From an olden church and (otherwise vacant) cenotaph at Fort Cochin, Kerala, India, Dave O – acknowledging an extended medical and death related hiatus – discusses the local history of colonization by Portuguese explorers, Dutch traders, then British Raj in the context of the colonization leading to exploitation, conscription and war with no meaning to local populace. Plus the meaning of reparations and the conflict of peaceful resistance – evidenced my Mahatma Gandhi beach a stone’s throw away – contrasted with continued wars throughout the world, shadowed by disposable tourism, economic and racial caste systems.
Recorded Nov. 11, 2016, Released 11:11 Nov. 11, 2017
Also of note: Vasco da Gama’s bones, black knee-high socks, French generational losses, siege of Leningrad, Churchill’s mishaps, lost human potential of engineers, poets and lovers, MacArthur’s folly, Australia’s vulnerability, the emergence of regions over nation-states, Brexit for British Columbia + Cascadia, Catalonia and Scottish successions, work of raising a child, trappings of hubris, death by disease and guns, aggressive use of intelligence, forethought and diplomacy, and unfiltered view of sacrifice and life.
Cover art photo: By Dave Olson at Fort Cochin, taken by Lomo Sardine can camera with expired B&W film.
Originally published in Vancouver Observer on Nov. 10, 2010. Republished here intact for posterity.
Each Remembrance Day, I’m sure to put forth that there is significant importance in documenting the stories from those affected by war—from veterans and dodgers to widowers and pacifists.
By gathering the anecdotes and artifacts of war, we honour the noble efforts of regular folk in desperate circumstances. Further, we aid in the prevention of costly violent errors in the future by bearing witness and sharing what already know.
Nobility of Documentation
I feel there is great power in documentation and in gathering and sharing stories.
For me, the reasons for capturing memories are most clear around Remembrance Day when otherwise pacific elders are resplendent with dusty spangles, propped by stiffened knees, and tears are rather expected.
With the fading and guarded memories of veterans in mind, I extol the virtues of archiving the oral tradition and preserving the ephemera in attics and shoeboxes with the maxim, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” in mind.
To my eyes, there is scant glory in the macro-reasons for war, but noble sadness (even wabi sabi in Japanese aesthetic terms), and I have utmost respect for the efforts made by the those who are obliged to participate in conflict – regardless of their roles or reasons.
Why I Gather
While wars go on, I would be a regrettable resister if I did not study, remix and share the stories of those at war, in years present and past. I’ve seen concentration camps near Muchen’s Oktoberfest and the rusted hulks of tanks reclaimed by jungles onPeleliu. I’ve dived amongst the leftover debris of dead sailors near Guam. I’ve sat with the winners and losers of wars and listened to stories from civilian employees, special ops and draft dodgers. All are equal to my ears.
Now, with the tactile poignancy of a brother in Afghanistan (expected home soon), who also toured Iraq, combined with a crust of cynicism from the recent US mid-term elections – and watching on-going domestic political squabbling while pragmatic advice is ignored and the fallen come home, I can offer no more reason to remember than the obvious. Flanders Field on endless loop, the narrative is still the same. No change, no evolution.
While my ballot apparently is not strong enough to spare lives, I can hope to change minds for the future by compiling the stories of those in the fray, both past and more recent.
Listen to Veterans
On this Remembrance Day, I’ve gathered two audio stories from wars, referred to anecdotally with names like the Great War, the Just War (and the Mistake War).
The first audio podcast features snippets from diaries written in the WWI trenches read by Ian Bell, the veteran’s grandson, on Remembrance Day – last year on the drizzly steps of the Library (with whiskey to keep us warm).
The second audio documentary includes musings from a US Navy officer who’d recently returned from Iraq. He doesn’t discuss the clumsy politics, weapons of missing destruction or casualties, but rather the everyday activities of eating and meeting locals.
Vimy Ridge Diaries on Remembrance Day
“On Remembrance Day in sunny, brisk Vancouver, Ian Bell (fresh from a CBC appearance “On The Coast“), joins Dave to read from Grandpa Mark’s diaries written in the trenches of WWI as a young Canadian. From the library steps with a flask of scotch, Ian and Dave reflect on the costs and motivations of war, the importance of friendship and the ethereal experience of going “over the top” and facing the terror on the other side. Their conversation features anecdotes about capturing Germans soldiers and a discourse on the importance of personal documentation to pass forward to generations.”
“With a US Naval Lieutenant at the table, Uncle Weed traces the history of the Tigris and Euphrates crescent and discusses the ground level experience of life in Iraq. Lt. Magnum explains his rebuilding mission to Kurdistan, plus his quests to various coalition bases including the Korean, Slovakian and Polish forces. Anecdotes includeHaliburton’s food, smoking hookah in Qatar, religious concessions, cables on marble walls, hiking the rolling hills and meeting local folks just getting by in a war-torn world.”
On Remembrance Day in sunny, brisk Vancouver, Ian Bell (fresh from a CBC appearance “On The Coast“) joins Dave to read from Grandpa Mark’s diaries written in the trenches in WW1 as a young Canadian. From the library steps with a flask of scotch, they reflect on the costs and motivations of war, importance of friendship and the ethereal experience of going “over the top” and facing the terror on the other side, plus anecdotes about capturing Germans soldiers and discourse on the importance of personal documentation to pass forward to generations.
Wrapping up the White Poppies for Remembrance series with a narrative late-night wander through Westminster, London, DaveO meanders past military monuments, victory squares, cenotaphs, palaces, royal parks, war museum, war chambers, riot fences, war protesters, churches, parliament and finishing at St. James park for a sitdown under a weeping willow to consider monarchy, individual rights and responsibilities, and the role of class division in waging war as London’s sirens, trains, and Big Ben fill the night.
Back home on the North Vancouver porch, Dave reads from Clay Mcleod’s essay Why I Don’t Wear a Poppy while sending peace and resistance towards the decent lieutenant Magnum in Iraq and the Philippines along with earnest comrades at arms and peaceful strangers in war torn lands. Plus he admonishes the Canadian Legion for blocking the sale of white poppies while banjo-ist Wm. Lenker sings from the woodshed and The Grateful Dead leave this Brokedown Palace… on my hands and my knees, I will roll roll roll…
A story about Iraqi resistance fighters and their personal motivations by a young writer called Waiting in Baghdad is the crux of the next White Poppies for Remembrance episode – read from the homeporch with a Welsh mining lantern and firetrucks rolling past. Written by Chris K, a player on a dave-coached in-line hockey team in Olympia Washington in 2002.
Taking a Remembrance Day respite to enjoy a conscious discussion with ‘Trigger’ at Vancouver’s New Amsterdam Cafe, Dave O listens to the consequences and conditions of space, in tangible and gestalt senses, and reviews the paradigm shifts of Vancouver’s downtown Eastside ‘four corners’ – once one of the grandest intersections in the British Empire.
Later, he wanders and reads Walt Whitman (When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d) and Gord Downie (from Coke Machine Glow) to bring it ’round home for this part #7 of the White Poppies for Remembrance series.
Part 6 of the “White Poppies for Remembrance” series considers the opportunity cost of the lost human potential while at the Victory cenotaph in downtown Vancouver – along the way, troubadours sing about Providence, Joyful(ness) along with spontaneous percussion-scapes and city bus brakes.
DaveO examines the value of life with Gord Downie‘s swift deconstructions of existence from Coke Machine Glow, Henry David Thoreau‘s visionary stories of perseverance and the value of the mindfulness from Walden and a personal declaration of sovereignty and dignity from original Letters from Russia read in hospital to ole gramps.
Part 5 of the White Poppies for Remembrance series continues with Dave at Victory Park, this time reading the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by General Assembly Dec. 10th, 1948) with riffs about tolerance, human relations, common understanding, and mutual respect – including a healthy sampling of articles on brotherhood, privacy, special treatment for mothers, plus a commentary about refugee status, and the illegal nature of torture and humiliating treatment.
Then brings it ’round home with a snippet from H.D. Thoreau’s Walden about sovereign man being the origin of the political state while accompanied by lively jazz (via bootleg cassette) featuring Joe Williamson and cohorts in Banff from way back playing about Peace to the Children of our Universe and Common Market offering up replenishing Refresh(ment) live on KEXP.
Declare your rights for: Righteous Declarations for Humans (128k mp3, 13:24, 15MB)
The most recent episode “Buddhas in the Trenches” discusses conscientious objection and military service evaders. I wrote a “Pro” and “Con” argument paper while at Evergreen College in Olympia, WA in the early days of this ‘war on abstract nouns’ which (unfortunately) is still vitally relevant.
Rather than rambling on, … please note the endnotes for both sides of the argument. I encourage people to learn more about what is going on as decent people fight for refugee status and their right to not-kill and be killed for an illegal, immoral and unethical war. The situation is vastly different than Vietnam era (no more draft and extradition treaties are in place) but eerily similar (particularly as the war continues to escalate out of control).
This essay is available along with many others at…