Are You Willing to Die for the Cause Review

By | Tuesday, January 09, 2024 Leave a Comment
Following the theme of terrorism coducted by people who don't know what the hell they're doing from yesterday, today I'm looking at Are You Willing to Die for the Cause? by Chris Oliveros. The book details the story of the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ) from the 1960s, from how they started and then evolved into a militant separatist group who tried to "liberate" Quebec of English-speakers.

The book starts with an interview with Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau, who relays what he remembers from the initial FLQ bombings. Wihtin a few pages, though, he's proven wrong as we switch to an interview of FLQ's founders, Georges Schoeters. He starts back a little earlier to explain how he was originally incentivized to radical action because Donald Gordon, President of the Canadian National Railways, said in a public, sworn testimony that they basically could find very few French-Canadians who were qualified to work for them. This outaged a number of people who (rightly) called his remarks racist, but while they took to protests and burning Gordon in effigy, Schoeters saw the problem as much broader than simply Gordon. He saw the problem as one of systemic racism and he convinced some others that the best way to counter that was violent acts against the symbols of oppression.

The perspective switches narrators fairly regularly as different people become prominent within the group, however briefly. It's almost an "oral history of" type of approach, although without feeling the need to include every single thing every single person said. Two of FLQ's other founders, François Schirm and Pierre Vallières, are primary narrators, but some of the lesser known figures in the movement get some time as well.

What's particularly interesting in this approach is that it showcases just how none of the people involved knew what they were doing. Drapeau -- as noted earlier -- couldn't get basic facts right, Schoeters openly admits his initial attacks don't work because he really didn't know how to make Molotov cocktails, their first actual bombs are made by a high school student who took a single course on "electrical contacts," the police shoot and kill a store employee instead of the FLQ members who were actively robbing him, Schirm epically fails as his own defense at his trial... Everything about this whole episode of Canadian history has incompetence stamped all over it. On both sides! It's not even a comedy of errors; it's just a series of incredibly stupid tragedies. Every person who died in these events did so not because there was an intention to kill them but because somebody just didn't know what they were doing.

I'm reminded of that joke about what happens when a Stormtrooper from Star Wars fires his blaster at a 'red shirt' from Star Trek? The Stormtrooper completely misses every shot, but the 'red shirt' dies anyway.

So it's little wonder why you've never heard about Quebec seceding from Canada.

Oliveros tells the story well. It's largely chronological, with an occassional short digression for context and, despite the shifting narrators, it's an easy tale to follow. He does modify a few factual details here and there for narrative purposes, but there's a comprehensive appendix in the back explaining how/why he changed things for the story. Interestingly, the book ends with a promise of a "Book Two" to continue the story, but there is another appendix detailing what happened to many of the principals after the events depicted in this book. So even though the story isn't complete, it doesn't feel like it just stalls out either.

Personally, I found this fascinating, in part because I was completely unaware of any of these events. My understanding is that, even if you are somewhat familiar with any of these events, the level of detail Oliveros went to in his research for this is powerful in a wat that few previous versions have done in the past. And Oliveros still does make the story compelling; Schoeters is correct, after all, in his identifiction of the issue and it's only his methods and reactions that are questionable. The book came out from Drawn & Quarterly back in October and retails for $24.95 US.
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