This past week has provided Canadians with a series of warm and fuzzies that, like most of this nation’s mythology, were built on self-congratulatory lies. From the breathless and ankle-deep CBC and CTV interviews with former prime minister Jean Chretien to the Globe and Mail’s front-page shout out to that most disingenuous of foreign ministers, Bill Graham, the occasion was the 10th anniversary of the 2003 escalation of the 23-year war against the people of Iraq.
That numerically awkward phrase is necessary because 2003 was billed as a new war when, in fact, the aggression against the Iraqi people never ended following the 1991 slaughter from the skies. Indeed, war continued through a combination of the devastating Clinton-era sanctions that claimed over one million Iraqi lives, alarming rates in cancers and child deformities from depleted uranium and other military toxics, and daily attacks from the air for over a decade. Canada spent over a billion dollars militarily enforcing sanctions that were described by UN officials as genocidal. Canada more than made up for that outlay with billions in war contracts for everything from the hundreds of millions of bullets pouring out of the Quebec SNC-TEC factory to guidance systems for cruise missiles and drone strikes produced by the likes of Northrup Grumman (Litton) and L-3 Wescam.
What was not covered this past week was the tremendous grassroots outpouring in the months leading up to the official escalation, the designation by the New York Times of global protesters representing a new superpower, and the fit of frustration that democracy in action was provoking within the then-governing Liberals, who were desperately trying to find a way to be directly involved in the land invasion of Iraq.
In the end, Jean Chretien realized that he faced massive opposition at home, and he would have to rely on subterfuge. He made a statement to the House of Commons that Canada would not be along for the ride. It was clearly designed as a wet blanket to dampen down the roots of resistance springing up across the land, and to a large degree, it worked so well that street demos shrank considerably and attention conveniently shifted to the bad guys in the U.S.
Very few at the time bothered to note and act upon the fact that Chretien was lying, and the subsequent mythologizing of this “historic moment” has done a great deal to erase the truth. All we are left with are the liberal elite’s heaving of a sigh of relief that Harper had not been PM at the time (an unfair pinning of blame when the Liberals and NDP have worked equally hard to ensure Canada’s military budget has become the bloated monster it is today, near $23 billion annually).
A decade on, Canadians continue to be ill served by the national media and many in so-called peace camps who continue to trumpet the official line. The Globe’s weekend banner headline called Iraq the “war Canada chose not to fight,” while Chretien chortled on CTV that: “It was a very important decision, no doubt about it. It was, in fact, the first time ever that there was a war that the Brits and the Americans were involved and Canada was not there. Unfortunately, a lot of people thought sometimes that we were the 51st state of America. It was clear that day that we were not.”
And while Canada continues to play a vicious role on the world stage, from the injustices perpetrated by its mining companies to the use of so-called special forces in Mali, the bombing of Libya (supported by the NDP, Liberals and Bloc Quebecois) and the ongoing training mission in Afghanistan (where, despite a decade of training, torture remains systemic and widespread, which makes us wonder what, exactly, is being trained there), it is worth pausing to reflect on how history gets re-made by perpetuating one of the great myths of the new century.
Plain and simple, Canada was involved. Right up until the final decision, it was Chretien’s intention to join in. The very day he spoke in the House of Commons about Canada taking a pass, his diplomats at Bill Graham’s Foreign Affairs (at that time also busy trading information with the Syrian and Egyptian torturers of Canadian citizens Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, and Ahmad El Maati) were reassuring British and American counterparts that it was all systems go.
A 2003 memo from the U.S. embassy (released by Wikileaks) noted the same day that “[Foreign Affairs] political director Jim Wright emphasized that, despite public statements that the Canadian assets in the Straits of Hormuz will remain in the region exclusively to support Enduring Freedom, they will also be available to provide escort services in the Straits and will otherwise be discreetly useful to the military effort. The two ships in the Straits now are being augmented by two more en route, and there are patrol and supply aircraft in the U.A.E. [United Arab Emirates] which are also prepared to ‘be useful.'”
The document continued, “While for domestic political reasons… the GOC [Government of Canada] has decided not to join in a U.S. coalition of the willing… they are also prepared to be as helpful as possible in the military margins.”
It was not merely in the margins, either. There were dozens of Canadian troops embedded with U.S. and British ground forces, the 1,000-plus sailors who escorted U.S. warships launching cruise missile “shock and awe” attacks, the Canadian generals who remained at the U.S. command headquarters to work on invasion plans, the Canadian factories working overtime to pump out war materiel, and Canadian warlord Walt Natynczyk taking the role of Deputy Commanding General of the occupation from 2004-05. Two other Canadian generals took on similar roles.
Then-U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci stated 10 days later that, “ironically, Canadian naval vessels, aircraft and personnel…will supply more support to this war in Iraq indirectly… than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting our efforts there.” Newfoundland’s Gander Air Force Base also served as a refueling spot and thousands of U.S. troops went through there on their way overseas.
Small groups of resisters took on military corporations and government offices to raise these issues, but the media were not willing to listen, and too many folks went back to sleep. Chretien had played the Canadian peacekeeping card and mostly everyone fell for it. (There were small groups who persistently chipped away at the myths through nonviolent direct action, and were handcuffed and put away, with one group from Homes not Bombs and the Toronto Catholic Worker jailed after going on to CFB Downsview, seeking to get the signatures of Canadian soldiers stating they would abide by the Nuremberg Principles if deployed overseas. Why were they reluctant to sign a document refusing to commit war crimes?)
The laundry list of Canadian involvement is lengthy (and well documented by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade and Homes not Bombs). While some may ask why it is worth treading over historic ground, it might prove helpful in ending the confusion so many feel when it comes to developing a principled stand opposing the use of murder as a tool of foreign policy. Canada’s mainline political parties have all bought into the notion that as long as the term “humanitarian intervention” appears as window dressing, the bombs bays will open and the drone strikes can proceed.
That confusion is sure to rear its ugly head as Canada sniffs around for other places to play at war and defend its bloated military budget. It is certainly playing into the heated rhetoric spewed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird as North Korea — perhaps reacting to the provocative U.S. war games on its border (almost 30,000 U.S. troops are still stationed in the south) and Obama statements that Asia-Pacific will be the main focus of his overseas warship deployment — makes melodramatic threats and tests nuclear devices.
For Canada, the symbolism of striking Korea on the 50th anniversary of the “end” of the Korean War presents a scenario awaiting final drawing boards from the Canadian Dept. of Mythmaking, following which will be op-eds calling for an end to the rogue state that defies the international will.
Baird is priming the narrative, declaring, “the North Korean regime’s reckless regard for the global will is again on display,” adding that the North Korean regime is “placing weapons before the well-being of the people.” Apparently, Baird has not seen the homeless people who sleep under Canada’s War Department because this nation still has no strategy to end poverty, hunger and homelessness.
Similar sentiments were not expressed last April when India successfully tested a long-range, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (courtesy of Canadian uranium!). Notably, India has NOT signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and neither China nor the U.S. has signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
The U.S. has been no slacker either, continuing to conduct nuclear weapons tests underground, most recently in December under the Nevada desert. International observers are not allowed onto U.S. test sites. Obama’s latest budget proposal introduces an 11 per cent increase in spending for nuclear weapons, with construction slated for a new uranium processing facility called Y12 at Oak Ridge, Tennessee that will produce 80 new nuclear weapons annually. (Three pacifists go on trial later this spring for invading the construction site as part of the Plowshares movement.)
Perhaps some of the uranium required for those bombs will be heading down a highway near you this summer. Indeed, in a revelation that has drawn very little public outrage, residents of the Ottawa Valley will witness armed patrols escorting truckloads of highly enriched bomb-grade uranium through their communities beginning this summer if the federal government can get away with it.
Ottawa Citizen reporter Ian MacLeod has revealed that these highly radioactive shipments — which the federal government has declared do not require public hearings to allow for citizen input — are being justified as part of a non-proliferation effort. Why Canada is exporting bomb-grade uranium to a country intent on building new nuclear weapons in the name of non-proliferation is indeed mind-boggling, but fits in with the mythology referred to earlier, that Canada would never be involved in something as nasty as nuclear weapons (all evidence pointing to the contrary!)
These secretive shipments are slated to cross into New York either through the land border with Quebec or over the St. Lawrence. The plan, under the laughably titled “Global Threat Reduction Initiative,” will no doubt be touted as one more contribution Canada is making to global peace.
It’s a myth as dangerous as the one that led this country to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.
Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t