WEEK FOUR AT MOSS PARK
June 25, 2002
Week Four at the Homes not Bombs Moss Park vigils featured the first threat of arrest as well as a fair bit of dialogue with a number of soldiers guarding the front gate.
In addition to the usual verbal abuse (two soldiers in a massive civilian pickup truck screamed "Get off our property you fucking retards" while a passing bicyclist screamed out, "Someone should drop a bomb on your house"), we also met a Korean war veteran who talked about how his unit's strategy was to never take prisoners--just shoot 'em on the spot, even if they were sleeping.
As always, the vigils are an interesting opportunity to reflect on the very deep-seated violence, rarely if ever addressed, that is the foundation stone of the Canadian "way of life." Ironically, just after discussing the violence of militarism with one soldier tonight, we broadened the discussion to include economic violence and Canada's big banks (turns out the soldier is part of a double whammy of violence--by day he's a banker!)
Numerous individuals ask what would happen to the soldiers if the homeless were actually allowed to use Moss Park as a shelter or even as permanent housing. We explain that the soldiers already have homes, and that if they want to learn peacekeeping, they can come to our nonviolence training sessions.
Unfortunately, most in the military have no clue about the systemic roots of the violence they are called upon to deal with as "peacekeepers" and soldiers in combat. Indeed, while Canada continues to produce and export hundreds of millions of dollars worth of armaments that in the end might be pointed at Canadians doing combat duty (and to refine the depleted uranium which comes back to haunt soldiers in the form of Gulf War--and likely Yugoslav and Afghani--Syndrome), soldiers tell us they just follow orders, and cannot comment on or discuss policy issues.
But if you are supposedly fighting for democracy, we argue, should your military not be a democratic institution itself?
"If every soldier had input and an opinion that had to be listened to, there'd never be a war," one soldier told us tonight, as they'd never be able to get things together to conduct a war. We found this a good way of summing up how militarism and democracy cannot exist alongside one another. And for this reason, Moss Park remains a "security zone" because of our attempts to enter into democratic discussion on transforming the armoury into housing for the homeless.
The evening began as a new soldier opening the fence and checking ID of all vehicles going in was engaged in dialogue with a number of the weekly vigil group. We spoke a good deal about life in the Canadian army, his posting to Croatia, his love of weapons, and the conflict resolution training he had received. When asked whether he would be partial to a course in Gandhian peacemaking or hearing from Christian Peacemaker Teams or Peace Brigades International on how to keep the peace without a gun, he said the department was wary of such courses because of the cost. When we assured him it would be free, he said he couldn't comment, that was someone else's decision.
"But how does it feel knowing you might kill someone?" we asked.
"You kill someone, you kill someone, that's just part of the job," he said matter-of-factly.
We told him we felt there was another way of resolving conflict which did not involve murder, and were disturbed at how easily the words slipped from his mouth.
As the evening wore on, the four of us at the front gate noticed the soldier becoming increasingly agitated--apparently, the higher-ups at the armoury did not like him fraternizing with us, and he asked us perhaps two dozen times in a row to go back to the sidewalk.
"But we've been here every week, and there's been no problem."
":For security and safety reasons, we need you to go to the sidewalk," he explained, and then said police would be called to have us arrested if we refused to move.
We asked to speak to the higher-up who was making such orders, explaining that blind obedience, especially to someone we have not even seen or spoken with, is one of the problems in the perpetuation of violence.
After hurried conversation on a cell phone, he said someone would consult with the sergeant major, but in the meantime, we had to leave the armoury property because we would be arrested if we did not.
We pointed out that people take their dogs for pooping and scooping on the lawn not ten feet from where we were standing, while others climbed atop the artillery pieces for photo-ops, and they weren't threatened with arrest.
We wondered what would have happened had this been a real conflict, for this man who had taken conflict resolution courses became increasingly agitated by our quiet refusal to move, and kept saying that although he supported our cause, he had his orders to follow, and we were to vacate the area immediately.
We refused politely, and explained that if we were to try anything like hopping the fence or blocking traffic, we would likely inform him of it in advance. He explained that security was an issue due to a "situation" which occurred a couple of weeks ago (a reference to our entry of the armoury and impromptu discussion with the cadets on homelessness and war).
Eventually, the flustered soldier was called to the fence and informed that as long as we weren't blocking traffic, we could stand at the left side of the fence, which is what we had been doing all along.
The evening closed as a Korean War veteran passed us by and explained his role in keeping the red tide from sweeping the globe. "I used my bayonet to stick 'em in the gut, then blew them away, each and every one of the red bastards," he explained. "Sometimes we'd find three or four sleeping in a foxhole, just blow their brains out, because we took no prisoners."
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