15 April 2010

Freedom In Spite of the Military -- No Canadian Heroism in the Afghan War

Regina 16 say common folk won freedoms

By John F. Conway, For The Calgary Herald
April 6, 2010

The 16 University of Regina academics who signed the letter protesting the university's participation in the Project Hero Scholarship program were clear in stating their reasons, and have replied to dozens of angry e-mails containing gross distortions of their position, vicious personal attacks, and ominous comments bordering on threats of physical violence.

I did not hesitate to sign the letter of protest. There is nothing heroic about the Afghan war, an illegal imperialist war of invasion and occupation.

Insisting it is the equivalent of Canada's role in the Second World War and many UN peacekeeping missions is reprehensible.

Our troops, on behalf of our government, are among the invaders and occupiers as members of the NATO coalition.

Our young men and women are dying to protect a U.S.-puppet regime composed of gangsters, warlords and drug traffickers.

It is not worth one drop of Canadian blood. The best way to support our troops, and their worried families, is to bring them home immediately.

Project Hero is not about scholarships for the children of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, since educational support is available from the federal government, under Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act C-28.

The scholarship covers not only dependents of Canadian Forces and veterans who die or died as a result of military service, but also those who are or were pensioned at a 48 per cent disability level at the time of death. Effective Sept. 1, 2003, recipients were granted $4,000 a year for tuition expenses and a monthly living allowance of $300. Support in 2010 has increased to $5,000 a year for tuition and a $372.44 monthly living allowance.

Project Hero is part of the ongoing propaganda offensive from the militaristic, pro-war cabal led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the former chief of defence, retired general Rick Hillier.

From the beginning, this propaganda offensive sought to silence criticism of the war by equating it with a failure to support our troops.

Efforts to turn this into a heroic battle will fail.

Many Canadians are ashamed of Canada's role in this dirty, savage war which pits the random techno-barbarism of advanced warfare against a poorly armed insurgency. For this the blame lies with the government and our spineless Parliament, not our troops carrying out their orders.

As this controversy unfolded, two worrisome trends emerged among the messages from outraged detractors. Both suggest a serious deterioration in Canada's tradition of an open and vibrant democratic political culture.

The hostile messages we received were in the worst tradition of U.S. Republican-style pit bull attack politics. This politics attacks those who express contrary views. Lies are told about them. Their position is deliberately distorted. They are smeared and personally attacked. Sometimes, they are threatened with physical harm. This puts a chill on democracy, making individuals think twice about expressing dissent. We received messages like "if you can't get behind our troops, get in front," "16 idiots," and "you deserve to be taken to Afghanistan and strapped to a roadside IED."

The other worrisome trend among the detractors was the glorification of the military in Canadian history, only made possible by a complete re-writing of that history. We were instructed that we enjoyed our freedom of speech, our democratic system, and our constitution thanks to the sacrifices of the military. It seems our democratic system rests on the firm foundation of our military, the defender and author of our freedoms.

This is historically untrue. Our democracy was fought for and won over many generations by movements of common people struggling for freedom, justice and dignity. In 1837-38, the Reformers in Upper Canada and the Patriotes in Lower Canada fought for responsible government. Louis Riel, and the movements he led, fought twice for the democratic rights of westerners, including the Metis and First Nations, in Confederation. The organized farmers in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s struggled against the special interests dominating our politics, and created new political vehicles which won power in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, creating reform-oriented third parties -- the Progressive party, the CCF and Social Credit movements -- which forced change on the old parties. The suffragettes won the vote for women. Workers fought for generations for the right to organize to get a better deal from their bosses. The democracy we enjoy today emerged from the struggles of common people who organized movements for change and gradually won many of their demands.

Look at the historical record. What was the role of the military in this struggle for democracy? As an arm of the state, the military was used, often with protests from its own ranks, as an instrument of social control and repression. The rebels in 1837-38 faced the military and many died. Riel and his movements faced the military. At Batoche, it employed the new Gatling gun, and many died. Workers faced the military repeatedly during their strikes for a better deal, and at Winnipeg in 1919, workers faced the military in machine-gun nests and armoured cars. Protesters against conscription during the First World War were shot down by the military on the streets of Quebec City. The list is long.

We did not win our democracy, thanks to the military. The military was among the dominant forces from which Canadians had to wrest democracy. All too often the price exacted was paid in Canadian blood on Canadian soil.

Democracy is in danger when war is glorified, when the military has a big say in determining government policy, when dissent is met by threats and attacks, when history is rewritten, the role of the military in civil society is elevated, and we are called upon to worship thankfully at its feet.

John F. Conway is a University of Regina political sociologist and a signatory to the letter protesting Project Hero.
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