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What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


Yesterday I went to the cenotaph in downtown Ottawa to participate in the Remembrance Day ceremonies. Every year since I graduated from high school I have gone to the local gathering. As someone who has had many relatives participate in Canada's armed forces, mostly during the Second World War, I am proud to go and pay my respects to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

What I saw this year, however, leaves me feeling pretty uneasy. With the end of Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan this year, this conflict is now a past war and is part of the remembrance of past sacrifices. The role that Canada plays in the Middle East is being normalised by bringing it under the umbrella of the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and various Peacekeeping missions. That is to say that the conflict in Afghanistan is now part of a series of armed conflicts that are to be remembered as part of Canada's commitment to peace.

Of course this is something I find remarkably interesting as an historian. The only conflict where Canada's participation was truly justified was the Second World War - hence its terming "the Good War". That said, even Canada and the allied powers during this conflict engaged in atrocious practices (such as the Japanese Internment, the use of atmoic weapons, and of course the many atrocities committed by Stalin's Red Army during the conquest of Germany and East-Central Europe in 1944-45). But overwhelmingly, the Second World War was necessary to prevent the spread of fascism and tyranny. Japan's Rape of Nanjing and Germany's Holocaust were representative of societies where aggressive militarism and social engineering where normalised to the point where few were comfortable questioning it.

In this conflict it is almost universally accepted that intervention was the right choice. But this is not the same with Afghanistan. Popular opinion polls have shown that the war is highly contentious and controversial. Much of this has to do, in my mind, with the fact that little is really known about the conflict itself. The aims of going there are ambiguous, the enemy is nebulous, and our role is not clearly defined. In fact, many believe it is a straightforward peacekeeping mission. While it is in fact called a peacekeeping mission under the flag of NATO, it is important to differentiate it from a UN peacekeeping mission.

I think it is important to understand my criticism of the aims of war without criticising those who are involved. I believe that the men and women who are fighting overseas are outstanding people and I have a lot of respect for them. One of my favourite radio programmes is "Afghanada", a weekly production about a group of Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. I support our troops, but what I cannot support is an ideology behind it that is based on following American foreign policy. Imbedded in that is the use of the armed forces for protecting against racialised threats, securitising our borders for the purpose of trade, and intervening in other countries that have the right to determine their own domestic policies.

I will end this entry with a political cartoon I found a couple weeks ago. I was interested in it at the time because of its connections to the Occupy Together Movement; however, it has resonated with me in the weeks since because of the media frenzy around the first remembrance ceremonies since the end of the conflict in Afghanistan. At any rate, I commented on this photo when it came up on my Facebook feed and I posted the following:

"How can you possibly compare these people? The great work of Canadians in fighting oppressive and aggressive imperialism was brave. However, the Canada and the United States of the present have evolved significantly and have now become oppressive and aggressive imperialists. Standing up to our "democratic" and "liberal" governments is also a brave endeavour. Many members of my family served and I am very proud of them, but they are also proud of me for standing up to our corporatist governments"

Something to think about. Something to remember.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reflection on Occupy Ottawa III

A few days ago I decided to leave the Occupy Ottawa movement. This does not mean I am abandoning the cause - I still agree with the need to occupy and with the need to ask for people to change the channel. I just will not set foot in Confederation Park for the time being.

While my reasons for leaving are mine, I will make a note here that I was not alone in leaving when I did. Let me be very straightforward about this: the reason why I parted ways with my comrades was because of the inability and unwillingness of the camp to address matters of fundamental human rights (see Oxfam's list). I really want to refrain from the details as I feel you can look them up pretty easily on the Facebook page or by reading virtually any paper.

What I find astonishing is that the movement, while painted with broad strokes by the media as monolithic, has become heavily decentralised. Each constituent occupy camp has not only come to its own identity, it has exercised complete autonomy from the rest of the hundreds of movements. I say this to emphasise that my reasons for leaving have all to do with my local camp and not with the broader picture.

As at peace as I am with leaving the group, I have also encountered plenty of "literature" on Occupy Together which has been particularly appalling. Firstly, I read an article in Maclean's which read something like this: since Canada doesn't have the same regulatory and policy problems as the United States, there is no need for the Occupy Movement in Canada. While it is typical of a conservative magazine like Maclean's to paint the issue this way, it is entirely ignorant of the broad socioeconomic inequality in our country and the lack of political will to change it.

This feds directly into my second example - this time from my local daily journal, the Ottawa Citizen. On the front cover this week there were two PhD Students who were expressing solidarity with the Occupy Movement on account of the fact that they were unable to find work since finishing school. It is precisely images like these that make people sympathise with the movement - people that are working hard within the confines of the system who aren't going anywhere. It obviously helps when they are white, male, middle class, well-educated, articulate, and otherwise not a "communist" or a "layabout".

This clashes handily with, for example, the recent death at Occupy Vancouver. With each movement coming into its own identity, it is not surprising that  the very acute social and economic climate of Vancouver's Lower East Side has led to the movement being seen in an exceptionally negative light. Instead of being identified with clean young professionals, this movement is associated with drug addiction, violence, mental illness, homelessness, and a variety of other interconnected problems.

Together this is representative of the fall of the Occupy Movement's popularity. Where over the first few weeks approval ratings gradually improved, cresting at nearly 60 per cent according to some polls, the past week has seen the receding tide. And there are obviously some significant reasons for this: the media has left people confused about the purpose of the movement, many of the movements have become havens for negative attention, and plenty of people in the general public are just fed up of being saturated with stories about the same thing.

It is evident that this movement has made an impact, but I am becoming more and more concerned that that this statement has come not from the individuals participating, but from the media and from appendages of the state. I don't know what the future holds for occupiers, but I suspect the battle will be uphill for the long haul. While I may not be participating, I want everyone to know that I am still supporting the messages and that I desperately hope for things to get to a place where I can participate again.