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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Damn the Torpedoes



Phil Burpee
Phil Burpee, Columnist
Burpee is a carpenter and farmer living north of Pincher Creek. He keeps an eye on the world from under the big Alberta sky.

     It would seem that Prime Minister Harper has recently been overcome with a certain hobnobbing fit of sentimentality. As he browsed around his shambling empire he noted that the Armed Forces were struggling for relevance under the dreary weight of some old sixties-vintage monikers. In a fit of modern, egalitarian rejigging, some old Liberal government had taken it upon itself to rename the Navy and Air Force as Maritime Command and Air Command respectively, leaving the Army as just the familiar, plodding Canadian Army. Clearly Mr. Harper was moping in front of his TV one night recently when suddenly there appeared the beguiling vision of buck-toothed, cuff-link-fidgeting British aristocracy in the pampered person of our dear Prince William (whose flop-eared father Charles, our future King, is a constant reminder of how twenty generations of cousins marrying cousins is a bad idea), and his svelte and perky young bride Kate. The Harper neurons began to snap and crackle. "Royal! Of course! Brilliant!"


So now we see the outcome. In a sweeping coup of brand recognition, we now can take solace in the embracing fold once again of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy. I am comforted as, no doubt, are scores of Legions around the country where can be heard the clinking of many celebratory rounds of Scotch. I understand that Prince William even undertook a grandstanding feat at least as treacherous as that of his mother when she donned mask and Kevlar and walked out into a mine field in Africa  -  he piloted a Navy Sea King across a puddle somewhere in P.E.I. For that he is due at least, if not respect, then certainly a begrudging admiration for riding in a flying machine that was already old when Mick Jagger still had pimples. But young, male British Royals must always demonstrate their prowess with fighting machines, able to issue not only the seed of an heir from their loins, but also unleash the mechanized fury of Britannia unbound.

This would all be nothing but a goofy diversion if it weren't for some disturbing undercurrents in the government's interpretation of the mandate of our Armed Forces. After the defeat of the Nazis, and the muck and mayhem of the Korean debacle, we did some deliberate soul-searching as a nation and came to the sober conclusion that there was both greater value and greater pride to be had from securing peace rather than securing victory. The Nazis themselves were a direct outcome of punitive war reparations after the First World War, that vast killing field brought about by snits amongst European royal cousins and conniving French and British industrial interests. So, right smack dab in the middle of the Cold War, Canada opted to ally itself with the hopeful and transformative initiative of the newly-formed United Nations, and accordingly reconstituted our Armed Forces as agents of peacekeeping, donning the blue helmet of global unity, and placing our service men and women in harm's way for no lesser a cause than world peace.

This no longer suits the Harper government. We are now being trundled back into a revisionist mindset wherein it is perceived as necessary to be seen fighting the Enemy. Curiously however, if the enemy is not seen to be either a vile, easy-to-hate gangster such as Moammar Ghaddafi, or the now happily-dead Osama bin Laden, or somehow otherwise aligned with the oil interests of American foreign policy, we seem rather selective. We send no CF-18s against the murderous Janjaweed militias of Darfur. We send no battalions against the fascist junta of Myanmar. Our JTF Special Forces are not to be seen tracking down Black Eagle New Generation paramilitary units who regularly murder environmentalists, trade unionist and indigenous rights activists in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America. And the valiant efforts made by our Armed Forces in Afghanistan are undermined by the mealy-mouthed and duplicitous political hypocrisy that calls military action in that country 'winning hearts and minds', while doing nothing to resolve the misery and anguish of Palestinians under grinding Israeli occupation.

So, let us be clear. Labelling chunks of the military with the name 'Royal' may be lazily soothing. But it may also be reflective of a darker subtext. We are ever more in hock to the Americans and the Chinese for our economic wellbeing, and hence we more and more abrogate our capacity for sovereign choices in matters of national policy. So, we pretend to fight in the manner and under the banner of yesteryear, assuming old names and recalling past glories, but perhaps we only seek to serve our new masters. Beware any pandering to tradition in matters military, and let generals beware the man who craves the vote.

Pip-pip-tally-ho. King and Country. Damn the torpedoes.

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