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How I spent my KKKanada Day in K'jipuktuk (Halifax)

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
KKKanada Day = Gun Play! Experimentation with unloaded weapons was not only allowed, it was encouraged aboard the deck of the HMCS Halifax. [Photo: A. Clair]
KKKanada Day = Gun Play! Experimentation with unloaded weapons was not only allowed, it was encouraged aboard the deck of the HMCS Halifax. [Photo: A. Clair]
Just say no. No Harbour For War makes the case against the Tattoo. [Photo: M. Howe]
Just say no. No Harbour For War makes the case against the Tattoo. [Photo: M. Howe]

Searching for that elusive 'culture' on the most nationalistic day, July the First, can be a complicated matter. Families festoon themselves with flags, face paint and rub-on tattoos, whilst youth drink, fight, vomit and mate in the bushes.

The smart money perhaps retreats to the sanctuary of the garden or the lake, to contemplate a mid-summer's songbird's call, as the urban core is co-opted for a rousing day of chest-thumping and jingoistic anthems we all know, but likely have no idea of their origins or meanings.

On the other hand, descending into the fray, to feed one's own cynicism or out of a real and genuine interest at how 'the other half' lives, can be an informative and educational experience. So it was that yesterday I eschewed the flight mechanism in my brain and instead chose to celebrate with the masses in downtown Halifax, that most militarized of Canadian cities.

To be truthful, my adventure almost ended before it began. I had been informed that the anti-war action group 'No Harbour For War' would be staging a protest, or information picket, or whatever it's called these days, against the Royal Canadian Tattoo.

The Tattoo, although I have never been, appears to be some kind of highly fetishized coordinated dance routine where grown-ups from around the free world (read: Friends of the U.S.A) meld traditional marches, goosesteps and dances with a militarized twist. Tickets for this gala of gallantry are not cheap, as represented by the sweaty crowd of retirees outside the Halifax Metro Centre yesterday.

Initially I couldn't find 'No Harbour' amidst the sea of red and white bedazzled citizens and, fearing an onset of vertigo or colour blindness or some kind of ocular degenerative condition, I almost retreated homewards to piece together some possible 'Plan B' for the day.

Luckily, I managed to locate Gary Zatzman, who has been demonstrating against the Royal Canadian Tattoo for 35 years.

As he was holding a sign saying: 'Say No to the Tattoo”, while fielding abusive comments from educated passersby such as: “I love war!” and “Value your freedom!”, I asked him first what was the problem with the Tattoo.

“The problem with the Tattoo is the promotion of militarized culture. In 1979 at the time of the first Tattoo, there was a whole movement that was developing in Halifax against how money for culture was being taken over by the Department of National Defence. Filmmakers could only make films that were training films for the Department of National Defence and so on and so forth.

“Tremendous amounts of resources are sucked into the maw of preparing public opinion to accept Canadian involvement in wars abroad, all done under the guise of helping cultural workers and so on. The problem with the Tattoo as such has been it has all these groups, mostly from NATO countries, and what they're really celebrating is the so-called cooperation within NATO.”

Ah, so we begin to mentally coordinate our own national pride and the blind celebration of such – as if that weren't bad enough, being not necessarily wanted invaders on unceded Indigenous lands – with our own military adventures abroad. But, if one is to believe Zatzman, these adventures aren't even of our own devise. Our own freedoms, shrinking by the day, aren't even at risk. We're just keeping up with the Jones' in NATO, all the while singing 'Oh Canada'.

“Knowledgable people are well aware that the cooperation within NATO is enforced from the Pentagon, from Washington,” continues Zatzman. “It's a U.S. cooperation. It's cooperation with U.S. schemes to enslave various parts of the world at various times.

“Today it's not much different. The U.S. is trying to sustain itself as a unipolar dominant military force in the world. These kinds of military cultural events are part of selling political opinion on the idea.”

My next stop on my Make War Day...err...Canada Day...was the deck of the HMCS Halifax, where civilians were given the opportunity to bake in the sun aboard a genuine naval frigate. There I joined the masses in marvelling at this magnificent investment of public moneys.

Amongst other testosterone-infused facts, I learned that the main guns of the Halifax can shoot '3P' ammunition, which has the option of exploding before impact, sending an unholy rain of tungsten balls down on Afghani villages – or wherever our government tells us the insurgent is next – or after impact, making it a formidable armour, or mud house, piercing piece of metal.

“Almost like white phosphorus,” I quipped to the navy officer monitoring the impressive cannon.

After watching several young women pose for suggestive photographs with the Halifax's slightly phallic 50mm side cannons, I decided that I too would ignore the printed requests to keep cameras and cell phones off and sauntered over to the gun table (I shit you not) where parents were gleefully encouraging their grade school-aged spawn to handle the firearms proffered by naval officers.

I picked up some large weapon that probably is able of shooting many rounds a minute – by this point my brain had reached technical capacity for weapon specs – and donned my best impression of a mid-nineties, height of the Reagan-era, Stallone or Schwartzeneger-esque military character.

If Hollywood has taught me anything, it is that one must always maintain a facial flack jacket of immunity while pretending to fire off multiple rounds. Brazen anger, clenched teeth, a primal scream and continuous fire are all that separates you from a insurgent's bullet.

The now-assembled crowd relished my expressions, grunts and pretend murderous rampage, so much so that a reporter from 'The Trident', our Navy's own embedded propaganda...err...media...asked me if I would like to represent a civilian perspective on my tour of the Halifax for an upcoming article.

I look forward with interest to see how my comments are included, if at all, in said piece.

With the heat now reaching a crescendo, I retreated to the military confines of the Citadel, Halifax's defining feature, which is, of course, a military fortress. From here I took in a view of the Halifax harbour, one the original frightened colonizers might have taken in, save the skyscrapers labelled with mega-bank logos.

The day was capped off watching a drunken orgy in which a Sam Roberts concert broke out and me retreating to the camouflaged confines of a cemetery in the hopes that I might save myself from the post-concert, marauding, and highly inebriated hopes of tomorrow, now desperately in search of Big Macs and other such plunder.

I then watched, half in sorrow, half in amusement as drunken teens bounced off the MacDonald bridge's suicide prevention fence like so many pinballs. Parent's of drunken pinball teens take note: that fence is worth it's weight in gold and may well have saved your progeny from an unintentional fall last night.

See you next year!

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