Lest We Forget

Life is hard and messy. In a million different ways, life is unfair and painful. But to the limited credit of the human species, after the loss of more than 50 million lives to global conflict in the first half of the 20th century, we promised to remember the price that was paid, lest we forget – lest we doom ourselves to repeat our errors.

We innovated political and economic institutions that would promote diplomacy and deter war. And for more than 70 years, we have succeeded in murdering far fewer of each other. And sure, fewer war casualties is hardly an ambitious standard for success, but it is reasonable to imagine that such global institutions have “saved” tens of millions of lives. Fewer children have lost parents, fewer parents have lost children, countries have lost fewer of their best and brightest. And though it is difficult to motivate ourselves by imagining the tragedy and hardship that has been avoided, Remembrance Day calls us to consider what we can do to maintain and improve on a hard-won peace.

And so:

On Remembrance Day, I think of the lessons I have taken from the World Wars:

  • Some believe that we should close our border to refugees to curtail the risk of terrorism, but we cannot turn away refugees without increasing the risk that the conflicts in those regions will reach our borders in a much more hostile form.
  • Some believe that because the United Nations isn’t highly productive and has had its share of scandals, that it is useless (or worse). But they will simultaneously support highly progressive policies in the hopes of increasing Canada’s chances of joining the Security Council.
  • Some who recognize that massive international trade agreements, such as the TPP, will adversely affect certain industries avoid acknowledging that a failure to make certain concessions to the international community risks a much higher cost of living and much less global influence in the long run.
  • Some believe that electing a strongman will make their nation stronger, but sacrificing your freedom to a leader – like our ancestors sacrificed animals to gods – will only rob of us our dignity.

On Remembrance Day, I think of the woman I met who was able to come to Canada from Afghanistan as a refugee and leverage her freedom here to start a clothing brand that is employing Afghani women in manufacturing a modernized version of tradition Afghani clothing and selling the clothing in Canada. Such arrangements benefit both parties, and are possible because people have interests and experiences and sympathies that transcend borders.

On Remembrance Day, I am grateful for “globalization”. That is not to say that in its current form globalization is flawless or even good. Globalization doesn’t solve for racial, economic, and social marginalization, and so the toxic power dynamics that pervade everything else will be equally exploited within a globalized system. As I said at the beginning: life is generally hard and unfair. But civilization is benefited from closer international political and economic relationships, and I don’t think the problems with globalization can be remedied by reverting to isolationist policies – or at least not without losing the countervailing benefits including relative security, relative ease of travel, increasing prevalence of civil liberties, (all too slowly) rising global prosperity, and domestic multiculturalism and diversity.

On Remembrance Day, I consider that globalization makes it more likely that my friends’ children will fall in love with people from different countries than be at war with people from different countries. And I resolve to honour those who served by working to that end.

Posted in: Progress

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