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Book Review: ‘Are You Willing to Die for the Cause?’ by Chris Oliveros from Drawn+Quarterly

Die tor the Cause? Revolution in 1960s Quebec

Are You Willing to Die for the Cause? by Chris Oliveros, published by Drawn and Quarterly, is an intimate look at the actions of terrorism and those who perform them. Oliveros, who founded Drawn and Quarterly in 1989, stepped down to work on the project in 2015. This volume is the first of two, already showcasing his extensive research on the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), which sought to overthrow the English minority controlling much of Quebec’s economy. The book features an extensive bibliography and 20 pages of notes with clarifications and details about the complicated stories of the first three waves of FLQ attacks, beginning in 1962-3.

Are You Willing To Die For The Cause by Oliveros

Oliveros divides the first volume of Are You Willing to Die for the Cause? into three parts, framing the discussion with a legendary “lost” CBC documentary from 1975. The structure enables Oliveros to show interviews with leaders and dramatic moments from the 1960s as the violence ramps up.

An interview with Mayor Jean Drapeau sets the stage along with flavor from Claude Ryan, Editor-in-Chief of Le Devoir, but the real instigating action is the public comments by Donald Gordon. As president of the Canadian National Railway, he responded to the issue of so few of the CNR executives being French Canadians by stating that there were few French-speakers qualified. Soon protests would burn effigies of Gordon in the streets, but others sought to go farther.

Leaders of the Revolution

Oliveros’s first subject is George Schoeters, who organized bombings from his apartment where he, his wife, and their small children lived. Schoeters spoke of bold connections with Fidel Castro, but none seemed to materialize in any support either publicly or privately. Instead, Schoeters and his small crew of revolutionaries threw Molotov cocktails and later bigger explosives in the streets. He recruited with questionnaires in a restaurant booth and kept the dynamite for the bombs in the pantry with the cereal.

But the ragtag mailbox bombings proved difficult to organize, disillusioning Schoeters on becoming a new Fidel and liberating the countryside. Schoeters soon lost control of the group and found himself arrested by an undercover agent.

Are You Willing to Die for the Cause? then turns to Francois Schirm, a Hungarian ex-patriot who held huge dreams of building a guerrilla army in the forest. While he hoped to attract more than 2,000 recruits, he instead found just two people willing to join his small army. His plans for farmers to be a part of the cause were met with the farmers threatening to call the police. Their arsenal was so meager they even counted two long metal poles as a major part of it. The operation to gain a bigger cache of weapons by robbing a gun store went spectacularly wrong, leading to another end of the FLQ.

A Lost Cause?

For the book’s third act, Oliveros tells of Pierre Vallieres, who was as much a philosopher as a revolutionary. He sought to discuss injustice and lead protests while the LaGrenade Shoe Factory was on strike. After the strike struggled for any kind of success for over a year, the revolutionaries decided to raise the stakes with a bombing of the administrative offices. This bombing, too, went awry with the phoned-in threat ignored. Despite Vallieres being out of the country, he was soon arrested outside the United Nations.

While the topics in Are You Willing to Die for the Cause? are difficult, Oliveros’s graphic narrative proves deeply engaging. The story is told fairly and with humor, including the human element showing who the actors are. The comix-style art with heavy use of hash marks gives a dark vibe while still being palatable. Oliveros’s use of interviews gives smooth transitions between setup and in-the-moment narrative such that readers will be surprised when they realize how many pages they have turned. The thorough notes at the end present even more perspective on Schoeters, Schirm, and Vallieres as well as the turbulent first years of the FLQ.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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