Building a nation with body bags

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

The old refrain “War, what is it good for?” raised a valid question. But it's a question that doesn't much trouble the Harper crowd.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government — and the military lobby with which it is closely associated — isn't squeamish about war. It promotes war as the stuff of nation-building.

Last week was a big week for war. First there was the full-court commemoration of the almost 3,600 Canadians who died at Vimy Ridge 90 years ago.

Then there were the tragic deaths of eight Canadian soldiers killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

Our political and military leaders wasted few opportunities to draw comparisons between Vimy and Kandahar, in an attempt to equate the puzzling, unpopular Afghan mission in the minds of Canadians with the country's most celebrated military battle.

Of course, the personal sacrifice and bravery of the Canadians who died — both at Vimy and Kandahar — deserve our gratitude and respect.

At issue is not their laudable courage, but the Harper government's use of it to glorify war, to cultivate the notion of war as the great nation-builder.

What's striking in this way of thinking is how little attention is paid to the purpose of any particular war and how much is paid to the idea of waging war.

Consider the current slogan of the Canadian Forces: “Fight with the Canadian Forces.” No mention is made of what or whom is being fought, or why. The message instead is just get out there and fight.

How's that for a notion to instill in our young people! We can hope they'll know not to try it out at home or school, but to confine their aggression to fighting unidentified foreign people in faraway lands.

For that matter, despite the heroism at Vimy, it has never been particularly clear what World War I was all about. Few wars, with the exception of World War II, have a clear and compelling purpose.

Yet, rather than war being seen for what it generally is — the ultimate human failure and the ultimate human agony — war is held up as the stuff of greatness, as the tie that binds us together. Only through the sacrifice of war do we come to see ourselves as a nation.

Of course, there's always a much-hyped enemy lurking in the background to get everyone's blood boiling, whether Kaiser Wilhelm II or the Taliban, and an endless chronicling of the enemy's misdeeds.

Conveniently left out of the narrative are the misdeeds committed by our side.

So we hear lots about the barbarism of those who resist our Western invasions (of Afghanistan and Iraq) and little about the suffering we impose when we bomb their villages.

We go on at length about the plight of the 15 British hostages in Iran, even after Iran released video footage showing them being served tea and sitting comfortably watching soccer games on TV.

Of course, nobody likes being held captive. But let's just say that if one had to choose, one would probably opt for that Iranian “ordeal” over, say, that other ordeal with the electrodes and the forced stacking of naked bodies in front of snarling dogs, presided over by grinning U.S. troops.

The notion of war as nation-builder is being used as a convenient substitute for the other sort of nation-building, the kind that involves creating strong public programs, institutions and facilities that provide real benefit to citizens, rather than just giving our young people the experience of killing others or being killed or maimed themselves.

The same crowd that loves to wallow in the glories of war loves to cut off funding for this other sort of nation-building.

Even as the Harper government has dramatically increased military spending, it has eliminated the national child-care program that was finally put in place, and it has allowed private, for-profit medicine to push ever deeper into Canada, undermining the strength and viability of our public health-care system.

The significance of Vimy is said to be that Canadians fought together as a coherent unit, rather than merely as part of the British army.

But bringing Canadians together as a coherent unit to fight poverty and homelessness, to build a stronger public health-care or child-care system, or for that matter, to devise a national energy strategy or a real plan for participating in the worldwide battle against global warming — there's little interest in that sort of nation-building.

It seems that under Harper, we'll do our nation-building with body bags.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.