“Lest we forget” is the phrase most commonly used in remembering those who died in the Two Great Wars; 1914-18 and 1939-45. It has been extended to include that wider memory of service men and women who made the supreme sacrifice so that those civilians who were alive at that time and the future generations yet unborn could enjoy freedom.
It is a statement of history, but more importantly, of gratitude and memory for the ancestors who still live in the memories of those who will not forget. It is simply characterized by those who generously buy and wear poppies in support of the current service men and women, and their families who suffer the anguish of lives taken too soon by the stupid propensity of mankind to wage war on each other, with little or no reason.
“Lest we forget” is so appropriate for us in Jamaica who have vivid memories and even nightmares about the horrors we have witnessed and the stupidity of vile and cruel political strife that threatens to change Jamaica into “paradise lost”. I do not take responsibility for what people choose to run away from or conveniently erase from their memories, and so in this article I will only relate my personal experiences.
I resumed work after university in 1974, and returned from McMaster University with my two close friends, Michael Lee Chin and Roy Cain Jr, with the hope of making Jamaica a much better place as an influential country in the affairs of the world. It was a short time of hope and friendship; of work; of the Holborn Gym; football at Shortwood on Sundays; the Harbour View drive-in; a real extended family time.
Our parents were all well and we enjoyed the love of a greatly expanded family where we all came together for Sunday lunch and happy times. Then came 5 flights a day and in 1976 and 1977 both friends were gone. Paradise slipped towards chaos. Holborn gym was slowly abandoned, Mountain View was dangerous , the drive-in was not worth the risk, and the five flights were full.
By 1996 Francis “Paco” Kennedy, Basil Lue, and me were instructed to open 5 Cash and Carry stores across Jamaica so as to ensure that distribution to small shops was not affected by the massive closures and migrations of the well-established Jamaican Chinese wholesale owners. We were given 15 months to accomplish this and we opened at Marcus Garvey Drive; St. Ann’s Bay; Bogue (Montego Bay); Ricketts River (Frome, Westmoreland); Mandeville; and the extended the existing cold stores wholesale at Bond Street.
Those were dangerous times in Kingston. Bond Street probably averaged a gunfight per day as West Kingston was submerged in political violence. The Three Miles Roundabout (now Portia Simpson Miller Square) was a crossroad of four severely combative political war zones. In addition, in driving in from visiting the rural outlets I found myself in the middle of crossfire as men from “Sufferers Heights” exchanged high-powered gunfire with men in the vicinity of the Guinness playfield. I never ever drove through Central Village at less than 80 mph after that.
In 1976, at age 25, I was one of the business persons who were on the Peace March in West Kingston, and with the conjoint gunmen of both political sides and the businessmen, I may be one of the last still standing. Along with others we opened a supermarket in Tivoli Square so that people there could be supplied without venturing into hostile enemy territory. The operator soon absconded with the money to the USA where he was killed. The building eventually became the “Presidential office” in the days of the reign of Dudus. “Lest we forget.”
In 1978-80 things became worse, and I was constantly attending the funerals of our customers (the small shopkeepers) who were murdered in the mindless political violence visited on the innocent by those who wanted power more than peace. I still remember their faces and some names of those who paid the ultimate price, all for nothing, as the war still continues.
At Marcus Garvey Drive we sold the T-Shirts for the “Peace Concert” with the now famous photograph of Bob Marley joining the hands of Michael Manley and Edward Seaga while their notorious political enforcers looked on. “Lest we forget.”
I remember the “Orange Lane Massacre” where alleged political supporters were burnt out by rivals, and even babies were thrown back into the fire and killed. I remember the “Green Bay Massacre” and Norman Thompson, the popular footballer, killed in this horrible event. Then Minister Dudley Thompson said “No angels were killed at Green Bay”. Both had Commissions of Inquiry, but perhaps it is convenient that we do not remember. “Lest we forget.”
I have lived through these events. I have walked through the roadblocks and burning tyres to Norbrook from Twickenham Close during the second gas riot, with my friend Philip Alexander. We have taken refuge downtown at the Oceania Hotel when roads were blocked during the first gas riot and could not get home until after 2:00 am with a military convoy.
The frequent premature closures of businesses during political wars, the non-opening in the face of early morning shootouts, and the burning down of the sweetie factory in Spanish Town during civil unrest seem so much like a movie to the millennials. Insurance did not cover civil unrest, and the factory never reopened. “Lest we forget.”
As President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce in 1996 I launched the petition “Make your mark against violence” asking politicians to disassociate themselves from criminals or the country would become ungovernable; and we obtained over 80,000 individual signatures and 130 organizations, including the PNP and JLP. This was conveniently forgotten as a nine-day wonder and it would seem that the wish of the Jamaican people was again subjugated to political power ambition. “Lest we forget.”
Since the blood baths of political rivalry came too close to home, the new focus moved to corruption and the obfuscation of the consequent illegality.
So here we are again, wishing to talk security and policing with the very same organizations that are responsible for destroying the very fabric of our society. Everyone wants to talk but not act.
These are just a few snippets of my short life in Jamaica, and as the old television series started “there are a million stories in the Naked City; this is just one of them”.
It has been a time of crisis, not happiness; of crime, not peace; of family separation, not togetherness; of survival, not living; of hypocrisy, not endearment; of grills, not openness; of security guards, not freedom; of high walls, not scenic views. It has been a life spent fighting for a better way for all.
This existence was not a real life, just an ongoing battle for survival. In hindsight perhaps a revolution would have been a relief, but that is just a thought born of constant frustrations with the continuing deterioration of the fabric of our society. It is not my really considered opinion, but we can all have our fantasies as an escape from horrible realities. Nightmares are quickly becoming our reality.
Other sectors wish to talk about “truth and reconciliation”, and I am saddened that the churches engage in this incompatible dual connection. Even in a predominantly so-called “Christian country”, there must be an awareness of an Old Testament and New Testament; and the first part of the good book sets a stage for God the Father who is known for visiting harsh punishment on transgressors.
I am in favour of the truth, as many persons who have been victims of the tribal wars may find some solace in the admissions of the wickedness that continues to affect us. Reconciliation is not a matter for us to judge as we believe that forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus the Son who sees all in the hearts of mankind. The ability to grant this forgiveness is beyond our human ability and needs to be left to whomever will judge in the last days.
Until then, I suggest that the truth is foremost, and having spoken about the misdeeds foisted on our society, people need to tell that truth and simply get out of the part of society that style themselves as honourable.