Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Play Review: This is War

This is War is a 90-minute play about the traumatic psychological experiences of 4 Canadian soldiers in 2008 in a volatile region of Afghanistan with little backup support. The play is a case study of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), showing how war harms society.

Warning:  This play contains mature content and strong language.

I was invited by members of PeaceQuest to join them and met about 16 fellow pacifists. After the play we met for dinner to get to know each other, but the restaurant was too noisy to talk. I did meet their funder, Sister Pauline, a nun who heads a religious order that donated $25,000 in seed money.

The play had toured in the USA, and is now in Canada. I was impressed with This is War performed at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa, Ontario, on February 22nd. The main message of the play was the negative effect of PTSD on the soldiers as a result of their horrible war experiences which the actors describe. Long-term symptoms can include spousal abuse, divorce, suicide, drinking, and drug addiction. War damage is extensive, costly and chronic.

The topic of PTSD has been frequently reported in the newspapers and I have met a doctor who is in our peace group who has PTSD as a result of his service in Afghanistan.

Playwright Hannah Moscovitch peers inside the stories of 4 soldiers (3 men, 1 woman) on the ground. A 5th character is an imaginary journalist (the audience), which each soldier often addressed by facing the audience, often saying “F--k” while reporting what happened to them.

The setting is the Taliban resurgence in the Battle of Panjwayi, 2006-2009. The actors describe horrible actions, such as killing a 5-year-old Afghan child by mistake. “You were told that if you feel harmed or threatened, you shoot first and ask questions later.” Sometimes events are rerun two or three times with small changes in costumes. Often the same event is reported differently by each actor.

The woman, Corporal Tanya Young (played by Sarah Finn), easily but troublesomely succumbs to sexual relations with Sergeant Stephan Hughes (played by John Ng) and with Private Jonny Henderson (played by Drew Moore).The fourth member, Sergeant Chris Anders (played by Brad Long), is a gay medic who strives as best he can to be a healer.

The play does not preach, but simply shows the ugly facts and invites the viewer to be the judge. I say all who fought in wars are innocent pawns of government, and the personal and social costs of war are real.

For me it is obvious that the wider public has not heard the wisdom of moral leaders such as Lev Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who in their times have stated that the price of war is horrendous, it is a crime and it is a slavery of our times. In 1961, the former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the last days of his Presidency warned the nation that the military industrial complex is the greatest threat to society.

War teaches us to kill another member of the human family. That disconnect goes against the whole grain of everything that we have been taught in school and in church of being kind to others. Morality goes out the door as soldiers are trained to kill automatically. There is no brotherly or sisterly love to our neighbours. War is we (the ‘good’ people) against them (the ‘inhuman enemy’). Liquor and drugs are often given out to soldiers just before going into battle so as to ensure that 'they will kill’.

In Canada, in 2009, a physician from Saskatchewan, Dr. Dale Dewar, wrote me:
I regard war as an archaic form of interpersonal relationship on a grand scale but much like bullying on the playground or spousal abuse. Just as these activities were once widespread and ignored, so utterly, do I believe that war will be one day regarded as obscene. Its utter waste of human resources — lives, intelligence, time and money — devoted to childish ‘games’ will eventually end — or the human race will end.

If ‘this is war’, then it is long overdue that we as conscientious citizens of this or that country need to work actively together to get rid of war as we have done with human slavery years ago. This means no more glorifying war. It means working for peace….Remember that wars will cease when men and women refuse to fight.


1. John Scales Avery, Transcend Media Service. ‘Against the Institution of War.’ Feb. 2014.

2. Joam Evans Pim (ed). Nonkilling Security and the State. 2013.

3. On the Spirit Wrestlers website:

Thursday, 20 February 2014

What can $2 trillion do?

How much health and well being can our global war budget of $2 trillion buy? ‘World Beyond War’, a new 10 minute video I just saw and recommend, contrasts 2 choices:

Choice 1 — People, health, housing, education, infrastructure, rights rather than privileges, clean environment ...
Choice 2 — Violence, death, waste, pollution, poverty, sickness, hatred, …

The 2 competing outcomes are explained with a few charts, many photos, and archival video quotes from President Eisenhower and M.L. King Jr. It’s a message most of my readers know, presented in a fresh and easy to understand manner.

The dichotomy (Choice 1 or 2) is similar to guns or butter (economics), and swords or ploughs (religion), but without metaphor or analogy. Its directness reminds me of the forgotten wisdom of Tolstoy, Gandhi, and King about justice and love.

WBW launched last September from Virginia USA, using social media to teach peace. The website has a petition and educational material.

Education is the key to improving our future on planet earth.

I add WorldBeyondWar.org to my list of recommended study websites.

Global Action on Military Spending hosts an annual global day of action in April, and provides signs, such as 'Cut Military Spending - Fund Human Needs!', and a 2-minute video: ‘What Would it Cost to Save the World?’

War Resisters League puts out an annual pie chart on military and domestic spending.
This is very useful and easily understood for USA. We need something like this for Canada.

Project Ploughshares, Waterloo, Ontario, says: ‘and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.’

Transcend International has a chart: Some Consequences and Costs of War, and other resources. 'We are a Peace Development Environment Network. Our aim is to bring about a more peaceful world by using action, education/training, dissemination and research.'

Center for Global Nonkilling in Hawaii provides many free books and tools designed 'to promote change toward the measurable goal of a killing-free world by means open to human creativity in reverence for life.'

Historians Against War testify: ‘... we stand opposed to wars ... to dominate the internal life of other countries….’

Friday, 14 February 2014

Tribute to Peter F. Chernoff (1934 - 2014)

Born May 19, 1934, died February 10, 2014.
Obituary in the Regina Leader Post, Feb. 13, 2014

Peter was a teacher, a family man, the Best Man at my wedding, and a friend.

His family was academic, although his parents never completed public school. Peter and his siblings Walter and Mae (Popoff) all graduated from college, and his wife to be Irene Smorodin was Mae's college roommate. We first met in the mid-1950s while students at the University of Saskatchewan.

We were active members of the Saskatoon Doukhobor Student Group which supported The Inquirer, a monthly publication that I was editing and publishing. Peter submitted 2 letters to the editor:
  • November 1956, page 10 — Believes That an International Police Force Would Solve the Problem of War
  • October 1957, page 7 — Variety is the Spice of Life: Enjoyed the wit and humour of the column Dasha.
Peter Chernoff in sweater with 'E' for Education.
In September 1957, we attended the 4th annual Intergroup Relations Conference for young adults in Banff, Alberta conducted jointly by the University of Alberta and the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. We interacted with members of many ethnic groups (photo right). One Resource leader William G. Dixon explained that the Sons of Freedom zealots are ‘a test of the Canadian conscience.’(Cover and story, The Inquirer, September 1957, page 3) Photo right from page 202, Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers (2002).

In December 1957 (photo below), we participated in a joint Doukhobor project: Building Bridges of Understanding. Independent Doukhobor youth from Saskatchewan traveled to British Columbia to meet Community Doukhobors. We conducted panel discussions, slide shows and talks of a trip to Europe, a stage play, banquets, socials, tours, visits, and choral performances. The photo below shows Peter (3rd from left in glasses) and me (5th) before a thousand people discussing: ‘Where Do We Go From Here? — The future of the Doukhobor movement.’ Peter was proud to be the Announcer in a play called: ‘A Man and his Conscience.’

1957 Doukhobor Youth Conference. Chernoff 3rd from left.
Peter contributed 4 pages to my last big book documenting his family history: ‘A Patriarch and His Family During the Early Homestead Days,’ Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers (2002), pages 198-203; and he wrote the sidebar on page 201: ‘Lessons I learned from 11 September.’ For the introduction I wrote:

‘As a concerned Doukhobor, Peter told me that his grandfather George often said that any fool could destroy something, as in a war, but it takes clever people to build things. It seems that our 21st century nations are still far from being clever. In preparing for the Doukhobor Centenary in 1995, Peter wrote me: “The Doukhobors really did write a chapter in the history of mankind on this planet, even though they were ahead of their time. The time will come!”, he said….’

The ongoing Olympics reminds me that his son Rob Chernoff was a star swimmer athlete at the University of Calgary who represented Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Peter was a man with a vision and hope, of wisdom who has shown the way. If Peter was still here today, he might say this to us about his world:

My world, the one I created, is not perfect, but it is good enough. One day I will leave the light. Right now I want to Will something to you — I Will you my world as an inheritance. Please keep it healthy and beautiful, expand it, enrich it, and enjoy it. Do not be sad when something good goes by. Acknowledge it that you have had it in your life. Enjoy light and life! We accept your Will and the wisdom to carry it forth in our lives. My dear friend, Peter, you have made your mark on this earth for family, friends, neighbours, for all of us. With your exemplary Spirit Within, you have shown the Olympian pathway to love, beauty, friendship, and joy.

Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Tommy Douglas and Universal Health Care

On November 16, 2013, I attended a panel discussion on ‘Living the Dream: a healthy society for all, how a focus on health can revive Canadian democracy’, hosted in downtown Ottawa by the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation.

I attended mainly to learn about adding dental and prescription drugs to our national health care, and I had a personal interest in Douglas and gratitude for his work.

I grew up in Saskatchewan when Tommy Douglas (1904-1986) was in office and co-led the battle to give us universal health care in 1962. I personally briefly met him once. In 2013 he was honored with a commemorative stamp on the 50th anniversary of our Medicare legislation.

It happened that the birth of my daughter was expected during the 1962 Doctors’ Strike in Saskatchewan against the new socialized medicine. We were relieved when an English doctor came to deliver her in our apartment.

When I had my open heart surgery in 2006, I was again very thankful that Canada provided universal health care. I got excellent care.

Living the Dream

At the meeting, I heard 3 panelists assert that
  • our future as a nation depends on healthy citizens, and
  • our health insurance can be improved if we work together
Dr. Ryan Meili, a Saskatchewan physician, said, ‘whether you live long depends greatly on the health system.... Other determinants of health include income, housing, food, and employment.’ International healthcare data show that Canada compares well in longevity and costs in a 2008 comparison of 8 countries, surpassed by Japan.

Dr. Vincent Lam, a Toronto physician who wrote a biography of Tommy Douglas, said ‘we must dream boldly in how to achieve our dream.’ He quoted a conversation with actress Shirley Douglas (daughter of the late Tommy Douglas), who recalled that her Dad, at the end of his political career said that ‘one day we will go to the moon’ and we did; and ‘one day we will have a publicly-funded health care in Canada’ and we have.

Dennis Gruending, panel moderator, said that ‘living the dream is possible if we set our minds to do it.’ Dennis pointed out that the current Conservative government of Stephen Harper established expensive border services, built new prisons and enlarged the military. ‘If it can do that, surely it can find the resources to ensure the fulfillment of our dream in getting a full proper universal health care for our citizens in this country, as Tommy Douglas had envisaged it more than 50 years ago.’

In 2004 Tommy Douglas was crowned the ‘Greatest Canadian’ undoubtedly for his hard work to pass the first universal health care act in North America — for which all Canadians are most thankful. But we can improve it.

This ‘Father of Medicare’ was a Baptist minister, a federal Member of Parliament and Premier of Saskatchewan for 5 terms, up to 1960. Like many Canadians, he believed full health care was a human right that superseded private interests. We should unite to realize that dream by adding dental and drug services!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Doukhobor Documentary from Kars, Turkey

Kars, Turkey — The first draft of a new video documentary about Doukhobors is ready for proofing according to Vedat Akçayöz (Alchayoz), Director of the Kars Culture and Arts Association. He reports that translations into Russian and English should be complete in about 2 weeks, and a draft copy is being sent to Koozma Tarasoff for inspection.

Vedat hopes he can present this video in Canada at the 2014 USCC Union of Youth Festival in May. Sponsors are needed to fund his plane ticket (~$900), then volunteers for billeting and tour guiding.

He also sent a third drawing (below) by Ismet Koyuncu, a retired art teacher in Kars, titled (Turkish/English) : 1895- Duhoborlar Karahan 'da Silahlarını Yakıyorlar — The Spirit of the 1895 Arms Burning!

Vedat is one of the few descendants of Spiritual Christians remaining in Kars, Turkey. From his Prygun grandmother and mother he learned about ancestors in local villages and their pilfered cemeteries. For more than 15 years he has advocated for protection of the ruins and has became a volunteer historian. His previous work has been about non-Doukhobor Spiritual Christians (Turkish: Malakanlar).
Survey of Published Films and Videos on the Doukhobors
More news from Turkey about Doukhobors.