Every November, Canadians honour those who have served in the military — especially the dead and wounded. Unfortunately, war remains a permanent feature of human existence and has become vital to neoliberalism and the interests of global capital.
Canada’s long military experience in Afghanistan is a good example of how a middle power gets drawn into un-winnable conflicts at the behest of the mighty.
The excellent humanitarian work of Canadian troops in Kandahar province was employed to shame and silence critics of Canada’s darker role in Afghanistan. Let us not forget that the U.S. government cynically empowered the brutal and misogynistic Mujahedeen back in the late 1970’s when their aid was required against the Soviets.
Afghan society had never recovered from that empowerment and now we are there to save Afghans from the very situation our allies created. Prior to the resurrection of fundamentalist Islam during that time, Afghan society was making real progress on human rights and democratization.
I believe our troops’ lives were sacrificed to make Kandahar safe for a postponed natural gas pipeline. Before they were withdrawn, Canadian troops in Kandahar may well have been sacrificing life and limb for an American oil company called Unocal which postponed the Kandahar section of its TAPI pipeline project in 1998. TAPI stands for Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Shouldn’t soldiers or their survivors earn a share of the wealth generated by their sacrifice?
Liberal Senator and former defense minister Art Eggleton once informed me “capitalism” doesn’t work that way. Like many of Canada’s current soldiers, many young men volunteered to fight World War One in an attempt to escape poverty. They paid a pittance while arms dealers got rich helping four brutal empires tear the world to pieces.
Poppies remind me that wars are fought by working people who are often discarded when their courage is no longer required. While every combat veteran is a hero, the same cannot be said for those who send them to war and arms manufacturers who profit from military strife.
Under the warrior’s code, soldiers have little choice regarding even the most dubious deployments. Rather than protest or refuse orders, the majority accept the risk of injury, death and the ugliness of killing. In the horror of battle; soldiers willingly die for their peers, as do their official enemies.
A newspaper editor once remarked that we all have the choice to join the military or seek political office. This statement assumes perfect equality of opportunity while ignoring the many socio-economic factors constraining career choices. It also suggests an uncomfortable question.
Why is military service so rare among Canada’s wealthy citizens and why is political success such a rarity among working people? Exceptions exist, but military service is primarily a means of establishing economic security or acquiring an education. Those borne to wealth have little motive to risk their lives for socioeconomic benefit.
Government statements about respect for veterans are meaningless in the context of rampant PTSD, suicide, and homelessness. As well, Veterans Affairs remains understaffed while case officers struggle to properly serve their clients. If the government can afford to increase the number of highly-paid generals, it can certainly hire more VAC case managers and improve care for homeless veterans.
For those who choose to believe that war is a necessary and noble undertaking, I offer the following words from Tiananmen Square activist Liu Xiaobo:
“The living should really shut their mouths and let the graves speak; let the dead souls teach the living what it means to live, what it means to die, what it means to be dead but still alive.”