By Jamie Swift
Back in March Kingston peace activist Susanne Cliff-Jungling attended a City Council meeting, staying to the end. That was when Council gave unanimous approval to a proposal to establish a “Valour District” (VD) encompassing a residential/commercial district in the city’s near north end. City staff was charged with looking into the details of a VD.
The area in question overlaps with the McBurney Park neighbourhood, so I wrote an article about the VD initiative for the McBurney Park Neighbourhood Association website The proposal proved controversial enough that the City issued a call for public comment. One of the contributions came from PeaceQuest member Jeffry Piker.
In the end, staff recommended that the VD be put on hold pending the finalization of a new Kingston Commemoration Strategy. The staff report on the VD makes fascinating reading, contrasting as it does two rather different reactions to the traditional World War I commemoration implicit in a Valour District.
Also of note is the draft Kingston Commemorations Strategy itself. The draft Strategy speaks of “Kingston’s many stories.” A fresh strategy would provide “opportunities for celebration, reflection, discovery, dialogue and critique.”
Kingston has abundant material commemoration of Sir John A. Macdonald and past wars. Earlier this year, the patriotic spasm accompanying the Macdonald’s 200th birthday was itself accompanied by a “Talking Back to Johnny Mac” effort by those people offering a critique of the usual Great Leader story. The draft Commemorations Strategy recommends that, while “British-Canadian history and military history are also important,” the priority thematic areas should be First Peoples, woman, ethno-cultural communities and Kingston’s Francophone legacy.
It would seem that World War I commemoration emphasizing themes of peace and reconciliation – as well as acknowledging the tragic deaths of people on both sides of the conflict – reflects the spirit of the proposed Commemoration Strategy. With this in mind, I circulated a suggestion that Kingston embrace “The World Remembers,” a new Canadian project commemorating World War I.
Finally, at the Council meeting that put the VD on hold, Susanne Cliff-Jungling made this compelling case for commemoration that recognizes the tragedy or war and making a commitment to the pursuit of peace:
Dear Mayor and Councillors,
Thank you for this opportunity for me to speak to you tonight.
I am here because of the proposal to establish a Valour District in Kingston. And I would like to talk to you about why I am opposed to such an idea.
I grew up in West-Germany.
My generation is called the ‘Dritte Generation’; we are the grandchildren of the war-generation.
I am a product of the process that was started by the Allies, a process to de-nazify and re-educate Germany. At the time, there was a strong sense among the victors that, to find sustaining and lasting peace in Europe, German society had to be re-educated, had to develop strong democratic institutions and an engaged citizenry.
So, in school, we were taught to mistrust war, to question military conflicts, and to question the role of the military in a society.
My generation learned to mistrust efforts to glorify war.
We were taught to mourn all victims of war.
We were taught that war must not be repeated and that it was our responsibility to work for peace.
We were taught that war is not (and never will be) an act of valour.
There was to be no remembering fallen soldiers as heroes.
Growing up in Germany, we learned that it is dangerous for a society to focus on its military accomplishments and to promote ideas of military valour. Glorifying war was seen as invariably leading to more military conflicts and legitimizing sending soldiers out to fight.
If fighting in war is a brave and valiant thing, then why not do it again – and again, and again and again!?
It is therefore ironic for me to live here in Kingston and find this City Council considering naming a Valour District. It seems so contradictory to the Allied message to Germans after the Second World War.
I hope that Council will accept the staff report and not support the creation of a Valour District in Kingston at this time, or, from my point of view, ever.
Let us instead recognize the tragedy of war and commit ourselves to the pursuit of peace -without the pretense that war is glorious.