August 9 marked the 60th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki, a massive terrorist act that killed 70 000 people instantly, and which previewed the ruthlessness of the United States’ post-World War II dominance.
Curiously, August 9 is also observed in Canada as Peacekeeper Day, in homage to the nine killed on that day in 1974 when their plane was shot down over Lebanon. The prevailing image of Canadian military interventions as benevolent, or at least neutral, though, should have been shattered any number of years ago – in Vietnam when it produced Agent Orange (and sprayed it on its own unwitting soldiers at CFB Gagetown), in Somalia, or in Iraq during the Gulf War and the subsequent sanctions regime. But this Canadian myth has proved stubborn. Finally, though, in this summer of 2005, it appears that it may be being put to rest – by the country’s top general.
Rick Hillier, Canada’s new Chief of Defence Staff, spelled out his Manichean/Rumsfeldian view of the enemy in Afghanistan, calling them “detestable murderers and scumbags…they detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties.” (Globe and Mail, July 14 2005)
Regarding the army that he heads up, Hillier plainly outlined his vision:
“We’re not the public service of Canada, we’re not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people.”
In the debate that followed these front-page remarks, the leaders of all the major political parties gave their approval to the General’s sentiments. Jack Layton’s reaction was particularly disappointing, if not entirely unexpected given the New Democratic Party (NDP) leader’s tepid response to George Bush’s visit last fall, and his conspicuous quiet about Canada’s criminal role in overthrowing Haiti’s elected government.
It has also been left to anti-war activists and precious few Canadian commentators to raise important questions about the occupation of Afghanistan. Beneath the sheen of the much trumpeted elections that re-affirmed the U.S. puppet Karzai, there are a number of issues rarely raised in the western media: the ongoing oppression and violence suffered by Afghani women (in spite of the liberated Laura Bush’s assurances) in Northern Alliance and warlord-ruled areas, the discussion of establishing permanent U.S. bases and the link to larger efforts at securing hegemony in Central Asia and the Middle East, and the dismal conditions of life under occupation, such as the fact that 60% of Afghani households have no access to safe drinking water.
This summer, the Canadian army has been busy decamping from their base just outside Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Canadian forces are re-deploying to Kandahar, where the risk of incurring casualties will be much greater. An additional 1500 troops will also be sent from Canada to bolster the occupation of Afghanistan, which, along with increased deployments from other NATO countries, will help to free up a number of the 17 000 U.S. troops currently stationed there.
The new mission in occupied Afghanistan is the context in which General Hillier’s remarks need to be placed. Because not only will the Canadian Forces be killing people in and around Kandahar (in numbers that are rarely counted closely, or deemed of much importance), but they will also – very likely — be getting killed. In this sense, the General may not have just been speaking “to his troops,” as some have suggested, but instead he may have been making a conscious effort to soften up the Canadian public for accepting greater casualties.
For the anti-war movement, it is more important than ever to take aim at the aggressors in both Washington, D.C. and Ottawa. On September 24, major demonstrations in the U.S. capital will call for bringing the troops home. A recent call issued by the Canadian Peace Alliance for that same day includes the same demand for the young men and women on the road to Kandahar.
Also on August 9, while official ceremonies marked Nagasaki and Peacekeeper Day, dozens of soldiers were saying tearful goodbyes to loved ones at the same base in Gagetown, New Brunswick where, shamefully, Agent Orange had once been sprayed on human guinea pigs.
As in the Vietnam Era, the government of Canada today is very much complicit with the American Empire. And whatever the fate of this country’s peace-keeping myth, it seems that many more Afghanis, Haitians, and even Canadian troops will have to die for the sins of the federal government’s foreign policy.
*Derrick O’Keefe is a founding editor of Seven Oaks (www.SevenOaksMag.com), an on-line journal of politics, culture and resistance.