The imagery of military in Canada is rich with Tim Horton’s commercials, blue helmets, and foreign wars in far off countries. Canadian borders are far too large to protect, and national defense has never been a major priority in our country. Our efforts have stood for keeping peace in unstable regions around the world. Classic chapter six missions from the UN Declaration of Human Rights have been the name of the game for most of Canada’s recent military history, and with the exception of the world wars, we have been a country involved little in active warfare. Canadians make peace, not war.
We so easily climb onto our pedestal to look down at our neighbors south of the 49th, not realizing how shaky the foundation of our moral snobbery is. While Canadian’s have conducted themselves admirably in conflicts and deployments abroad, there is still a nagging doubt about whether there needs to be intervention or at least education, in other military actors immoral behaviors.
An American war resister, Joshua Key, spoke to pitifully small crowd last week at the University of Lethbridge. The seventeen people who attended likely found their ideas on conflict, the military, and Canada’s refugee system shaken and Key touched every heart with his personal account of warfare and bloodlust. Where was the rest of the University? Yes, it was not a Canadian solider but nonetheless, what happens down there in the States very much affects Canada. Our military policies are increasingly reflective of American values and military practices. Our commitment to certain missions comes with a politically fueled motivation. We very much want America to be our friend.
Canada is not dependent on America for economic or national security, although that is not the popular opinion at this time. The operative word here being dependent. While we are not dependent, we are influenced by our supermodel neighbor. Their actions inform our decisions and despite our refusal to join the Coalition of the Willing, you will notice that we do have Canadian troops in Iraq as well as in America’s other colony hopefully, Afghanistan.
Moral integrity and warfare, thought to be mutually exclusive. Military exercises are a practice in sacrificing personal choice for the greater good. We ask our men and women to put themselves in great physical discomfort and mortal peril on a regular basis to serve a higher purpose, whatever that higher purpose is. It is the responsibility of their state to ensure that the higher purpose, the greater good, the justification required to sacrifice lives is sound, real and above all, moral.
Moral, yes. It was a moral action to intervene in the Holocaust and the invasion of Nazi Germany. It was moral action to send NATO and UN forces into the Balkan arena. Inhumane and senseless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people is not something the rest of the world should tolerate. It should be ended, and with a sustainable future in sight. So what happens when the heroes become the terrorists? When the North American armed forces, known for their protecting nature and belief in democracy, and safety, are the new threat.
Key pointed out often that it was no longer America against the terrorists in Iraq. America had become the terrorists. House raids, arbitrary arrests, checkpoint shootings, and indiscriminate gunfire; the innocent lives lost did not die defending their country or an ideal or a fundamentalist regime. They died because they lived in an area that was violate and dangerous. They died at the hands of the people sent in to protect them from their own government. If a government was doing this to their own people, you can be sure one of the Security Council members would stand up to say that was unacceptable. In fact, that is exactly what happened. So why is it fine for America to put these unstable regions under siege with no accountability to the rest of the world or to their own citizens?
Joshua Key no longer believed in what he was fighting for. He no longer believed that his reason for being in Iraq was just. He was an American citizen and regardless of social status, economic status, or age, he believed to be free to exercise his right as an American citizen and was willing to be held accountable for his own actions but not the actions of the United States armed forces.
The rungs of the military ladder are slippery and often caked with the arbitrary rulings of the one higher above you. At all times, subordination is the rule. You do not question your commanding officer, you do not threaten the veneer of respect of a commanding officer, and you never question the ethics or justification of the United States military. You stay put, keep your head down, and do what you’re told, even if that means the slaughter of innocents. Even if that means taking no direct action when you know the life of someone else is at risk.
Where do we draw the line between personal accountability and state accountability? A Belgian commanding officer in the United Nations mission to Rwanda was court marshaled for six of his men dying while on-duty in Rwanda when the genocide started. Yet, NATO forces in the Middle East are ransacking the homes of citizens with no repercussions. Some of the greatest human rights atrocities of the last fifty years are being committed on quasi-American soil, again with no repercussions.
It is true, the victor will write the history book, but that does not mean the rest of us should forget to read between the lines.
Originally appears in The Meliorist Independent paper, Volume 43, Issue 05. October 8th, 2009.