Richler on military mythmaking

Noah Richler, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About War (Goose Lane Editions, 2012), denounces the recent effort to change the self-image of Canadians from peacekeepers to warriors (“Why Canadians fight,” Ottawa Citizen, 29 April 2012):

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s requests for information about the withdrawal of the approximately 900 Canadian troops who remain in a training role in Afghanistan with one of his party’s nasty, trademark, bullying retorts. “The NDP could not even make up its mind to support World War Two,” said Harper. Mulcair was failing, according to the familiar catchphrase, to “support our troops.”

It is this bit of rhetorical blackmail that has been so prevalent during the last decade. The notion that it is simply not possible to doubt a mission and, at the same time, to respect our troops and want them to be as safe and secure as they can be in the work that they are doing — i.e. to “support” them — is absurd and damaging, but has been one of the cornerstones of the ongoing Conservative project to entrench Canada, the “warrior nation.”

The Conservatives and their acolytes in think-tanks and the media would have you believe that MPs or ordinary Canadians who raise questions about the war, one that is going on with or without us, are not patriotic and that others who are wary, say, of the already inordinate powers of mostly unaccountable police services, are lining up with the child pornographers when they oppose Internet surveillance….

What binds these and a packet of other phenomena — such as our renewed subservience to the monarchy and the ardent and very useful simplistic retelling of the story of the Battle of Vimy Ridge — is the epic mode of storytelling that underpins their black and white, “you’re with us or against us” view of the world. Our present, thuggish bunch of ministers revel in the epic’s simple schema — and, in particular, its elevation of men and women in uniform and the simplification of the tasks they are asked to perform. The demonization of any opposition at all: there is good and there is bad, people are friends or enemies. There is, quite intentionally, no sophistication in such views.

Sophistication, significantly, was the mark of the prior, Pearsonian version of Canada that militarist Conservatives despise for the imaginative leaps it made — for the attempts of that incarnation of the country to build bridges with less fortunate others exemplified by measures such as the Charter, introduced 30 years ago, and that era’s more empathetic notion of multiculturalism.

The greatest symbol of that vilified age, of course, is the UN’s “blue beret” that Canadian Forces wore for several decades. This government and its supporters have encouraged Canadians to regard the blue beret and all it stands for as a symbol of the pathetic failure of a liberal version of the country that was the naïve fantasy of unworldly, “hippy-dippy” children of a “flower-power” generation putting Canadian Forces, mandated not to shoot back, deliberately into harm’s way. This caricature of the missions that Canadian Forces participated in for several decades is deeply offensive in a legion of ways, but it has been absolutely vital to the endeavour of making the epic view of good Canadians operating in a world of former chief of the defence staff Rick Hillier’s “detestable murderers and scumbags” stick. Complex ideas have no place.

Photo credit: DND

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