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Tyee Books

Warrior Nation, Canada's New Brand

Inside the push to militarize our collective memory, and what it costs us.

By Ian McKay and Jamie Swift 11 Aug 2012 |

Ian McKay is a professor of history at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. His previous books include Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada's Left HistoryFor a Working-Class Culture in Canada, and the award-winning Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People's Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920.

Jamie Swift is a winner of the Michener Fellowship for Public Service Journalism. He has authored numerous books, from biography and history to corporate muckraking. His most recent title is Persistent Poverty: Voices From the Margins, co-authored with Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen.

Their book Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift was published by Between the Lines in May 2012.

[Editor's note: This is excerpted with permission from Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, published by Between the Lines.]

In 2007 J.L. Granatstein, the doyen of the new warrior historians, brought out a new book, Whose War Is It? How Canada Can Survive in the Post 9/11 World. Another title for the book might be Warrior Nation for Dummies. The retired academic had become so popular with dial-a-quote journalists that the CBC's Peter Mansbridge even called him "Canada's national historian."

For Granatstein, to be a Canadian is to understand that the Canadian past was basically about war. The present? The country confronts grave, even existential, threats. Granatstein does not present these ideas as being open to debate. They are absolute certainties. "The simple fact is...." And the simple fact is, in the Warrior Nation, that only fools, knaves and romantics can miss the dire necessity of massive military investment in a looming war for Western civilization. To think otherwise is to confess to ignorance and to countenance error. To argue with this thinking is to indulge in public mischief. Even people whom one might have thought to be conversant with foreign and defence policy, Liberals such as former cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy or Bill Graham (the latter being as much as anyone responsible for Canada's blunder into Kandahar) are ignorant. They are self-deluded proponents of a false view of history, propounders of "moralizing" views that are just "naive foolishness" and "nonsense," often anti-American purveyors of "a poison afflicting the Canadian body politic." One can but imagine new warrior reactions to Linda McQuaig's analysis of Canada's aggressive military posturing. In her book published around the same time that Granatstein came out with Whose War Is It?, the radical journalist offered a suggestive title -- Holding the Bully's Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire.

For Granatstein, perhaps the poison-purveyors' most odious nest can be found in "deeply pacifist and anti-military Quebec." For him, in 2003, the province played a damaging role in preventing Canada from invading Iraq beside its U.S.-led allies. Here was an abdication of our true national interests, first and foremost among which is the maintenance of good relations with the United States. Perhaps a future prime minister -- or even the one elected while Granatstein was writing his book -- would finally level with the child-like Canadians who cling to romantic dreams of a peaceful world. The author of hand-wringing books about the sad demise of old-fashioned history and a stalwart military imagines what such a valiant leader might tell Canadians: "Canada has a dominant cultural pattern comprising Judeo-Christian ethics, the progressive spirit of the Enlightenment, and the institutions and values of British political culture." Such a valiant Caesar would realize that "He is in a war for the soul and survival" of the country, against all who oppose these ideals.

Granatstein and others have since the 1990s been attempting, recently with Ottawa's active assistance, to right what they consider to be grievous wrongs. This essentially revanchist struggle pits itself against ideological foes in a fight for the Canadian imagination. A revanchist is someone who wants to reverse war-induced losses, often through further warfare; and revanchism in this case applies to the militarist historians who are attacking not just their professional rivals but those forces that they think their rivals represent -- naive and romantic tendencies excessively wedded to the ideals of peacekeeping. What truly distinguishes this right-wing current from any we have seen since the Great War of 1914–18 is the extent to which the new warrior campaign is working in tandem with the state's propaganda apparatus to institute a new regime of truth.

Military spending beyond Cold War level

Even as Canada awaited the final bill for Afghanistan, the Harper regime announced a further bold new projection of Canadian power on the world stage: the creation of new military fixtures overseas, to defend the "national interest." As of June 2011, the Canadian military was engaged in talks "to establish a permanent presence in up to seven foreign countries ... marking the first time since the end of the Cold War that Canada has aimed to expand its military reach around the globe." Under the "Operational Support Hubs Network" concept, Canadian facilities may be established in Senegal, South Korea, Kenya, Singapore, Jamaica, Germany and Kuwait. In the view of David Bercuson, in his capacity as the "senior research fellow" of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, the aim is to establish "forward supply depots" near "parts of the world where Canadian Forces may be deployed in future." (Senegal should prove handy for Canadians fighting for multinational claims to Africa's oil.) Undeterred by the mixed record of a similar venture in the Middle East, surreptitiously conceived, expensively maintained and now embarrassingly concluded, the government was, then, contemplating the establishment of Canadian operations in many of the world's hot spots. Perhaps, in homage to both William Stairs and George Orwell, one of these bases could be named "Fort Peace." Although doing its bit at "force projection," Canada will never approach what Andrew Bacevich describes as an "empire of bases." The U.S. government maintains some 300,000 troops at 761 "sites" in at least 40 foreign lands.

Establishing foreign toeholds is just part of a colossal buildup of Canadian defence spending, which began under the Liberal administration of Paul Martin. Harper not only agreed to fulfil the outgoing government's promise to increase defence spending by over $12.8 billion over five years, but committed an additional $5.3 billion to an unprecedented increase in the military budget. Under Harper, Canadian military spending attained its highest level since 1945, exceeding even the levels attained in the Cold War. The $492-billion Canada First Defence Strategy: A Modern Military for the Twenty-First Century (CFDS), first introduced in 2008, linked vastly enhanced military spending to an increasingly abstract notion of "Canadian values."

In all of this Canada is simply taking advantage of a continental arms bonanza after decades of modestly diverging from that stream. By 2009 the U.S. military budget was seven times as high as that of its nearest competitor, China; its military spending was roughly equal to that of the entire rest of the world combined. It has long been the world's biggest arms dealer. But the Canadian war machine itself is not inconsiderable. Although in both the United States and Canada it is difficult to obtain an exact account of military expenditures, one estimate pegged Canadian military spending at just over $21 billion in 2009. In that year Canada ranked thirteenth in the world for its military spending -- the sixth highest in NATO.

As Zefra so excitedly suggested, the new world of permanent war entails elaborate and wonderfully expensive networks, an entire hidden economy flourishing largely outside the purview of the public. The new-style wars are neither declared nor officially terminated. The battlefields are often no longer even identifiable places. In the new forms of "Network-Centric Warfare," in the words of U.S. Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, victory will go to the side with the best "total information awareness." The wars following this new model will unfold within a world "in which communication systems, modes of production and transportation systems function as vectors redirecting war from the battlefield to the scientific and the military economy." Fighting the new wars will be a job for civilians, perhaps as much as, or even more than, it is a job for professional service men and women. WikiLeaks disclosures revealed that about 600 "civilian" organizations in the United States have joined in the planning and execution of war.

Iraq and now Afghanistan have introduced the world to a form of war not generally seen for two centuries: the mercenaries' war, fought by subcontractors and retailers pursuing profit wherever they can find it. Henceforth, the Anglosphere's exploits will be necessarily accompanied by such emblems of Western superiority as Tim Hortons, Pizza Pizza and Subway, in addition to a host of more militarized firms such as Blackwater, since rebranded "Academi." The for-profit War on Terror, Naomi Klein points out, signals the arrival of a new "disaster capitalism complex," one with more far-reaching tentacles than the military-industrial complex denounced by Eisenhower: "This is global war fought on every level by private companies whose involvement is paid for with public money, with the unending mandate of protecting the United States homeland in perpetuity while eliminating all 'evil' abroad."

This perpetual war economy, already extraordinarily expensive, will become more and more burdensome. "Redistributive militarism" entails increases in war spending along with tax cuts for the wealthy. Peace activist Matthew Behrens notes: "Slightly more than $63 million a day is spent on Canada's war machine. That's the daily equivalent of 420 affordable housing units or 3,000 four-year full-tuition grants for university students. Over the course of a month, that's 13,000 affordable housing units and 90,000 students going to university without massive debt load." The welfare state is starved so that the warfare state might thrive. Canada as Warrior Nation means a stance of permanent aggression. It also signifies a hard, competitive society in which the weak go to the wall. We all become warriors -- in a permanent struggle against each other.  [Tyee]

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