A couple of weeks ago, a Canadian Press article highlighted the disappointment of some Canadian soldiers at being left out of the war inIraq. There is nothing that some of these boysand girls would rather do, after training,training and more training, than to actually puttheir skills to use in a real shooting war.

I understand completely. I can remember when my U.S. military training was finished. It was time to be assigned to duty, and California, Hawaii and Vietnam were the stations available. We each pickedour destination in order of class standing. Theunlucky souls at the bottom of the class had tosettle for California and Hawaii. The rest of uscould not get to Vietnam fast enough.

It is a good thing that young troops with nobattle experience do not make foreign policy. Wewould all be living in George Bush’s dream ofperpetual war. On the other hand, it is not agood thing that politicians without battleexperience do get to make foreign policy decisionsthat lead to war. Unlike young soldiers, they arenot playing with their own lives, but with thoseof the young soldiers and thousands of civilianswho become the roadkill of warfare.

It is no coincidence that the most experienced soldierin the U.S. administration, Colin Powell, hasapparently been the biggest dove. Many ofthe experienced senior officers in the U.S. militaryalso had reservations about going to war. The factthat they were swept aside by an administrationfilled with draft dodgers — whose war experiencesare probably limited to video games — does not bodewell for the future.

This is a very important issue to Canada. Our countriesare closely integrated in many areas, including defence. Some of our soldiers’ disappointment stems from working closelywith U.S. forces. They feel that they have let the team down.

This is a dangerous sentiment. It transfers loyalty from Canada’s best interests to that a “team” that serves the interests ofthe United States.

Are the two country’s interests the same?

Take a look at softwood lumber, think about the salmon fishery, listen totheir thug of an Ambassador, Mr. Cellucci, whomakes no bones about telling us how to run ourcountry. Take a look at the Bush government’svalues and compare them to ours.

Recently the Canadian Alliance Party has calledfor billions more in defence spending. Liberal PM-hopeful Paul Martin is calling formore defence spending and closer ties to the U.S. as well.The Alliance and Martin are partly right. There is nodoubt that our defence is underfunded, ourmilitary understaffed and our military equipmentin serious need of upgrading.

However, before we embark on a pork barreling spending spree, shouldn’t we talk about why we need a military and whatwe expect it to accomplish?

The first step is to build a national consensus on what we need todefend against.

The second step is for the government to devise a plan to do it, and fund it.

Most importantly, we must decide whether to integrate with the U.S. or maintain our independence. If it is integration, then some sort ofpolitical union to give us a legal say in all decisions made in Washington would be inour best interest. If we choose independence, then we need to plan how to defend against the U.S.

If we do neither, then we will be independent inname but an American colony in reality. We will react towhatever directives, subtle or otherwise, aredelivered to us by their emissaries.

The Alliance’s defence proposal is merely for a glorified police force — or acouple of extra divisions on call for the U.S. Army.

What Paul Martin is proposing exactly, I am notsure. But, you can bet it has more to do withpleasing the U.S. than with our defence.

If we are going to be serious about defence, then it is timeto have a comprehensive and nationwide discussion onthe issue — and our relationship with the U.S.military. Our independence, and our soldiers’ lives,may depend upon it.