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Update from Graeme Decarie, retired MCHS and Concordia history teacher: Three children in school, one at McGill, two at Concordia

I recently told Graeme Decarie that I would put together an update based on a recent email exchange with him.

The update follows below.

On Jan. 9, 2018, Graeme Decarie wrote: One of my boys, Nicholas, has been studying at university in Fredericton, and will graduate this year. Today, he got accepted for a master’s programme at McGill, starting in September. It’s information studies (archives).

So, in September, I shall have three children in Montreal, one at McGill and two at Concordia. And I think that could convince me to move back.

Anyway, it might get dangerous here. New Brunswick is owned by a billionaire named Irving who owns the government and also owns all the newspapers. For tomorrow’s blog, I wrote an article that is more than somewhat critical of him.

Graeme Decarie. Source: MCHS 1962-63 yearbook

He is not a forgiving man.

Jaan Pill (Jan. 9, 2018):  This is great news!

I will post some version of your update to my website, when I get to my site. I’ve been staying away from posting for a while, taking a break.

I’m really pleased your children are doing well. That is great to know!

I continue to focus on workouts at a local college fitness centre. I’ve been working at learning to do the deadlift properly, using a hex bar.

We’ve visited a couple of universities last year. Whenever we see a university fitness centre, I enjoy seeing how students are doing their squats and deadlifts. I’ve observed they are all doing a great job of keeping proper form – e.g. maintaining a neutral position of the spine (which along with using the hips as a hinge, involves taking in a deep breath and holding it, while tensing specified muscles) during the deadlift; and keeping the knees from travelling forward (past the toes) during the squat.

Good-looking guy on the left is Graeme Decarie. Person on right is a blogger who was travelling through town and ran into Mr. Decarie at a Tim Horton's coffee shop in Moncton, N.B. on Aug. 6, 2016

Left to right: Graeme Decarie, Jaan Pill at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop in Moncton, N.B. on Aug. 6, 2016.

Graeme (Jan. 9, 2018): I took to very long walks in a neighbouring wilderness park – until the big storm. Now, I settle for swimming in a pleasantly heated pool, and I shall be moving to weights.

Jaan (Jan. 10, 2018): You have a good plan in place.

I am going to make an effort to post an item to my website over the next day or two.

I’ve been spending much time writing notes in a notebook, using a calligraphic fountain pen.

The last while, I’ve also been reading about Mussolini, decolonization, and related topics:

My father’s photo album from 1936 Berlin Olympics prompts my reading of Richard J. Evans’s trilogy about Nazi Germany

Fascism and the Italians of Montreal: An Oral History: 1922-1945 (1998)

1946: The Making of the Modern World (2015)

Newsletter from the Friends of Fort York & Garrison Common features items of interest related to blurbs and slogans

Graeme: Your reading reminds me of Vera Lynn, the British songstress of World War 2 who sang about how we were fighting the war to end all wars so we could live in a world of peace. “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover….”

Our political and business leaders broke every promise that was made. The UN was created, but immediately neutered. The U.S. has invaded over 70 countries since 1945. And Britain, far from being free, lost its empire and so now has to kiss up to the U.S. – as does Canada.

The reality is that World War Two is still on. But the U.S. is now the great Nazi power.

Jaan: A good overview, that you have shared.

I forgot to mention that I’m reading all of this with an ear for the Indigenous perspective. It’s been remarked that, if one wants to know what the world would be like had the Nazis won the war, one would need only to consider the fate of Indigenous peoples in North and South America and elsewhere.

Commentary

I would say, speaking for myself, the Nazi comparisons can only go so far. The United States does not have a plan, as Nazi Germany did, to murder Jews, wherever they are living.

Among the themes that I’m exploring in my reading concerns the similarities between nineteenth-century massacres in Germany colonies in Africa, and Nazi Germany’s later massacres related to empire-building in Central/Eastern Europe. From what I’ve read, with regard to the two events, there is not a direct link. The Nazi empire was a unique formulation, drawing upon circumstances that were not at play, in the same manner or at the same extent, in the German colonies.

It took me a while, based on my reading over some time, to understand the conclusions that researchers have arrived at, regarding this topic.

Another theme I have been exploring, in my reading of a wide range of recent books, concerns the Addis Ababa Massacre during Italy’s Fascist era. In a book entitled The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy’s National Shame (2017), Ian Campbell suggests that the Nazi attempt to set up an empire stretching across Central/Eastern Europe was directly influenced by the atrocities, that occurred in Ethiopia in 1937.

With both my strength training regime, and with my reading related to the Second World War and postwar era, I’ve been focusing on studying these topics at some depth.

With history related to the Second World War, I have found that Richard J. Evans serves as an exemplar of history writing at its best, at least from my perspective as a reader. In all my reading, I want to know how well acquainted a writer is with the available evidence, and I want to know the framework within which it is presented. As well, I attend closely to the quality of reader engagement, and the flow and structure of the writing.

The value of compound exercises (such as the deadlift) is something that dawned upon me in recent years, as I read book after book about strength training. Learning all of the details, of how to perform a compound exercise correctly, is a great learning experience.

Mastery of the correct form does not come easily, for me. It requires a lot of practice, and close attention to detail. Perhaps especially because it requires a lot of work, in order to attain mastery, I so much enjoy the entire process. Having a good place to work out, with all of the equipment and space that is required, has been especially important, to enable me to make good progress, in this area.

Similarly, I’ve been reading about prewar, wartime, and postwar history in much greater depth than I have in the past. It’s my way of learning about this aspect of history, so that I better understand the meaning of the photos in my father’s 1936 Berlin Olympics photo album – and that I so much better understand the present moment.

 

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3 Responses to Update from Graeme Decarie, retired MCHS and Concordia history teacher: Three children in school, one at McGill, two at Concordia

  1. Graeme Decarie says:

    Well, the U.S. has murdered at least 12 to 15 million people since 1945. Well over half of them have been civilians. No, they weren’t Jews. But to excuse the U.S. on that basis seems a bit much.

    And the plan for an American nuclear war (as revealed by Assange) is that it would kill over a billion in Russia and China alone.

    re your article on oral history of Montreal Italians e fascism, there is a Catholic church worth visiting. It was the major church for Italians when I was a kid (I lived near it). And it is still the must local for the funerals of mafia dons.

    It’s just a few steps going south on St. Laurent from Jean Talon (on the south side of Jarry Park.) And it’s a bit off to the side with a small park between it and St. Laurent.

    Inside is a magnificent dome with a painting of God and Jesus and the disciples and the saints standing on a cloud with Mussolini on horseback.

    As a high school kid, I met the man who gave that horse to Mussolini. And if we were nice and listened to him, he would give us each a matchbook with a picture of him and Mussolini on the cover.

    Go east on Jean Talon to Lajeunesse (I think), and you come to the Italian social centre, Casa D’Italia. Just inside is a monument plaque to the heroes who died for fascism.

    And just a bit further is Peace Centennial School, one of the city’s great producers of thugs – and it was my elementary school – though now a government building, I think.

  2. Graeme Decarie says:

    Oh, both Canada and the U.S. (and Britain) refused to accept Jewish refugees from 1930 or so on, even though they well knew what was happening. One of the few nations to show kindness to Jews was China.

  3. Jaan Pill Jaan Pill says:

    The story of Shanghai, as a city in China that welcomed refugees including Jews from Europe and elsewhere during the Second World War, is of much interest. Books that I’ve borrowed from the Toronto Public Library highlight the welcoming role that Shanghai played, for many individuals and families, in that regard.

    I began reading widely about Shanghai after I learned that a British police officer, who had gained his experience dealing with gangsters in Shanghai, I imagine (will need to check) around the 1920s or 1930s, played a key role in training secret agents working on the Allied side during the Second World War. I have much interest in the history of the Special Operations Executive, which includes a close Canadian connection:

    Women’s roles in Special Operations during the Second World War

    Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2017) provides a good overview of “irregular warfare” in the Second World War

    From my further reading, I’ve also learned that claims that Allied secret agents single-handedly played a decisively determinant role in the outcome of the Second World War have to be treated with some caution. Such details, related to how narratives about history are constructed, are of much interest. Here, as in other cases, the extent and quality of the evidence, and the quality of the framework that is used in the construction of a narrative, are key considerations.

    The fact that Jews seeking to escape Nazi persecution and extermination were not as a rule welcome in Western countries including Canada is indeed part of the history of the period. It’s a topic that I’ve also explored at length in my reading of books, about the 1930s and 1940s, from the Toronto Public Library.

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