Sunday, November 11, 2012 | Categories: Michael's Essays
(CP / Adrian Wyld)
He will be there again this morning, at the cenotaph, as he has been every year since 2005. He will stand there silently, carrying his sign.
People will stare at him with anger in their eyes. One or two might confront him, again with anger in their eyes and in their hearts. But he will be there, again, this morning.
His name is Charles Jeanes. He is 61 years old and a teacher. He lives in Nelson, BC, which has a population of 10,000.
He writes a bit here and there and has a background in history, including the history of war. In 2005, watching the Canadian forces mission expand in Afghanistan, he decided to do something about it.
Perhaps as a creature of the Sixties, he had come to realize that protest was the way to get attention. But protest, not with violence and noise, but protest of the quiet kind, solemn and silent.
At times over the years, it has gotten ugly. One year a young Afghanistan veteran confronted Charles Jeanes, accusing him of politicizing the concept of remembrance. He had seen his friends killed and maimed in that bloody war.
There have been threats. He has been accused of bringing venal politics to a special place at a sacred time. I have never met Mr. Jeanes and have talked to him only briefly on the phone.
But I was taken with an op-ed piece he had written in the Rossland Telegraph about why he does what he does, year after year.
"I go because it disturbs people," he wrote, "and their emotions say that I am making them, uncomfortable. I am told they want just one day for their ceremony and I am being inappropriate and rude to be there on that day."
He goes on: "Canada's Afghanistan mission upset me profoundly. Never had Canada invaded a far-off nation posing absolutely no threat to our land."
Remembrance Day in the era of the Afghanistan War is slightly anomalous. The surveys say Canadians are more likely to think of the two World Wars and Korea, not Afghanistan.
Yet there are 39,000 veterans of the Afghanistan conflict, many of them wounded terribly. There have been 158 deaths since 2001. Canadians care deeply about our veterans. More than half of us feel they haven't been treated properly by Ottawa.
Charles Jeanes cares about veterans too. In fact, he is of the mind that Remembrance Day ceremonies across the country should be attended only by veterans, that civilians have no idea what the men and women in the forces have gone through.
There are about 700,000 veterans of all wars in Canada and we think about them and the fallen, as we call the dead, once a year.
But Charles Jeanes seems to think about them more than most of us. He might be seen by some or even by many, as a crank, a meddler in the noble observance and remembrance of heroism.
But I don't think so. He seems to me to be a mild man in late middle age who quietly and without fuss, carries a sign to a cenotaph once a year in a small British Columbia town, a sign that says, War Has No Victors.
Charles Jeanes will be out there this morning in Nelson with his sign and an invitation.
"If you see me November 11 and my anti-war protest provokes you, could we meet later? For a chat? Make sense, not war."