I've been thinking a lot about Kevin Vickers. By now the world knows Vickers' name: he is the sergeant-at-arms of the Parliament of Canada, and his quick thinking and courage undoubtedly saved lives. Vickers shot killed Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who had already killed one person and appeared intent on killing others.
Vickers is a hero. But my thoughts of him are filled not with adulation, but with sorrow. Imagine going to work one day, a day like any other, and by the time the day is done, you have taken a human life. You have killed a man at close range. What could that be like? It would not be surprising if Vickers will grapple with flashbacks, night terrors, or other forms of PTSD. Despite Vickers' courage and his new celebrity, I'd bet that few of us would want to stand in his shoes.
I've also been thinking of Nathan Cirillo, because it's impossible not to. Although I consume very little mainstream media, a short dip into my Facebook feed is enough: the dog Cirillo left behind, the outpouring of public grief, the obligatory "Highway of Heroes" photos.
Cirillo was a victim, and he did nothing to deserve such a fate. I feel for those who knew and loved him. But what makes Cirillo a hero? Guarding a war memorial surely is not an act of heroism. Is simply putting on a uniform a heroic act? Cirillo's death was senseless and tragic, but it was not heroic.
Of course, hero
is a word that's lost all meaning, joining ironic
, and traumatized
on the ever-growing list of words that are used so carelessly and so often as to lose all meaning. Hero
just might claim pride of place at the very top of that list. But the hero-worship of anyone in uniform is part of the creeping militarization
of our society
I've also been thinking about violence, and how we choose to respond to violence. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US government constantly invoked fear in order to advance its agenda: war on people who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, repression of domestic dissent, spying on US citizens.
That response also included the widespread use of torture, and a concentration camp that, more than a decade later, still exists
. Even if one believes, despite all facts and evidence, that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan were somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the US's response was something like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade. By now it should be clear that the US government had its own agenda, and 9/11 provided the excuse.
Norway, on the other hand, chose a different path: it answered hate with love
. After 77 people were massacred on Utøya island, the Norwegian government affirmed the open nature of Norwegian society and pursued charges against the perpetrator within the boundaries of Norwegian law.These are the originals for the memorials which,
from the 22 July anniversary, will be sent out to more than 50 counties across Norway, to commemorate the 77 people massacred by Anders Breivik, the far-right extremist who goes on trial this week.
On each of them, words have been carved from a poem by the Norwegian writer Laes Saabye Christensen that was recited at the memorial concert for the victims. This poem, with its message of peace, followed the tone set by prime minister Jens Stoltenberg in his address at the memorial service in Oslo cathedral two days after the tragedy.
"We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values," Stoltenberg said. "Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity." Norway, he suggested, would not seek vengeance as America had done after the 9/11 attacks." We will answer hatred with love," he said.
"It's a clear case where a politician strikes a chord," said Frank Aarebrot, a professor of politics at the University of Bergen. "The prime minister struck almost a Churchillian note in that speech. People were jubilant."
Norway has granted every legal right to Breivik, despite hearing in gruesome detail of how he coldly executed 56 of his victims with shots to the head, after attacking a Labour party youth camp on the island of Utøya, near Oslo.Canada has a choice.
On one side stands fear, suspicion, bigotry, and repression, a society where people are feared and attacked because of their appearance and surnames, where people are afraid to exercise their right to criticize the government. On that side, too, stands war: the death and destruction of innocent people, citizens turned into shells of themselves because of what they've witnessed and what they've been asked to do.
On the other side stands democracy, freedom of expression, pluralism, inclusion, human rights, and peace.
What kind of country do we want Canada to be?
Do we want the Harper Government to decide that for us?