By Jim Miles
Militarism is defined as being the undue prevalence of military spirit and ideals. It includes not only the positively presented recruitment and training ads that tell a wonderful story about finding yourself and your career, it also includes the underlying sombre tones of manly death and honour, with flags flying at half mast. It derives also from the government and its presentation of their glorious role on the world stage and the good deeds they are attempting to do at the giving end of the gun barrel. Even more so it comes from the media, and while the media pretends to be unbiased, the bias is evident in the selection and presentation of news whether it be ‘good’ news or ‘bad’ news.
The media in Canada presents the war as one of Canadian altruism in helping the Afghanistan people, speaking fine rhetorical flourishes that would warm the hearts of anyone not actually having to receive this help which most directly comes from a gun barrel and very little of which arrives in the form of civic control and civic infrastructure. Admittedly the NATO forces are facing an implacable opponent but that itself should cause concern about the understanding of the history of the area that has not been honestly reported by the media or the government.
Global National, the largest part of Canada’s limited media groups, is currently running a series on the Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Their news channels regularly emphasize the solemnity and pomp and circumstance surrounding the deaths of Canadian soldiers killed in action. The glorification of the military deaths, the rhetoric about all the good Canadians are doing in Afghanistan – even though the military says “we are tied” in their evaluation of combat against the Taliban and in spite of their claims to have “won the battle” in Panjwayi district – has had the understandable result of increasing support for the Canadian effort, even as the Taliban return to attack more troops. The crying widows, the sad faces of the uncomprehending children are all destined to tear at our hearts and invoke sympathy and unity towards the Canadian ‘cause’ in Afghanistan. Certainly I have a great deal of sympathy for the mothers, wives, and children of soldiers who have ‘given’ their lives for ‘our’ freedom…sorry, Afghani freedom…but I also have a great deal of sympathy for all mothers, wives, and children globally who have suffered the torments imposed on them by any militaristic culture.
The local newspapers cannot supply the martial music – or the sombre throat clenching grief of the survivors – but they do their part in increasing the militarism of Canadian society. The Globe and Mail, a neo-liberal Canadian paper, presents front page spreads that glorify the war, most recently a photo with a Star Wars framework, from the belly of a transport plane loading in another flag wrapped dead body with the military standing in honour on the tarmac in behind. It would make George Lucas proud.
The government itself, under Stephen Harper, has chosen to act like a mini Republican camp, saying it will not ‘cut and run’ (which is exactly what the U.S. did after helping he mujahideen beat the Soviets, leading directly to the rise of the Taliban), and that it will ‘honour’ its commitments (presumably right or wrong). It further tells Canadians to honour its troops, but government comments about unity and honour are their best way to inculcate (rather than educate) the public with the militaristic honour that allows no defiance nor counter arguments or presentations. It is a convenient way for the government to deny any opposition on the patriotic front. Harper is being a bit more subtle than Bush, not directly invoking god and ‘evil’ in his rhetoric – although from his background and unless he has become a recidivist – fundamentalist religion is known to be an important factor. The government is also hinting that it wishes to support the American missile defence system and other American military initiatives that lead to further global militarization. Other arguments abound about Canada taking its rightful place in the world, of improving its position within the western powers – to my mind appearing to be to the side of and about ten paces behind American foreign policy.
I have had e-mail dialogues with several Canadian Members of Parliament who seem to honestly appear to believe the rhetoric about rebuilding Afghanistan. At the same time they do not understand that Canada is doing so under the overall American effort to gain hegemony over the area for resources and trade. NATO’s top command at the strategic level (the overall planning level) consists of two American four-star generals; in February an American four-star general is slated to take over command of NATO forces in Afghanistan. They also do not appear to understand the history of Afghanistan and what has led to our involvement there.
Perhaps I could accept Canadian troops being in Afghanistan if the government and the media were both able to be honest and say something to the effect that “The United States under George Bush’s leadership has screwed up in Afghanistan as it has also done in Iraq and in general in its war on terror. Our mission is to try and address the full failure of the Americans to create a country with peace and democracy. In other words, we are trying to clean up their mess.”
Unfortunately, that still leaves the huge problem of actually knowing how to go about doing that. There is no manual, there are no rules, and unintended outcomes are to be fully expected. Nobody knows, although there are many ‘experts’ and pundits who will tell everyone else how to go about doing this. More unfortunately, the mess that has befallen Afghanistan arrived mainly from outside sources. For Canada to be successful in Afghanistan, it will have to take on Pakistan, probably Iran, perhaps Russia, and most ironically, it will have to take on the United States as the country most responsible for terrorism and militarism around the globe in the past half century, but more directly for the mess in Afghanistan, which they refused to clean up.
Canadian society, like other societies, is susceptible to the angst and grief of war, of wanting to be steadfast and hold the course in face of obvious serious problems concerning that course of action. It is also susceptible to the pomp and pageantry of war, whether it is the claims for having “won the battle” in Panjwayi district, or be it the formal solemn procession of flag draped caskets being loaded onto and then off of the military transports.
Canadians are in this case the aggressor nation. Should the Harper government continue as it is, should the U.S. government continue its present course of actions – which it most surely will from what I have heard from either side of the one party state – Canada will continue its course towards a fuller militarism, with a further acquiescence of the populace to glorify its military efforts, and with increasingly subordinate support for the American global military.
-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles. His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.