O Eternal Lord God, who alone rulest the raging of the sea; who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us Thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy … -- The Navy Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1662
And preserve us all from belligerent clowns who would exploit ships of all kinds and the brave mariners that sail them to score the basest of political points.
Canadian ships are in the news these days -- put there, apparently, by the Harper Government as part of its intensifying campaign for reelection, its cynical stratagems advanced without thought for consequences, to Canada or the world.
As is so often the case with the buffoonery of the Harper Regime -- which always seems to operate, with just enough justification to be disheartening, on the assumption we are all imbeciles possessing neither memory nor a sense of irony -- these latest maritime developments are both troubling and unintentionally hilarious.
So, first, there is the matter of HMCS Toronto, the apparently* corroded and ill-maintained Canadian frigate allegedly "buzzed" by a couple of geriatric Soviet-era SU-24 military aircraft in the Black Sea, leading to much huffing and blowing by Conservative Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, who called the Russian flight "unnecessarily provocative" and said it risked "escalating tensions even further."
Never mind that the 40-year-old Russian jets seem only to have flown by in the general vicinity of the Canadian warship -- leastways, apparently no one was able to procure any video that suggests they were even visible from Toronto's bridge, odd since surely every able seaperson aboard must have an unauthorized iPhone in his or her pocket!
This lack of evidence, unsurprisingly, hasn't stopped the proliferation of the unlikely story the Russians were picking on the Canadian ship because the Harper government has been so strident in its recent condemnation of President Vladimir Putin's so-far quite successful ripostes to Western machinations in Ukraine.
Never mind that Nicholson is the same Canadian defence minister who was blustering triumphantly just four months ago about how Canadian fighters similarly buzzed propeller-driven Russian bombers outside Canadian airspace. That considerably closer encounter was also accompanied by self-serving theorizing about the Russian strategy of approaching Canadian airspace with ancient Bear bombers, relics from an even earlier Soviet period than that of the aged Su-24s glimpsed momentarily from HMCS Toronto on the Black Sea horizon.
For the hilarious part, to take this posturing seriously it is necessary to forget that the Black Sea, strategically speaking, is a Russian lake, where hostile or threatening incursions are bound to be viewed in Moscow with profound concern. In other words, the appearance of Canadian, U.S. and French warships in those waters is about as "unnecessarily provocative" as you can get, even if your actual objective is to "risk escalating tensions even further."
Nicholson, unsurprisingly, groused about how the Black Sea is international waters, which is true enough. But let me ask you this, what do you think our American neighbours would do if a Russian cruiser, a Chinese frigate and a couple of destroyers, all armed with God only knows what, cruised cheerfully via Cuba into the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico?
I’m guessing a couple of U.S. aircraft considerably newer than the SU-24s would quickly make their presence known in an unmistakable way to such an unnecessary provocation in that particular large American lake!
Then there is the matter of the wreck of HMS Erebus, or perhaps it is the evocatively named HMS Terror, underneath the Arctic Sea where, even now, a nefarious Russian submarine bent on challenging our sovereignty could be lurking -- although it would have to be a small sub, because the long-missing sailing ship appears to be only 11 metres beneath the surface.
Why we're spending money discovering and recovering a 168-year-old wreck from the floor of Queen Maud Gulf when we're allegedly in need of another painfully pleasurable dose of austerity would be a puzzlement if the political strategy of the Harper Government were not so obvious.
Desperate to be seen to be doing something -- and preferably something that won't be as expensive as actually building and maintaining a harbour or other infrastructure -- to preserve Canada's Artic sovereignty, the Harper Government has hit upon the historical oddity of the reappearance of the doomed ship from Sir John Franklin's effort to find an unfrozen Northwest Passage, which began in 1845.
Indeed, His Nibs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrambled to mount the podium himself to make the rather tendentious claim, given the relatively southern location of the wreck, that discovery of the ship strengthens Canada’s claims to the Arctic. Well, perhaps it also allowed him to bask enjoyably in the reflected glory of the imperialism of old as he advocates for the New Imperialism of unregulated capital. One is almost surprised, given all this, that Harper didn’t don the garb of a 19th Century sea captain for the occasion!
Which leads us to the unintended hilarity in this maritime news story. Harper was quick to pour loads of dough into his pet science project and to tout the "commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved."
It is ironic, of course, that the same government actively pursues a policy of science denial and science suppression, especially when the science in question runs counter to the quasi-religious ideological nostrums of the Harper Government.
Indeed, global warming -- denied and disparaged by the Harperites -- may have contributed to the discovery after all these years of the unlucky Royal Navy vessel.
Well, at least the Harperites can argue they're helping solve the problem of too much ice in the Northwest Passage, which seems to have been the undoing of Commander Franklin's ill-fated expedition.
This seems an appropriately nautical note on which to end my short sojourn adjacent to salt water, which was required by some urgent family business on Vancouver Island. I will not have a regular Internet connection for the next couple of days, and will return to commentary on the state of Alberta politics next week in Edmonton. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
* Or so it looks in several recent news pictures. Perhaps the Canadian Navy, royal or otherwise, has in the Harper Era forgotten the useful naval dictum: "If it moves, salute it. If it doesn't move, move it. If it won't move, paint it."
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