How We Remember Two Dead Soldiers and What That Says About Us

Stark

L – Cpl. Justin Stark R – Cpl. Nathan Cirillo

A week ago today a man, who had been living in a shelter, drove to the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and opened fire on Corporal Nathan Cirillo – one of the two guards at the National War Monument. The shooting was fatal and the shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau would later meet the same fate as he stormed Parliament and was shot and killed by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons Kevin Vickers. That story has dominated news cycles in Canada and seen an international outpouring of support for Corporal Nathan Cirillo – all top U.S. Officials have sent their regards and tens of thousands of Canadians have visited a vigil outside of the Hamilton Armoury, or held vigil alongside and on overpasses of Ontario’s Highways as his body and casket were driven back to Hamilton. Numerous military personnel have commented on how Canada has not seen this amount of ceremony, eulogy, or support for a member of the military in some time – if ever. The way in which Canada has remembered the death and service of Corporal Nathan Cirillo is certainly vastly different than how Canadians typically eulogize the majority of dead soldiers in this country – or even other same ranking soldiers, in the same regiment, from the same City.

Another Hamilton Corporal, and member of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, Justin Stark passed away on October 29, 2011 – three years ago today. Like the majority of Canadian military deaths since 2002 – Justin took his own life. Over that span of time the Canadian Military saw 138 combat deaths in Afghanistan and 160+ military suicides. Justin’s death, like every other military personnel who has committed suicide, was not given national remembrance and he was never graced with a mention from Prime Minister Stephen Harper let alone a eulogy.

In fact, the largest media coverage around Cpl. Justin Stark came two years after his death when his parents received a .01 cent cheque in the mail – something which they felt was traumatizing and callous. Minister of National Defense Rob Nicholson did step up to apologize for the cheque, but the military still won’t budge on classifying Stark’s death as “not work related.” Stark shot and killed himself while inside the Hamilton Armoury – for context.

Horrific treatment of family of soldiers who have committed suicide is common in Canada though. Lt. Shawna Rogers suicide similarly received little media coverage, but the fact that the Canadian Military has threatened to sue her parents if they did not disclose personal information to the Military did.

In nearly even instance, families are left holding the bag trying to recoup final pay, claim what benefits exist, fight classification and the military over the record of the death and have to deal with a complete and utter lack of respect as the service of their loved ones is completely forgotten. This is how the majority of the Canadian military is dying. Mental health is a far bigger threat to the Canadian Military than ISIS or the Taliban and it is something that we can control to some extent.

Although the topic frequently comes up in the House of Commons, nothing substantive has changed in the Canadian Military. To my knowledge, the latest Canadian Military suicide happened in September – Master Corporal Denis Demers who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2010. Who knew of his name?

Suicide and PTSD rates in the Canadian Military are a runaway train that we can do something about. If we can muster this collective energy to eulogize an already dead solider, we can also use some of that energy to stop austerity for veterans, provide supports for military families already grieving, and we can ensure that full scale supports and programs are in place to deal with preventative care for soldiers. All signs point to some of these issues being inherent to combat and that’s another reason why we should be extremely cautious to ever send anyone into combat. The anti-war movement in Canada is in shambles and the political left still struggles with seeing soldiers as the representation of wars they oppose. It is in this kind of atmosphere that the political right has been able to succeed with “support the troops” rhetoric while the real world reality is anything but. A healthy anti-war movement is one that recognizes soldiers with compassion when the state no longer will – regardless of one’s stance on war.

What is all of this saying about us? Why do we ignore 160+ military suicides while we frame the death of one soldier as a national tragedy? All of these people have served. All of these people are gone. Nathan’s death, tragic, should be a point for sober analysis of how we remember soldiers – if not a condemnation of how the State currently views mental health as whole. Our current framing of Nathan’s death suggests that the State only cares about soldiers deaths to the extent that they are marketable commodities – eulogies that fall in line with political opportunity. Every journalist, politician and “mourner” who fits this bill should be thought of as a leech.

Many have also rightly made comparisons to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Wommen #MMIW in Canada – of which there are over 1,200+ open cases and no state eulogies. I completely agree, but focus on military suicide reminds us that even the people claiming to “support the troops” only do so when practice suits them. Why do we not challenge this? How is it that military suicide has not featured in ANY of the media coverage around Nathan Cirillo’s death?

Justin Stark grew up in Hamilton, close to my hometown of Dunnville, On. A few years ago, and back from duty, Justin led the Dunnville Mudcat Parade. Both born in 1989, Justin and Nathan served with each other in that Armoury in Hamilton. Justin’s funeral was the last military funeral at that Hamilton Armoury before Nathan’s. Both were excited about their service, but only one will be remembered as “Canada’s Hero,”and “Canada’s Son.” I despair when I think of all of the young people watching this news coverage, during this fervour, thinking of enlistment. How many will join to end up isolated, abandoned, and alone like Justin and 100’s of other military members who’s service will never be remembered? Many had small children, many had dogs that wondered when they would be home – but these are the stories we don’t tell. Nathan Cirillo has been dead for this entire conversation around his memory and it is important to remember that we are talking to each other, about each other, when we talk about his death. What does it say about us when everyone will remember Nathan’s name and almost no one will remember the names of any soldiers who have died by suicide?

@dylanxpowell/dylanjamespowell@gmail.com

*Dedicated to all those who have served who feel like no one cares.

UPDATE: There is an online petition that I have been asked to circulate calling on the Conservative Administration to classify Justin Stark’s death work related and to deliver Silver Crosses to his family. Please sign, and do what you can to circulate this petition. You can also expect some updates on this story here soon.

Final Justice for Cpl Justin Stark – https://www.change.org/p/hon-rob-nicholson-right-hon-stephen-harper-hon-peter-mackay-hon-julian-fantino-final-justice-for-cpl-justin-stark

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27 responses to “How We Remember Two Dead Soldiers and What That Says About Us

  1. So, here’s your gun, we’ve trained you how to use it like a pro. Go ahead and kill as many as you can, just make sure it’s only the ones we point at. Irony, thy name is the military.

  2. Thank you for this.
    I did a double-take because my husband’s surname was Hamilton – and he was a British vet of the Troubles in Ireland plus other secret adventures his government sent him on. And he committed suicide – decades later. I lived with his nightmares, his addiction struggles and know from what it all stems. This story is unique to none of our countries and certainly given short-shrift by the US, the UK and now I learn, Canada. Keep up your eloquent voice on this issue affecting so many of us — kept long in the shadows.

  3. Very sorry for both losses. Both should be counted as casualties if war. Whether it be inner or outer.
    God rest your brave soldiers.

  4. It is sad that even national heroes are linked with publicity benefits and mistreated after death.

  5. I had no idea soldiers from Canada had so high suicide rates. Good that You write about lt, and that you ask questions that should make people think! I like the optimism: That a different tomorrow is possible.

  6. Pingback: Veterans in Revolt: Canadian Vets “Ignored By This Government” | Dylan Powell·

  7. As a veteran in America, I am appalled that we average 22 veteran suicides a day. These are men and women who have somehow fallen through the cracks and were ignored. I am a PTSD survivor. The only reason I am still alive is because my family cared too much to disown me. Sadly, some veterans do not have a family, some do not have friends, some have nowhere to turn to.It is imperitive that we, not only create, but PROMOTE services that let our veterans know they are not forgotten! Even just one more suicide is too many!

  8. Reblogged this on Shades of North and commented:
    yes … military personnel deserve much more from us … and the Veterans ‘ Affairs Department … It’s truly shameful … heartbreaking indeed, that those who struggle with trauma … who carry the bad dreams with them after a tour of duty … would end up as a statistic .. a name on a roll call

  9. Thank you for this, and aiding in discrediting some of the military’s and first-world government media propaganda. I get so tired of seeing this apathetic obedience to everything that is military.

  10. It is so sad. It really makes you wonder why there are so many that end up taking their own life. I did not realize Canada has the same problems that we have in the United States. So many suicides among our military. What makes them feel like that is their answer? The ones that really count in their lives will and I am sure do remember their names, even though public at large won’t. Your post was very thought provoking, I am very sorry for each and every loss of life, whether taken of or driven to.

  11. An important post, and one that I support wholeheartedly. PTSD and depression are killing our boys where the foreign enemy failed. They fought for our country, now it’s time our country stepped up and fought for them.

  12. Powerfully written. Thank you for shedding light on this important issue. I believe that nations have a moral imperative to support their troops from the time of their enlistment through the end of their lives. At one time I was married to a US service member, and he earned so little that he would have qualified for public assistance, had he not been too proud to consider it. Shameful.
    BB

  13. Thank you for writing this very profound article!! It is the feeling of so many who may not have been able to put the words together in such an eloquent way…I know it is that for me…..I think of ALL our Service Members every day, those here and those gone, but those who leave by suicide are especially hard on my heart as it hurts me to know that they felt this was their only way out of such horrible pain and memories in their lives….As a Mom my heart breaks for them and their families because there certainly is a difference in how the situation is treated compared to say a KIA, when in reality, a Hero is lost in both situations..Both gave their lives for our country as far as I am concerned..Bless every member of our Military and Thank you for your service……

  14. Thank you for articulating this issue so well. I’m sad to learn this is an issue in so many places. My brother was an army ranger. He took his life Oct 25, 2011. My life will never, ever be the same. He felt he was in a battle alone. I consider him a casualty of war, but he will never have the honor or respect and only our family carries his name on our hearts.

  15. Millions of people have died in the Congolese Civil War, of which I and the vast majority of the world’s people are barely aware. A single soldier killed by, basically randomness becomes a national hero and dominates the news for a week.

    How can we explain this? Is it simply that narrative is much more powerful than suffering.

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