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.