The militarization of Canadian culture
Harper government trying to make 'mission' in Afghanistan defining
characteristic of who Canadians are.
The Hill Times
April 9, 2007
With no public debate, we now have a war-fighting military taking up
more and more political space in Canada's constellation of defining
By MURRAY DOBBIN
It is stunning how quickly the Canadian military can be recast as a key
part of Canadian culture, especially now that we have abandoned our
historic peacekeeping role. With no public debate, we now have a
war-fighting military taking up more and more political space in
Canada's constellation of defining institutions. The military and the
Harper government are trying to make "the mission" in Afghanistan a
defining characteristic of who we are.
The militarization of Canadian culture reflects the spread of "deep
effectively assimilated into its behemoth neighbour. Harper and others
on the right know that in order for Canada to adopt policies similar to
those of the United States, we have to make the cultural changes that
will provide the ideological base for those policies.
When we first sent some 2,000 troops to Afghanistan, it was a major
assignment-not strictly peace-keeping, but not war-fighting either-and
yet it rarely made the news. But ever since we took on the war-fighting
role in Southern Afghanistan, our mission has become a major part of our
daily cultural consumption. And our approach in the country apes the
Americans'-witness our government's cavalier attitude toward the routine
torture of Taliban prisoners seized by Canada and turned over to the
Which brings us to a crucial point-this deliberate attempt to shift our
cultural landscape could not be happening without the complicity of the
media, who have become willing partners in this remaking of Canada.
Regarding the prisoner scandal, the Canadian media might never have
dealt with the issue at all were it not for Amir Attaran, a University
of Ottawa law professor, who exposed the issue of Canadian abuse of
detainees in a letter of complaint he sent to the Military Police
Complaints Commission. He obtained information about three detainees via
a freedom of information request. (Shouldn't it be the media who chase
down these stories?) When the commission tried to find the detainees in
question, they had disappeared.
The media rarely expose what goes on in Afghan detention centres. One
story in a major daily newspaper dared to talk about what torture and
human rights abuses actually entail by referring to a U.S. State
Department assessment. That report stated: "Security and factional
forces committed extrajudicial killings and torture ... [including]
pulling out fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil, beatings,
sexual humiliation, and sodomy."
Why is there is no comparable Canadian report? Because the Canadian
government knows that if it acknowledged the crisis in governance in
Afghanistan, Canadians would realize that the whole effort in that
country is doomed to failure and built on a foundation of lies.
The media are virtually silent on the issue-and worse. In late fall of
2006, the CBC began implementing what seemed to be an explicit policy
shift to build up the image of the military and downplay any negative
aspects of the war. Peter Mansbridge hosted several newscasts directly
from military bases in Canada that were nothing more than public
relations boosts for "our troops."And although the CBC has dedicated
considerable resources to covering Afghanistan, it rarely acknowledges
that its reporters are "embedded" with the Canadian military, and that
what they report, in my opinion, seems largely spoon-fed by military
public relations officers.
What happened to the CBC mandate to provide Canadians with genuine
debate about critical national issues? Where are the stories about
corrupt and brutal Afghan police? About internal refugee camps with no
facilities or medical care? About foreign aid disappearing into the
pockets of officials? About the fact that we can no longer fund other
foreign aid projects because Afghanistan absorbs it all so we can
support U.S. foreign policy?
This situation reveals how naive we are as a nation. That old adage-the
first casualty of war is truth-applies here in spades because this war
is based on lies, including:
. This has nothing to do with oil and gas pipelines.
. This is a fight against terrorism. (The truth: It's an occupation
being resisted by indigenous militants.)
. The current Afghan government is democratic. (The truth: Many senior
figures should be tried for war crimes, and others are drug lords.)
. Girls are now going to school. (Really? How many?)
. Bombing villages will provide them with security.
. We can "win."
What we are doing in Afghanistan is unsupportable. But what we are doing
to ourselves is not so obvious. We are corrupting Canada's own
institutions, including our military, our foreign service, our foreign
aide program, and our public broadcaster. Worst of all, as long as we
stay in Afghanistan, we are corrupting our political culture.
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