Monday, June 12, 2006

A Rude Awakening

Soldiers are sexy; war is not. There is something undeniably hot about healthy young men and women in uniform. The clean cut discipline, the determination, the muscles, the risks…

This attractiveness only heightens the tragedy of seeing coffins arrive back in Canada. In a letter mailed by Nichola Goddard shortly before her death in Afganistan, she wrote: “I have been thinking a lot about fate lately. It seems to me that we have such a responsibility to make the world a better place for those who were born into far worse circumstances. It is more than donating money to charities. It is taking action and trying to make things better.”

This unselfish commitment to improving the lives of others is deeply compelling.

The conflict in Afganistan was given a lot of publicity during Stephen Harper’s media tour of the war zone several months ago. My rude awakening came the next morning laying in bed listening to Montreal’s Mix96 on the radio. For those of you who have never heard one of the brief news reports offered by Mix 96, the announcer has a comically authoritative voice -- imagine the Bald Eagle reading the news on the Muppet Show. He broke into an unusually sustained editorial tirade about Stephen Harper and the troops, about Stephen Harper’s COURAGE and how here was finally a LEADER who wasn’t afraid to STAND UP and be counted with our boys over there, a man ready to TAKE ON the terrorists… and on an on in a what seemed like a endless stream of juvenile jingoistic platitudes. I turned down the volume, pulled a pillow over my head and rolled over thinking what a political error it would be if Stephen Harper took that tone on the war. The subtext clearly was: if you support the troops, you need to vote Conservative. And it is a subtext that Stephen Harper has in fact been promoting by imitating blatantly the schoolyard bully, “don’t cut and run,” type comments of George Bush. In a cynical manipulation of the public discourse, the troops become a political prop in a play for power. It’s an odd time though to imitate George Bush when public opinion, even in the U.S., is turning decisively on his mismanagement of the war in Iraq and turning against the deception and terms of emotional blackmail that initially mislead the Americans into war.

The uneasiness I have felt about Stephen Harper’s rhetoric and its resemblance to Bush’s failed war has distracted me – as I suspect it has for a lot of Liberals – from the issue of whether or not I believe the Afganistan mission will in Nichola Goddard’s words, “make the world a better place”. Liberals have appeared divided as a result of what some commentators view as savvy political manoeuvring on Stephen Harper’s part. But I suspect the division is more media driven than real. Since Lester Pearson and until Afganistan, there existed a strong consensus among Canadians about our place militarily in the world. I think it is time to rebuild that level of consensus while recognizing the flaws of previous missions, a topic I will take up in my next week’s post “A reasonable criterion for military engagement.”

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