Sunday, October 14, 2007

Canada: Where We're Going Instead Of Where We Should Be

A study in contrast is on the menu today - one that I would hope our politicians will take notice of and thereafter dwell upon the conundrum that it poses with regards to the current direction our country has taken.

Two news columns were penned in two different newspapers. One appeals to our higher and nobler principles, whereas the other appeals to our most basest ones.

The problem? It seems we as a country are fast riding down the road paved by the latter, instead of courageously hanging on to the former.


First off, we have Janice Kennedy's Obstructing the peace, whereby she discusses the recent events concerning American anti-war activists (like Alison Bodine and others) who are being stopped at our borders in order to be detained or refused entry into our country. Mrs. Kennedy's thoughtful and insightful piece illustrates well the slippery slope we've been heading down lately. A few excerpts, if you will allow me (emphasis mine):
Part of our national soul has been lost.

(...) On the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war, Montreal Gazette journalist Jack Todd - who made that profound border-crossing himself - spoke with the CBC. "That decision to come to Canada in 1970," he said, "is the bravest thing I ever did, and I'm damn proud of it ... I think we were right, and what we did was an important thing."

Many Canadians agree. But not all. And certainly not the ones making the rules these days.

So now we turn away peace activists. Now we don't even let them in for the day to talk peace with Canadian peace groups.

For some time now, many Americans have been seeing horrible parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. There are similarities in the pointlessness, the unwinnability, the relentless flow of body bags, the obscene costs. The catastrophic Iraq adventure, not five years old, is on track in 2008 to nearly equal the economic drain of nine years of Vietnam. At the moment, Iraq is costing U.S. taxpayers an estimated $255 million a day. A day. This, in a country where the poor keep getting measurably poorer and nearly 50 million people have no health insurance.

And yet when people at our border want to come in and discuss such obscenities with us, we send them packing. What (American activists) clearly didn't know was how we've changed, how we've allowed the pervasive war mentality from the U.S. to seep in, poisoning our atmosphere and transforming us.
Mrs. Kennedy sees a direct causality between this gradually devolving sad state of affairs and creeping militarism in our country, something Punditman touched upon weeks ago. Dixit Mrs. Kennedy (emphasis mine):
You see it everywhere, war glorified and peace gestures shoved aside as wimpy and full of Chamberlain-esque appeasement. All war is good and honourable, all combatants heroes. When I wrote critically some weeks ago about the "Support our Troops" decals as statements of support for combat in Afghanistan, one correspondent took me to task from a unique angle.

We must honour our troops, she said, so that they don't come home like the U.S. troops from Vietnam - heroes, all, but lacking in the respect they'd earned. There is no point wondering how they could all be heroes, because heroism is the prevailing mythology.

(...) It's the same kind of spurious reasoning that had the American and Canadian neocon crowd circulating a bit of e-mail satire last month, a Second World War-vintage portrait labelled "General Eisenhower or General Lies and Power?" Supposedly distributed by the "'Twas Time to Move On Political Society" (a sneer at MoveOn.org, the U.S. political action group that has campaigned relentlessly against the war in Iraq), it says: "General Eisenhower will not admit what everyone knows: America is in an unwinnable war ... General Eisenhower has become General Lies and Power for not retreating and sending our troops home."

Lacking both subtlety and logic, it suggests that the war against Germany and Japan is somehow comparable to the botched misadventure in Iraq. And it does so because that great levelling concept of war - that it's all the same, no matter what the context or who the participants - is part of the temper of our times.

The mythology of war and heroism is powerfully attractive. We borrow freely from it as often as we can, sometimes failing to notice that it's not a good fit, that it's just borrowed clothes. But we don't want to give it up.

Sadly, some wars are indeed unavoidable. How else, for example, would the nightmare of Hitler have been ended? And the sacrifice made by men and women to do that terrible job should never be forgotten.
Mrs. Kennedy then goes for the home run (emphasis mine):
Forty years ago, Canada had a sense of self that included a national belief in peace. Now we have not only abandoned that part of the Canadian soul, we've replaced it with something that isn't even our own.

From the government of our friendly (though foreign and sometimes frightening) next-door neighbour, we have borrowed an unsettling paranoia and a militaristic world view that feels wrong and is not who we are. We have jumped on to the Bush bandwagon, heedless of the terrifying fact that it is careening downhill, out of control.

And we won't even listen to those who want to warn us.
Mrs. Kennedy makes for a compelling argument and, again, not unlike the one Punditman made previously.

It is true that, especially since January 2006, we've been seeing the same tactics and hearing the same talking points from our (neo)conservative government as those being pushed by the Bush administration - whether concerning the Global War on Terror(TM), gobal warming, climate change, Kyoto and the environment, or Afghanistan, etc. (I know I've blogged often enough about such things).

In fact, Prime Minister Harper (a.k.a. Mini Leader) and his Harpies have often made me wonder who they serve: us or the U.S.?

However, I do not entirely subscribe to this whole "creeping militarism" angle as to why we have been increasingly following our southern neighbors down the same road to perdition with regards to our constitution, our civil rights, our obsession with Holy Security and our taste for war (especially concerning our mission in Afghanistan).

Which brings me to the second news column I would bring to your attention, this one penned by Tom Brodbeck and titled Leaders should be honest on Afghanistan motives. In this "piece", Mr. Brodbeck expresses his discontent with all Canadian politicians with regards to the current debate concerning our mission in Afghanistan, hoping that the announcement by our Mini Leader of the creation of an independent panel that will make recommendations on Canada's future role in Afghanistan, will bring about a focus on the actual reason as to why Canada is in Afghanistan. This reason? Let us allow Mr. Brodbeck to articulate this for himself (emphasis mine):
(...) But if we're going to have a real debate about Afghanistan, politicians have to start being honest with Canadians about why we have troops there.

There's a false perception in this country that we're in Afghanistan to keep peace and to bring Afghans freedom and democracy.

We're not.

We're there for one reason and one reason only: to prevent terrorist regimes from rebuilding their forces in order to reduce the risk of another terrorist attack against a North American target.

We're not there to bring equality to women and we're not there to open schools or liberate anybody.

Those may be side benefits. But those aren't the chief objectives.

We're in Afghanistan to protect our own hides from a future attack.
Mr. Brodbeck outlines his point further thus (emphasis mine):
This is what former prime minister Jean Chretien said in a 10-minute television address six years ago when he committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan:

"I cannot promise the campaign against terrorism will be painless, but I can promise that it will be won," said Chretien.

"We must remain strong and vigilant. We must insist on living to our terms, according to our values, not on terms dictated from the shadows."

Six years later, we're still in Afghanistan because we fear that if we and our allies leave, terrorist groups may flood back into the country, rebuild their forces and come after us again.

(...) There are still terrorist groups all over the world and many have simply relocated from Afghanistan, including bin Laden.

But we did accomplish what we set out to do - remove a pro-terrorist government from power, capture some key al-Qaida operatives and frustrate their operations.

Have we reduced the risk of another 9/11 as a result? Of course we have.

Al-Qaida is more fractured and less organized now than it was prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

The challenge today is to try to train Afghan security forces so they can, on their own, prevent terrorist groups from reforming.

No one knows if that's possible. But that's why we're still there.

And it's probably not prudent to leave until we think those measures are in place.
Where to begin?

First off - Mr. Brodbeck repeats the usual falsehoods concerning the Taliban regime (which I dealt extensively already here and here), as well as the neoconservative spin that the Afghanistan war (and by association, the Iraq one as well) have made all of us safer. This last one has been proven wrong time and time again - and therefore I will not endeavor to debunk it yet again.

Second, Mr. Brodbeck pushes the typical mantra that we are in a generational war which will take a long time to "win". How so? By his own statement that "there are still terrorist groups all over the world and many have simply relocated from Afghanistan, including bin Laden" along with his "but that's why we're still there, And it's probably not prudent to leave until we think those measures are in place". That is, in essence, what the so-called Global War of Terror(TM) is all about: a never ending war. Why? Because it is simply ludicrous to wage war against a technique of fighting or of causing terror.

But intellectual sloth-driven folks like Mr. Brodbeck cannot see this simple truism, just like they cannot help themselves from drinking the usual Bush administration/Harper government kool-aid which claims that "we are fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here", that "we're winning the war on terror" and how "being in Afghanistan and Iraq have made us safer", and then regurgitate it along.

Folks like Mr. Brodbeck not only want to believe such things, but they actually need to believe.

Because such folks are ruled by fear.

Case in point: Mr. Brodbeck's projection of his fears conflated what happened to the Americans on 9/11 with the possibility that it will happen to us as well. In fact, he considers 9/11 to have happened to Canada as much as to the U.S.A., considering his choice of words and the way he framed the context of his "arguments".

Incidentally, such folks are often what I call false patriots:
That is why they keep boasting of their courage and resolve in the Global War on Terror(TM).

That is why they blindly support any initiative, however much an affront to our constitutions it may be, as long as it is with the objective of fighting terrorists and preventing another 9/11.

(...) That is why they call for more wars, always seeing yet more moving shadows which must certainly seek to attack and harm - and yet they do not enlist, nor encourage those closest to them to enlist.

That is why "might makes right" constitutes a fundamental principle for them - especially as long as other people die in their stead.

And that is why they are the loudest self-proclaimed, chest-beating "Patriots".
And therein lies the real reason why Canada has been fast-riding down the same "road to perdition" as the U.S.A.

Fear.

I said it before and I'll say it again: we are the real problem with terrorism.

Allow me to reproduce here part of what I wrote recently on the 6th anniversary of 9/11 (emphasis added):
So - what exactly happened on the day after the fateful and tragic morning of 9/11?

We lost and the terrorists won.

Right there and then.

Whatever else has happened in the six years which followed to this day merely constitutes the gradual and methodical enactment of the terms of our surrender.

No more, no less.
Or, to put it another way:
Hence, this is why we are quite willing to put aside our fundamental rights and our simple human decency, if not our humanity, in the name of security;

This is why we accept to be probed, surveyed and monitored any time and everywhere, day in and day out;

This is why we accept that the rule of Law be bent, twisted or ignored;

This is why we accept that our governments wage war indiscriminately in other countries, against a technique of fighting;

This is why we are slowly surrendering the very principles of our democracies to increasing authoritarianism;

This is why reason and competence have given way to fear and hate-driven incompetence;

This is why we are the real problem of terrorism;

And, consequently, this is why the terrorists have already won.
And this is why we have devolved in going as far as refusing entry to peace activists into our country: we have come to the point where we won't even accept dissenting points of view on what we are doing in Afghanistan, or concerning the senseless and wasteful waging of war against a technique of fighting.

All because of irrational fear, such as that expressed by Mr. Brodbeck who, sadly enough, constitutes but one example among all too many of us. Including too many of our politicians.

How ironic then, and quite à propos, that Mr. Brodbeck ends his opus this way:
That's the real debate.

The rest is just political noise.

We should at least stick to the real reasons we're in Afghanistan when we debate what our next move should be.
In other words: long live the politics of fear.

Which only reinforces the axiom that "we have met the enemy, and it is ourselves".

And there you have it: on the one hand, we have Mrs. Kennedy's appeal to our nobler principles and, on the other, we have Mr. Brodbeck's appeal to our basest emotions.

Quite symbolic of what we've been going through since 9/11, eh? Of how Canada has been heading down one road, when our country should have steadfastly and courageously stayed on the one we were engaged on prior to this tragic day.

Come what may, I know which one of the two appeals I have been following all along, even after 9/11.

What about you?


(Cross-posted at A Creative Revolution and at NetRoots)

4 comments:

  1. mentarch, in this post you present a critical element I find is almost entirely overlooked - or buried intentionally by those who use it - when debating such wars as these: the emotional aspect.

    This is a very good post, one everyone should read. We can't make proper decisions for ourselves or our nation if we don't understand what drives us. This failure to act on our own behalf is aggravated when those in power do understand such drives and manipulate populations by playing on those drives.

    How do we get people to learn these things, though. I know - education, and I agree. I'm going to stop here. It's a tough, tough road, when so many people really don't want to shake up their beliefs out of fear of what they might learn.

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  2. 900 ft Jesus: if the media would do an incompetent job instead of the sloppy/duplicitous one they've been doing, they would be spreading the word that we are increasingly allowing fear to overrule rationality and therefore making wrong domestic and foreign policy decisions ...

    It has to begin somewhere - hence the need for the blogosphere (although it is clearly not enough) ...

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  3. The problem is that the West is still figuring (balancing civil liberties and security, military strategies etc.) out how to deal with terrorism. I am uncomfortable with the notion that this is a "politics of fear" because it a) detracts us from the reality of its nature and b) somehow fosters the idea we alone are to be blamed for its proliferation and c) let's us overlook that the Americans have always said that this could take up to 10 years to achieve the objective.

    How they achieve it has been a hot debate.

    In my opinion, any simple crash course in Middle-Eastern history will show that the ball of a downward spiral in Muslims society had been rolling long before Western policies that contributed to the problem.

    Canada in recent memory has indeed failed to match its rhetoric with action but I would argue not for the reasons mentioned here.

    I have friends in law enforcement.
    Question: if we do get hit how will Canadians react? By blaming Americans? In shock?

    I say yes on both counts and that's a major problem.

    If this makes me a "Harpie" so be it!

    Keep up the good work, Mens.

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  4. "I am uncomfortable with the notion that this is a "politics of fear" because it a) detracts us from the reality of its nature and b) somehow fosters the idea we alone are to be blamed for its proliferation and c) let's us overlook that the Americans have always said that this could take up to 10 years to achieve the objective."

    A - the reality of its nature is overblown. Colin Powell said it best recently: "What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it’s terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?"

    B- That is not true and you know it. This is at best a "distractory" argument, if not an actual strawman argument. I know I've never even remotely insinuated this - hence, why bring this up here?

    C- Assuming that the demonstrated disassembling, lying and overall incompetent Bush, Cheney et al. actually chose the right approach to fighting terrorism. Who cares that they claim it would take ten years, 20, or even 30? The point is that they, and we along with them foolishly, have been going at this all wrong - out of fear.

    Ergo: we are talking about the politics of fear here and we are giving away our constitutional rights and freedom because we are afraid.

    Hence, the terrorists are winning.

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Please feel free to comment on APOV. However, remember to keep in check your tone and respect for all here. Let rational, reasoning, enthousiastic and passionate conversations and discussions rule first and foremost in our participatory democracy, so as to facilitate the free exchange of reality-based facts and ideas. In between, do not forget to have fun and enjoy yourselves ... in other words: keep on rockin'! - Mentarch