Protests ratchet up against Afghanistan war
More demonstrations are expected in Chicago today as NATO leaders discuss a timetable for withdrawing troops and financing the Afghan army.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced that Canada will remove its troops by 2014 and commit $330 million over the following three years. This comes on top of billions already spent by Canada in Afghanistan.
In 2008, security analyst David Perry pegged the entire cost of the Afghan mission at $22 billion after taking into account everything from the price of armaments to the cost of looking after injured veterans.
That same year, the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, which is a think tank devoted to promoting peace, estimated the Afghanistan mission would cost Canadian taxpayers $28 billion through the end of 2011.
For the most part, the media have unquestioningly cheered on this mission, which has resulted in the death of 158 Canadians until combat operations ended last year. There are still more than 900 Canadians in Afghanistan training local security personnel.
Meanwhile, a new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About War (Goose Lane Editions), by Noah Richler, has raised serious questions about how Canada's elites, including major newspaper columnists, have embraced a more warlike national identity, less peacekeeping, and a more aggressive Canadian military.
"An alpha-male construction reflects neither the composition nor the ideal of the Canadian Forces, but it is the one that was championed during the period of 2001–06, the first period of the war, most ardently by newspaper columnists Christie Blatchford and Rosie DiManno and CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry," Richler writes.
Sometimes, according to Richler, it even gets sexual. In one intriguing section of the book, he points out in What We Talk About When We Talk About War that phallic imagery has long been linked to war.
He cites the lexicon of "hard" versus "soft power", and then reports on how Postmedia's Blatchford and the Toronto Star's DiManno practically fetishize the manhood of male soldiers.
"Blatchford and DiManno's erotic fantasies stand in a long line of hero-worship that started at least a couple of millennia earlier, the original Greek heroes having been admired by gods with a surfeit of sexual appetite—as too, they were by the good citizens of the poleis did," he writes. "The soldiers of the Canadian Forces are sexualized by the candid pair just as, with more lyricism, young male soldiers of the First World War trenches were by a handful of enviably educated British officers finding an outlet for their attractions, catalyzed by the perils of the front, in the beautiful young bodies of their charges."
Richler also suggests there's a certain sexism that has come with this more warlike national disposition in Canada. He cites the curious double standard of female freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout coming under condescending criticism from Afghan war promoter Andrew Cohen for being kidnapped in Somalia. On the other hand, Richler points out that a male photojournalist, Tim Hetherington, was widely celebrated for his bravery when he was killed in Libya a year ago for essentially doing the same thing.
In addition, Richler highlights how Globe and Mail columnist Lysiane Gagnon appeared to employ a double standard while writing about the death of journalist Michelle Lang in Afghanistan.
Veterans protest wars
Yesterday, however, the antiwar movement got some surprising help from former U.S. soldiers. At the demonstrations in Chicago they sent a very different message when they threw their medals away in disgust over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The protest harkened back to the Vietnam War era, when veterans used the same tactic to mobilize public opposition.
So far, nobody in the Canadian media has accused these soldiers of being pansies. But if these types of protests continue, you can probably expect an attack along these lines within the pages of one of Canada's major newspapers or from Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada.
If there's any doubt, consider the words of former foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, author of Death of the Liberal Class, who is quoted in Richler's book: "A militarized culture attacks all that is culturally defined as the feminine, including love, gentleness, compassion, and acceptance of difference."
Veterans who threw away their medals in the Vietnam War were condemned—so why should it be any different this time around?
Noah Richler reads from What We Talk About When We Talk About War at the Alice MacKay Room from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Vancouver Public Library on Wednesday (May 23).
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.