ottawa Office Advocacy Research Intern. Mark is an Anabaptist of Northern Irish/Canadian descent, a musician, and a graduate of Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, BC.
It’s hard to believe my time here in Ottawa has almost reached the half-way point. As part of my learning experience, I am often given opportunities to attend events around town, such as public lectures organized by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, or the Ottawa Peace Festival, and Question Period at the House of Commons. One such event was a conference entitled Peacebuilding: Negotiate, Organize, Intervene at the Canadian War Museum.
The Canadian War Museum was opened in its current location in May 2005. It is a unique building and was designed by Raymond Moriyama who, as a child, was confined to an internment camp during WWII. I pass the museum every day on my way to the MCC Ottawa Office. It’s a modern building, and echoes the terrible realities of war. The textured concrete walls and roof look a bit like a bunker, but the roof is partially-covered in grass, supposedly representing regeneration. The small windows on the most prominent peak spell “Lest we forget” and “N’oublions jamais” in Morse code. The building certainly reminds viewers of many aspects of Canada’s involvement in armed conflicts.
The museum is currently hosting Peace: The Exhibition, which prompted (and provided the organizational structure for) this one-day conference. The event featured three panel discussions by some of the biggest names in Canadian peace operations and analysis, such as Paul Heinbecker, Peggy Mason, Douglas Roche, and General John de Chastelain. The panel discussed a wide variety of topics: civilian involvement in a particular conflict, personal reflections on a historical event, and even the personal letters of Lester B. Pearson and his son during the Suez Crisis of 1956.
Perhaps the most significant understanding I walked away with was the sense that non-violent approaches to conflict resolution are not popular. No matter the background of the panelist (military, academic, political, diplomatic), all affirmed the use of military force in some form or other. Clearly, the traditional pacifist convictions held by many Anabaptists are shared by only a minority of Canadians.
With this recent personal history I got onto the bus today, stepping past a familiar yellow ribbon beside the door with the words, “Support our Troops.” The phrase has been echoing in my head throughout the day. As we approach Remembrance Day, I have been faced with this struggle. “Support our Troops.” Does that mean supporting a war? Does that mean supporting violence?
Yes of course I support our troops; that’s why I want them to come home and stop fighting.
When it comes to Remembrance Day, it’s hard to know what to say. Our government would like us to remember veterans as heroes. It calls Canadians “people of peace,” but then it commits us to a lengthy and costly war in Afghanistan, touts Canada’s military heritage and history, and orders $2 billion worth of Close Combat Vehicles.
War is a sensitive topic; many of us have lost friends and relatives to armed conflict. Many of us have friends or family who have served or are serving in the Canadian Forces. It is important on Remembrance Day to mourn with those who mourn. At the same time, it’s important to remember that we are calling for an end to violence and offering other solutions.
In past years, as a pacifist I have been incredibly uncomfortable with Remembrance Day. This year though I am reminded that although I do not embrace violence, I have been called to offer comfort to victims of violence, to offer to be a beacon of peace. After all, as we are reminded in MCC’s recent Peace Sunday resource,we have been given a ministry of reconciliation.
Can we remember those that have died fighting and appreciate their sacrifice while disagreeing with their means? What about remembering the One who faced violence and death and yet asked for forgiveness for his killers?