The militarization of Canadian culture

April 10, 2007 at 1:45 am 8 comments


It is stunning how quickly the Canadian military can be recast as a key part of Canadian culture, especially now that we have abandoned our historic peacekeeping role. With no public debate, we now have a war-fighting military taking up more and more political space in Canada’s constellation of defining institutions. The military and the Harper government are trying to make “the mission” in Afghanistan a defining characteristic of who we are.

The militarization of Canadian culture reflects the spread of “deep integration”—the Bay Street initiative whose aim is to see Canada effectively assimilated into its behemoth neighbour. Harper and others on the right know that in order for Canada to adopt policies similar to those of the United States, we have to make the cultural changes that will provide the ideological base for those policies.

When we first sent some 2,000 troops to Afghanistan, it was a major assignment—not strictly peace-keeping, but not war-fighting either—and yet it rarely made the news. But ever since we took on the war-fighting role in Southern Afghanistan, our mission has become a major part of our daily cultural consumption. And our approach in the country apes the Americans’—witness our government’s cavalier attitude toward the routine torture of Taliban prisoners seized by Canada and turned over to the Afghan government.

Which brings us to a crucial point—this deliberate attempt to shift our cultural landscape could not be happening without the complicity of the media, who have become willing partners in this remaking of Canada.

Regarding the prisoner scandal, the Canadian media might never have dealt with the issue at all were it not for Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, who exposed the issue of Canadian abuse of detainees in a letter of complaint he sent to the Military Police Complaints Commission. He obtained information about three detainees via a freedom of information request. (Shouldn’t it be the media who chase down these stories?) When the commission tried to find the detainees in question, they had disappeared.

The media rarely expose what goes on in Afghan detention centres. One story in a major daily newspaper dared to talk about what torture and human rights abuses actually entail by referring to a U.S. State Department assessment. That report stated: “Security and factional forces committed extrajudicial killings and torture … [including] pulling out fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil, beatings, sexual humiliation, and sodomy.”

Why is there is no comparable Canadian report? Because the Canadian government knows that if it acknowledged the crisis in governance in Afghanistan, Canadians would realize that the whole effort in that country is doomed to failure and built on a foundation of lies.

The media are virtually silent on the issue—and worse. In late fall of 2006, the CBC began implementing what seemed to be an explicit policy shift to build up the image of the military and downplay any negative aspects of the war. Peter Mansbridge hosted several newscasts directly from military bases in Canada that were nothing more than public relations boosts for “our troops.”And although the CBC has dedicated considerable resources to covering Afghanistan, it rarely acknowledges that its reporters are “embedded” with the Canadian military, and that what they report, in my opinion, seems largely spoon-fed by military public relations officers.

What happened to the CBC mandate to provide Canadians with genuine debate about critical national issues? Where are the stories about corrupt and brutal Afghan police? About internal refugee camps with no facilities or medical care? About foreign aid disappearing into the pockets of officials? About the fact that we can no longer fund other foreign aid projects because Afghanistan absorbs it all so we can support U.S. foreign policy?

This situation reveals how naive we are as a nation. That old adage—the first casualty of war is truth—applies here in spades because this war is based on lies, including:

• This has nothing to do with oil and gas pipelines.

• This is a fight against terrorism. (The truth: It’s an occupation being resisted by indigenous militants.)

• The current Afghan government is democratic. (The truth: Many senior figures should be tried for war crimes, and others are drug lords.)

• Girls are now going to school. (Really? How many?)

• Bombing villages will provide them with security.

• We can “win.”

What we are doing in Afghanistan is unsupportable. But what we are doing to ourselves is not so obvious. We are corrupting Canada’s own institutions, including our military, our foreign service, our foreign aide program, and our public broadcaster. Worst of all, as long as we stay in Afghanistan, we are corrupting our political culture.

Murray Dobbin is a Vancouver-based author, and a senior advisor to the Rideau Institute. This article appeared in the Hill Times on April 9, 2007.


Entry filed under: Murray Dobbin.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gary connolly  |  April 10, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    The militarization of Canadian culture starts in the schools by what we teach and who we recruit. It is now more evident than ever that our secondary schools are becoming involved in the recuitment of 16 year olds through the most recent government inititive. It is through our co-op programs, supported by school board officials and school administrators, that impressionable young people are being propagandized to for the militarization of Canadian culture.

    Our school is attempting to take a stand on this issue and hoping that other secondary schools would do the same.

    Gary Connolly
    Robert F. Hall Secondary School
    Caledon, Ontario

  • 2. Jim Parker  |  April 11, 2007 at 7:01 am

    ‘The Militarization of Canadian Culture’

    Holy Geez Murray Dobbin! Can you spell p-a-r-a-n-o-i-a? Let’s see, you’ve slagged the Federal government, the Canadian Military, the media, Bay Street, the US of A . . . .What’s left?? How do you sleep at night, looking for conspiracy theories under your bed? The naivity you speak of is yours.

    Jim Parker
    Victoria, BC

  • 3. Gary Markle  |  April 12, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    I wish the Media would STOP glorifying war!
    Let’s face it! They’re not “Heros”, they’re “Idiots”.
    Anyone who would allow themselves be brainwashed by our PARANOID GOVERNMENT, and go along with the “Big Lie”, deserves it! History will show Mr. Harper for the Idiot he is!
    Too bad so many Canadians have to die for the American Dream.
    And Mr. Jim Parker, Victoria, BC, you can go live in the States!

  • 4. SDGREEN  |  April 13, 2007 at 5:29 am

    Canada is no more militarized than it was 40 years ago. Dobbins piece is nothing more than tripe as unfortunately he does not understand that humans by very nature are competitive whether for economic, power, or religious reasons.

    In the case of Afghanistan, if Dobbins would refer to the diliberations of the United Nations, the Taliban were and continue to thwart the common rules of human rights, and the Resolutions of that body.

    Both Stables and Dobbin are radical socialists whose only belief is the destruction of capitalism by way of isolationist policies. For Staples to be described as a Militarry analyst is a complete joke.

  • 5. Peter W. Elkington  |  April 15, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    It sickens my to see the direction that the Canadian Government is taking. .Canada has always stood for PEACE and ways to acheive Peace. The present government seems to haVE forgotten that, War is such a waste, both lives, resource and money. We should be spending our time rebuilding and educateing, rather than destroying.

  • […] But one word of warning. Stay the hell away from imperialization and get rid of Harper. Listen to Murray Dobbin (man, that’s a great Hobbit name) when he warns about “The militarization of Canadian culture.” […]

  • 7. d_edwards  |  August 28, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Would someone please explain to me how we can spend our time rebuilding and educating when local forces (taliban or whatever you want to call them) make those efforts impossible. Without security there can be no rebuilding or educating. Unfortunately between a corrupt afghan govt, lack of control of Pakistans borders (and pakistani ISI callusion), american diversion of assets to the criminal adventure in Iraq and lack of international support, all but ensures that there will be no real progress in afghanistan. They cant beat us militarily, and they dont need to. All they have to do is wait untill we defeat ourselves and leave. One only has to look at vietnam and algeria to see what will happen to those left behind that were misguided enough to support us. And as an aside, our peacekeeping tradition is a liberal fabricated farce. Far too often we did bugger all, except occupy a quiet sector, wait out our tour,wave the flag,and let other countries do the heavy lifting ,and should be not surprised that now that our requests for support are falling on deaf ears. On the few occasions where something did happen, such as the Medak pocket the govt hushed it up for nearly a decade.

  • 8. OfficialPro  |  September 14, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    I’d say Gary Markle is the one that’s been dipping a little too much into the Purple Koolaid™. And needs a tinfoil hat to boot.

    Why should dude from Victoria move to USA? So he can abandon Canada to go down the drain the way it will if all is left is the “anti-war” crowd and immigrant disgruntled American Democrats that make Dennis Kucinich look like George W. Bush?

    But then of course, I’ve always had the theory that it would be interesting to see who runs a better country overall–the socialists, or the non-socialists; to wit, all “Democrats/NDP types” should pick a country and move to it (like Canada), and all Conservatives/Republicans should pick a country and move to it (like USA) and we’ll see who does better.

    The only downside is Canada would be ruined by such an exercise.

    People like Murray Dobbin don’t realize they’re playing right into the hands of the Taliban and the Talibans’ allies. Lrn2readabout Walid Shoebat, kthx.


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