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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Canada and Mandela

Canada has reasons to be proud of our long association with Nelson Mandela and the international opposition to apartheid.  Mandela even in prison came to know of this support through the BBC.  He has come to know as one who remembers his friends who supported him and his struggle over the years.  He made his first of three trips to Canada, the first being his first trip abroad just four months after his release from prison.  He came to meet Prime Minister Brian Muroney to thank him and Canada for their support. On this occasion he spoke to a joint session of  Parliament and was well received. 

Nelson Mandela and Brian Mulroney

Brian Mulroney, to his credit, (I am not one of his fans but I could forgive him a lot for his stand with Mandela and against apartheid.)  broke rank with is fellow conservative leaders at the time, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.  These good friends he talk frankly that they were on the wrong side of history by dismissing Mandela as a communist terrorist and continuing to support the fascist apartheid government of South Africa.  Mulroney also faced down the banking, business establishment in Canada, which largely supported the South African regime because of the business ties.  Mulroney was an early world leader in the struggle against apartheid when he declared at the United Nations that Canada would boycott business between Canada and South Africa.  His foreign minister at the time, John Clark did much of the heavy lifting on this, promoting the sanctions against South Africa and defending Canada's position.  Canada, and Australia took the leadership on this in the Commonwealth of Nations when Britain failed to do so, this influencing other nations to follow their lead.

The struggle for Mandela release and the condemnation of apartheid had long been a cause for many Canadians: labour unions, churches, and student groups, kept up the pressure on successive government. 
It was another conservative prime minister, John Diefenbacker,  who insisted an apartheid government has no place in the Commonwealth of Nations. As a result, South Africa was excluded in the 1960's. putting international pressure on that government.

aTwice more, Nelson Mandela came to Canada, 1998 and 2001.  He spoke once again before the Canadian parliament, now as Prime Minister of South Africa.  In 1998 he was awarded the Order of Canada and addressed a gathering of 45,000 students at the Skydome. He was treated like a rock star and no doubt left a big impression of the gathered students from the Toronto area.  In 2001, he came and was made an honorary Canadian,  a very rare honour granted by Canada.  He also visited a very interesting school in Toronto named after him.  It is in the poorer area of Regent Park. The school includes the life and values of Nelson Mandela in their curriculum.

Canada sent a significant delegation to Mandela's funeral. It included four prime minsters; Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, Kim Campbell  and Stephen Harper two former Governor Generals:  Adrian Clarkson, and  Michaëlle Jean. Other prominent Canadians were there including Stephen Lewis, who worked so long for the UN in Africa, and Tom Mulcair, leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

I must say I am embarrassed that Stephen Harper, our current Prime Minister, was the one to praise Nelson Mandela and Canada's role in supporting him and opposing apartheid. It came off as so insincere. Stephen Harper leads a government that serves business and economic matters before all else. If he had been Prime Minister earlier he would have stood in solidarity with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in support of the South African government, if for no other reason than it was good for business. If he ever was concerned about  apartheid and the oppression of people he would be speaking up on behalf of the Palestinian people if no leading in the struggle against the apartheid system of the Israeli government. Instead he has the strongest unconditional support for the right wing Israeli government of  any current world leader. It would have been nice if he had stood aside and let Brian Mulroney take the lead to speak on Canada's behalf.

There are those Canadians who feel Canada was somewhat slighted by not being asked to have a spokesman at his funeral.  It would have been nice to have Canada recognized in proportion to it's significance in Mandela's eyes. Of course, it was not Canada's decision to make. Canada was represented at the funeral, not for our honour but to honour Nelson Mandela, who we so long supported and respected

The program below is worth listening to. It is a CBC program called Ideas. It is program about Nelson Mandela life, based on recording done over a number of years and it part of a very extensive archive in South Africa of his ideas This is the first time they have been broadcast.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela




It is good that we remember Nelson Mandela today.  His life and time among us holds many lessons for us. Central to his life was the struggle he lead against the racist apartheid government of South Africa. If you do nothing else today read Mandela's speech from the dock . You can read it here in full. The is a wonderful well crafted speech setting forth the reasons for his actions at the beginning of his trial in 1964. He guaranteed his conviction with it. He may have well doomed himself to death.  He begins by taking responsibility for his actions noting that some of which he is accused is true. The rest of the speech is setting forth is argument for breaking the law. The ANC had for decades (founded in 1912) tried to change the political system by trying to participate within it. He pointed out that the State responded with apartheid laws which permanently marginalized black South Africans. The State increasingly enforced these law with more and greater violence.  This lead to the necessity to respond with violence. The options were several but the least violent against people, sabotage was the one chosen.  Armed struggle remained a possibility. 

In these days we will hear many heartfelt tributes from individuals and government representatives. There will be some that will ring hollow. We will here from those who did not support the ANC during it's struggle. They in fact supported the apartheid government of South Africa.  Some of these countries need to apologize for their part. Of course, they will not.  I understand Barack Obama will speak at the funeral and yet the United States government considered Mandela a terrorist until recently.  Ronald Reagan called him a terrorist. It was not until only a few short years ago (2005 or 2008) that he was taken off the list. Reagan tried to stop the US from participating in the blockade of trading with South Africa. Congress to it credit over ruled him. I think we should all remember that it was an American CIA agent that informed the South Africa security forces where to find Mandela as he was secretly returning to the country after being "illegally" abroad.  How  glorious it would be if Obama began his eulogy asking for forgiveness for the United States failure to err of the side of  justice. Of course it will not happen, the powerful never feel a need to apologize.

The rogue country, Israel, remained a strong supporter of  the apartheid  government. They even gave nuclear technology to South Africa supposedly to fight against the black socialist hoards.

I have been thinking what could be done to really honour Mandela. The greatest honour would be to resolve the Palestinian situation. Israel with the support of the US and much of Europe (and Canada) has developed the apartheid system of resisting any just solution for the Palestinian.  It is time for all countries who care about justice to strongly oppose Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people.  

Another tribute to Mandela could be the release of political prisoners. The United States could begin by closing down the illegal prison of Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps, even the release of the American Taliban, and Omar Khadr.   To the extent no such gesture will be made just demonstrate to what extent the lessons from  Mandela have not been learned.

May we long remember the lessons of Nelson Mandela. The first one is that "terrorist" is not an eternal designation.  We should all be careful at who we label a terrorist. Terrorist often turn out to be honoured as freedom fighters and liberators.  This was the case with Mandela but he also became a great democrat, humanitarian and defender of human rights.

Friday, November 22, 2013

John Fitzgerald Kennedy
35th President of the United States

We fondly remember

In Canada President Kennedy was seen as our President too. We followed him, his family and Presidency with great fascination and admiration. We too, answered the idealistic call and came to believe that life can be better and we can and should try to make a difference.  I say this because I do not think American's appreciate how much Canadians know about and share in what goes on in the United States. We only wish Americans gave Canada a thought once in a while and knew more about our great Nation, which is quite distinct in many ways culturally from the United States.  This week we were amused as some Harvard Students stopped in Harvard Yard could not name the capital city of Canada.  Finally, one student knew and she turned out to be a Canadian studying at Harvard.  So much for the best and the brightest.

The idealism of the Kennedy years saw Canada elect it own political hero in Pierre Elliot Trudeau as Trudeaumania  swept the country.

Canadians alongside Americans were shocked and heart broken by the death of President Kennedy. I remember the day well. I was alone driving from Waterloo, where I went to University, to home in Mississauga, where I grew up. I listened on the radio and then spent the weekend watching the events on TV.  For me and a lot of my friends in Canada and the United States this was the beginning of a long line of violent deaths of our political and social heroes: Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr,  Ché Guevara, Malcolm X.  It has been enough to make one cynical.

It is so appropriate that Norman Rockwell painted him. His short Presidency was not unlike a Rockwell painting.  It was idealized, delightful and inspiring as to what we thought it should be.  Flaws were overlooked.

President Kennedy was an inspiration for a generation, my generation which was just becoming politically aware..  He asked that we be the best we can be. He asked us all to get involved in shaping civil society. It was in his short Presidency that the vision of the Space Program was offered as a challenge to the Nation.  Also, the Peace Corp was born and saw a generation of young people trying to serves people around the World and in so doing learning of life beyond the boundaries of the United States.He did lay to rest the notion that the United States is a Protestant country although he continues to be the only non-protestant President after all these years. Reluctantly, but decisively, he made contributions to the civil rights struggle, which was left for Johnson to realize.And, or course, we vicariously shared in his personal life of privilege, family and public service.

His short Presidency  and his personal life was flawed  but we overlooked or forgave that at the time. During his presidency there was the failure of the Bay of Pigs and the near disastrous Cuban Missile Crisis. He being an ardent anti-communist resulted in the wrong headed blockade of Cuba that persists today. If a Russian officer on a submarine had not disobey an order to fire nuclear weapons, history and the US would have had a different outcome.  Kennedy can take little credit for avoiding a nuclear war.  He misused the idealism of youth to get the United States deeply involved in the failed Vietnam War.  If Kennedy had survived for a second term,  we might very well have come to be more critical of him and his policies in the same way that Barack Obama has become somewhat of a disappointment. His inspirational legacy survives.

We need more than ever a Kennedy like  leader of the World who can inspire us and rally us to act our of idealism to save the planet from the blight of human activity. The World still looks to America to supply such a leader.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg Address

Four score and seventy years ago, (150 years)  Lincoln delivered his brief but iconic address to a crowd at  the Gettysburg battle field just a few months after the famous battle. The dead were still being buried on the new cemetery there.

It is interesting the Lincoln was invited, almost as a second thought, to give a brief address. The major speaker was the outstanding Boston intellectual The Reverend Edward Everett. He was a Unitarian Minister, (the Unitarians were the religious liberals of the day dominant in Eastern Massachusetts during this period of the New England Enlightenment,  He was a politician, professor, public intellectual and one of the outstanding orators of his day.  He spoke for 2 hours, (not an unusually long for a sermon in those days, public lectures were a form of entertainment in those days.  Lincoln spoke briefly for 2 minutes, his address is remembered and revered as the most memorable.

Lincoln preparing to speak holding  a copy of his address on a single page.

Lincoln in this speech reset the vision of the United States. While in the midst of a  absolutely dreadful war,  thinks back on the origins of the American experiment  at Statehood.  He minds those present that they can only honour those who died and fought by continuing to live out the mission of the Nation.  He reset the focus. The civil war for him was not just an issue of succession but an affirmation of  a Nation with a focus of Freedom and Liberty. He ends his address thus;
" we highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,--that this Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth."
 I love it that he largely lifted from the Unitarian minister and abolitionist  Theodore Parker, part of this sentence.  Parker wrote, in a tract Lincoln had read,  "Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.."   As a person who found a religious home as a teenager in the Unitarian church, becoming a Unitarian minister to the surprise of my family and friends, I have long steeped myself in American history, particularly since the beginning of the 19th Century in New England. This rich intellectual history gave birth not only to my denomination but also literature and public debate of a high order. Theodore Parker was one of my religious heroes along with William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson, the three great thinkers that shaped my religious denomination's thought. They continue to stimulate me religiously. One can only imagine how much they inspired the intellectual community of Eastern Massachusetts in their day.

Just in case you were wondering, No I did not name my son Parker after Theodore Parker,  He is named after my maternal grandfather, Charles Parker Beeston.

Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg today  There are just over 31,000 names of those that died in the Gettysburg Battle

This memorial reminds me of the Menin Gate in Ypres  where there are 55,000  names of the unidentified soldiers who died in the battles for the salient battles outside the city of Ypres in the Great War.

Such memorials I find so very troublesome and emotionally moving. Such a waste  and such pain and suffering for those left behind.

Americans can feel blessed that the Civil War was in fact the war to end all wars on American soil.  Europe has not been so fortunate.

Monday, November 11, 2013

11/11/1918, Eleventh Hour

Today is Remembrance Day, a day when all Canadians remember those in our military who have served, some dying and many living with injuries, physical and mental, who answered the call of the government to go to war on behalf of our Nation.  I like to continue to focus of the Great War, this day being the anniversary of the date and time of the Armistice of that war.  It was to be the war to end all wars, or as Margaret Macmillan called her latest book, The War that Ended the Peace.  Europe before the First World War has a long period of peace. Progress was celebrated in the spirit of Emile Coué,  "Every Day in every way I am getting better and better."  How mistaken that was.  It only took a generation before WWII broke out and then only a few years after that the Korean War was fought. It seems wars have been coming regularly ever since.  How badly this reflects on the WWI veterans clarion call, "Never Again!"  There are reasons to be cynical of those who seem to so casually want to drag Nations into war again and again.

Lest We Forget!

The Great War for soldiers was the most devastating . The military casualties were almost incomprehensible.
While the Second World War was devastating for civilians and destruction of who countries and cities, soldiers did less of the dying.  And, there was of course the added horror of the Holocaust. 

In the First World War, the Battle of the Somme, had staggering casualties of one million men.  A small snapshot of this is well remembered in Newfoundland. The Newfoundland Regiment was decimated in a matter of minutes as they tried to move forward out of their trenches. Within 15 to 20 minutes all 22 officers were dead with 80% casualties among the rest of the 780 strong regiment.  For the small country of Newfoundland, not yet part of Canada, this was a dreadful loss of the young men of a generation. Almost every small community lost sons. To this day, Newfoundland remembers this on the day the rest of Canada celebrations our nationhood, July 1. For their sacrifice the Newfoundland Regiment was designated the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. 

Beaumont-Hamel Memorial

The monument at the Canadian memorial at Beaumont-Hamel in Northern France.  I wanted very much to visit this place when I was visiting Vimy Ridge a few years ago.  I tried in my polite way to persuade my friend Lynne and her brother to travel the short distance to here but they were eager to go and find a place for a drink.  I wish to this day I had been more insistent.

Canada has always distinquished itself in war. We downplay our military history and always seek the peace dividend when the conflict is over.  In the First World War we were part of the British Army but managed to fight under the command of Canadian Generals as the Canadian Corp.  Canada is best remembered for the victory at Vimy Ridge, after the British and French had failed to dislodge the Germans from their dug in position.  With a plan well worked out and some unique battle techniques the Canadians won the day with less casualties than expected in those day.  Wars are often fought with the techniques of the previous war. The First World War was certainly that, where soldiers were send out time and again against modern weapons to be slaughtered.  It seems the ordinary soldiers duty was to fight and die for God and Country more so that to fight and win.

It is worth remembering this day General Arthur Currie, the famous Canadian leader of the First World War. Canadians, in characteristic modesty, tend not to elevate their great leaders. If he were American, French, British or German we would know more about him and his accomplishments. He may have been the best General in that war.  I see in this mornings paper that a new book is being written about his contribution successfully leading the Canadians in the battle of  A Hundred Days.  I look forward to reading it.

 One could go on and on about Canada's military contribution in other wars. I watched on TV this week two shows about Canada's military victories in the Second World War and Korea. The first was the driving the  elite German soldiers out of Ortona, Italy a battle of attrition, a small version of the battle of Stalingrad and the second was the turning back of the Chinese at Kapyong such that they could not overrun  the city of Seoul.  Both of these were remarkable decisive battles in which Canadians did themselves proud in battle. 

While I am fascinated with  military accomplishments of Canadians in war I am most proud of Canada's contribution to peace keeping.  Sadly, for now, Canada's role as peacekeepers, under the command of the United Nations has been minimized. Our current government prefers that the Canadian military be more warriors that peacekeepers. I reject the idea that Canada is a warrior Nation. I trust that  some day Canada may do itself proud as peacekeepers once again.

If you have not done so today. Find something inspirational about the accomplishment of those who answered the call.

Must go the commemoration in Ottawa is about to begin on the radio.