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Hey Harper, Socialists Were War Heroes Too

Posted: 05/04/2012 5:05 pm

Prime Minister Harper is due for a history lesson, regarding remarks he entered during Question Period on Thursday, April 26. At this time he accused the NDP of failing to support the fight against Hitler in WWII. Many Members of Parliament have kindly corrected his error; that the New Democratic Party did not exist until 30 years later. But the Prime Minister saw fit to equate them with a predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), as one in the same. Harper then asserts the CCF did not support the war, but that too is incorrect. It's troubling our country's leader is unfamiliar with Canadian political and military history and I'm concerned the public record hasn't been amended yet.

Although J.S. Woodsworth led the CCF as WWII was just beginning and he was in fact a pacifist, he suffered a stroke in May 1940 and was replaced by M.J. Coldwell. Coldwell immediately threw the party's support behind our veterans and defeating Hitler. At this time even the United States wasn't on board and professed their intent to remain neutral.

I mention this because Harper appears to have the greatest respect for American military opinions, yet they didn't agree to fight until December 8, 1941, nearly two years after the CCF, NDP or whatever he wishes to call socialists, risked their lives and bared arms. They didn't just talk about it.

2012-05-04-War1.jpgMy grandfather William Coker was a farmer from the Ontario greenbelt; a young and proud socialist who believed in public ownership, universal health care, pensions, children's allowance and EI. In 1940 they didn't have the internet and television wasn't created until after the war.

Receiving news wasn't anything like it is today and after learning of the trouble in Europe, my grandfather marched with his best friend for six hours to reach the nearest recruiting city. Public transportation didn't exist then either. Her name was Minn, but the army wasn't accepting white horses.

2012-05-04-War2.jpgUpon reaching the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, my grandpa and many like him became a foot solider. Military life wasn't a career in those days and this was the first declaration of war ever made by our country. One million Canadians from all walks of pre-industrial, pre-petro life, heeded the call to defend the world from fascism and ethnic cleansing. They were all new to battle and some of the most valuable soldiers were socialist farmers who already knew how to handle a gun and kill what was necessary. With all due respect, Harper, it's important he immerse himself in the character of 1940 before trying to frame its context or that of socialists.

As a member of RHLI, grandpa would continue to the Battle of Dieppe where he faced the most brutal engagement of the entire war. The extreme losses they suffered were studied and used to build the allies' winning strategy that finally won WWII.

2012-05-04-War3.jpgDuring that mission the farmer stocked, Hamilton Light Infantry was the only division successful in their task. They took the casino and continued with the infamous hand to hand combat you've likely heard about whenever anyone mentions the Battle of Dieppe. The most fearless of our men were the socialists our Prime Minister has disparaged.

Whether 1940s CCF farmers or 21st century NDP trade unionists, Hamilton still does a very good job of representing socialists and they in turn represent our country with the greatest honour throughout history. Grandpa fought that war with the honest heart and equitable outlook that made him a socialist in the first place. He watched his best friend blown up right beside him. He fought with Connie Smyth of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as his friends called him anyway. He carried wounded strangers into the safety of trenches and says he never really slept a single minute of the war.

Grandpa killed men whose names he'd never know, on behalf of our country and all innocent people around the world. This was his reality for the better part of four years, fighting for what he believed in. Grandpa didn't speak of the bloodshed though, just like he wouldn't describe slaughtering the cow on our dinner table when he was finally able to come home.

2012-05-04-War4.jpgReturning to the post-war boom, my grandfather remained a socialist and wouldn't accept money for his service. He didn't believe in getting paid to kill people. He just did what had to be done. Instead he accepted his wages in bricks from which to build our family home and so became a mason. Building all those bridges and structures in the war would be put to good use in one way or another.

With the industrialization of Canada, grandpa was hired by Stelco and joined the Hamilton local steelworkers union. From there he continued to fight for the safe and fair treatment of workers and families, to whom he felt even more connected. The camaraderie of war and brotherhood doesn't end when the last bomb is dropped. He lived his life as if he fought for a reason and that extended to everyone he knew and even didn't.

Then along came his hero Tommy Douglas, who stood for everything in my grandfather's heart. Defeating Hitler was an honourable and necessary accomplishment, but in the bigger picture he was one formidable obstacle to building the world all the William Cokers believed in. The end of Hitler brought the birth of the middle class. The end of Hitler brought our ability to build beautiful things and ensure a future for our children.

Grandpa didn't fight for outright capitalism like the wars our Prime Minister engages in today. He didn't fight to create disparity and the gap between rich and poor. He fought to rid the world of fascism so we could protect everyone equally with the tenets of socialism as Douglas, voted our greatest Canadian, so proficiently expressed them. Sixteen years after grandpa killed many men, he finally received his good reason.

When I was born, grandpa raised me to be a socialist too. He taught me to fight the battles that were necessary and not to glorify the required bloodshed that went with it. He taught me to find the courage in my own heart; to stand up when democracy, justice and equality were under threat.

He hoped I would succeed him in protecting the very things he made the greatest sacrifice to provide. And so I never screamed when tear gas was lobbed at the G20. I never flinched when the Prime Minister's security asked for my name, as I called upon him for a public inquiry to address the voter suppression scandal. For grandpa's sake, I won't give up trying to correct this record either. Good socialists saved and built this country and Stephen Harper can learn to respect that.

 
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