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Sober second thought: A half-hearted defence of Don Cherry, Stephen Harper and Julian Fantino in military drag

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Stephen Harper

A reader writes in response to my commentary on the politicization by so-called conservatives of Remembrance Day: "What combat unit did Don Cherry, Stephen Harper, Julian Fantino and the other chicken hawks ever serve in?"

Good question. A more complicated and serious one, though, it is said here, than it would appear on its face.

As far as I can tell from their online biographies, none of the three worthies mentioned above, all of whom seem to enjoy dressing up in various kinds of armed forces drag, has ever served in the military.

Indeed, Harper, the prime minister, has never held a real job of any kind. He merely graduated from young Liberalism to tiny Toryism to various ancillary and auxiliary political jobs before rising to elected office, higher and higher, where he has remained ever since.

Cherry, the former professional hockey player and coach, and current taxpayer-subsidized megaphone for uninformed political and social commentary, dropped out of high school and went directly into the sporting life, or so the Wikipedia tells us.

Fantino, it should be noted, did work as a mall security officer before joining the police force. So at least he has seen extensive paramilitary service. But I am at a loss to explain the chest full of medals he is shown wearing in his role as minister of veterans affairs on his taxpayer-financed website. Perhaps someone from his office could drop us a line to explain.

"Chicken hawks" in the context meant by my interlocutor is an American slang term for politicians who have never served in the military (or like former President George W. Bush, managed to serve in conveniently safe units like the Texas Air National Guard) yet who adopt a bellicose manner as they send young men and women in the armed services off to their deaths.

Former vice-president Dick Cheney springs to mind, a man who was certainly combative enough when it came to other families' children, but who himself avoided service in the Vietnam war with five draft deferments, once famously observing, "I had other priorities in the Sixties than military service."

So, no doubt, did a lot of young men of the same generation who were nevertheless drafted to serve and die in Vietnam.

Cheney, interestingly, has recently been the recipient of a transplanted heart. But the new one, presumably, is as hard and cold as the one it replaced.

Regardless, Canada is not the United States, and the differences between our countries remain important, even if Harper doesn’t think they ought to be.

The United States during the Vietnam era had a national male military draft -- which, indeed, was one of the reasons for the rising tide of opposition to the war in Southeast Asia. Canada has not had a draft since the Second World War -- and even then its enforcement required nuance and subtlety in the context of our national compromise, which predates Confederation in 1867.

So while the idea of chicken-hawk politicians who avoided military service in the 1960s has some validity for U.S. politicians who came of age in that era, it seems to me that considering military service a valid criterion for holding public office in Canada is a far less worthy notion.

Leastways, it's said here it wouldn't be a very good idea in a democracy to exclude from higher office anyone who had not done military service, especially in a country where for important and valid historical reasons, universal compulsory military service has not been part of our national experience.

Moreover, there are bound to be times when senior federal officials -- ex officio -- must make decisions about the use of military force. Again, in a democracy in which the people chose their leaders, this job cannot and should not be restricted to military veterans.

Nor is it necessarily a bad thing that in Canada and the United States today there is no national consensus requiring military service if one is to hold any responsible job, let alone high political office, as is the case in such democracies as Finland and Switzerland with recent traditions of armed neutrality.

None of this is to say politicians unschooled in the art of war should glory in violence -- indeed, if they listen to their soldiers, the soldiers will often set them straight about the limitations of military action.

Nor is it to deny there's not something quite unseemly about politicians who have not done military service dressing up in military drag -- although in fairness to all of them, sometimes the military insists that's how you have to dress if they’re going to invite you along for a ride on a tank, a destroyer escort or a helicopter. But I think we are wiser to emphasize the comedic aspects of this practice than to seek moral outrage in it.

After all, isn't the Americanization of our Canadian political debate, like the politicization of Remembrance Day, a sign of the success Harper and his so-called Conservative Party have had in debasing public discourse in Canada to their own neoliberal ends?

There's nothing wrong, I guess, with what a lefty friend of mine on the West Coast used to call "good ol' Navy common sense." But let's not decide that combat experience is a necessary prerequisite for holding political office -- or, in its absence, vociferous chicken hawk bellicosity from any perspective.

Indeed, that idea deserves a little good ol' Canadian sober second thought.

+ + +

This just in: Canada puts all its nuts in one basket!

While Rob Ford's apparent sanity continues to crumble in public like the proverbial slow-motion train wreck, Sun News Network's TV arm has moved to extract some profit from the public deterioration of the Toronto Mayor's mental state.

Treating psychosis as entertainment may be distasteful, but it's entirely in character for the little network that remains mired at a number higher than 600 on your TV dial, a fact that lends deeper significance than is normally conveyed by the term "remote."

Sun TV announced yesterday it "has landed the hottest man on the airwaves." That is to say, the obscure far-right cable station went on to explain, "the Rob and Doug Ford Show is coming to Sun News Network."

You may have thought Rob and Doug Ford were two men, but I suppose one explanation for the phenomenon we have been witnessing these past few days is that they are in fact one man with two bodies.

Regardless, other Sun TV on-air "personalities" such as Ezra Levant and Michael Coren should be concerned, I suppose, about what this development might mean for their own prospects for promotion, in either sense of the word.

Elevation of the prime minister's favourite fishin' buddy to TV stardom can also be argued to mean Canada is now putting all of its far-right nuts in one basket, justifying the common perception of the PM’s favourite TV station as a right-wing basket case.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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