Don’t Shoot Me!

Greetings from inside Miren C.’s car, hurtling from Toronto back to Ottawa. Interesting post-India observation about big Canadian cities like Toronto: while I used to give change to any panhandler who asked, now that I’ve seen legless leper children doing backflips for mere pennies, I just shake my head at Toronto beggars. Have I become harder or more rational? Dunno.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk a out today…

Back when I lived in Washington DC, I had several occasions to meet members of the American military, everyone from G.I. grunts to Marine intelligence officers. I can happily report that each and every US soldier I enountered was cordial, polite and intelligent. Even when my decidedly anti-militaristic political views were voiced, the officers with whom I conversed were uniformly thoughtful in their responses, often agreeing with me, but always reasoning from a measured and informed stance, much the polar opposite of the tack taken by their more vocal and bombastic civilian supporters.

And since I’ve moved to Ottawa, I’ve had the privilege of knowing several Canadian soldiers, whose company I value tremendously. Having once been obsessed with unarmed combat for more than a decade of my life, and having tried (pitifully) to fire paintguns in weekend-warrior scenarios, I know for a fact that I personally do not have what it takes to be a full-time professional soldier.

I say all this because I want to make it clear that I have nothing personal against soldiers in general. In fact, I tend to get along with them splendidly, and some of my oldest friends remain current or former military people.

Having said all this, I’m quite fed up with the old “support the troops” nonsense spouted first by our neocon neighbours to the south, and now parroted by our disappointing new PM in Canada. The rationale often presented is that any anti-war talk reduces the morale of our soldiers stationed abroad.

In a democratic society with a volunteer military, the armed forces are merely an extension of the government. It is therefore always fair game to criticize what government chooses to do with this tool. We don’t, for example, silence criticism of the government’s domestic justice policies for fear it would demoralize our police forces. Nor do we silence criticism of educational policies for fear that our teachers will feel bad. So clearly this special approach to discussing military policy has more to do with suppression of dissent and the easier force-feeding of unpopular foreign policies. None of this has anything to do the welfare of our troops.

Moreover, media obsession with military casualities is a bit misplaced. As government employees in a lethal business, death and injury should be expected. The newsworthy bit is that deaths are the exception! Do keep in mind that, according to the Workplace Safety Insurance Board, there are two preventable workplace deaths in Ontario every week. Where is the media coverage of these casualties? The life of a coal miner is no less important than that of a soldier.

In fact, here’s a sobering truth that I encourage you all to cogitate upon: in a modern war, the safest thing to be is a soldier. The modern soldier, even underequipped Canadian ones, comes with armour, well armed friends, an evacuation plan, health and life insurance, and a massive institution dedicated to saving his life. This is why every death of an American or Canadian soldier in the battlefield is ironically such a surprise! I suspect that it is statistically a more dangerous occupation to be a shepherd in Afghanistan, a coal miner in the Maritimes or a factory worker anywhere in urban Canada.

So if you really want to “support the troops” and act in their welfare, then don’t let our leaders send them to wars where they have no business being.