Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ivory Cower

Our home in Edmonton is fairly close to the garrison north of the city, and Edmonton has always taken pride in its soldiers, from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry to Lord Strathcona's Horse and their tanks, so maybe I hear a little more about Afghanistan or maybe I look for more, I'm not sure. Certainly, going to church with someone who has done two tours over there, and having talked to several serving members of the army while working in retail has made me pretty conscious of the situation, as well as very apprehensive when casualty lists are made public. This weekend a few Afghan-related items came up.

* Barack Obama made his first trip to Afghanistan and spoke to the troops as well as president Harmid Karzai.

* There was a funeral in Edmonton for a member of the PPCLI who died here after being wounded in Afghanistan, and he shared the same last name as me (Cpl. Darren Fitzpatrick). He was not a relation and I did not know him, but it was a little unsettling nonetheless.

* The president of the University of Regina received an open letter signed by 16 professors objecting to "Project Hero", a plan to provide educational opportunities and funding for the dependents of those killed on active duty.

It's this last one that really provokes me to comment.

I understand why people might find the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan objectionable, and I think they should have every opportunity to express their concerns where it does not endanger those out near the pointy end of the stick. That so many members of a university faculty would be opposed to Canadian involvement in this theatre is not only unsurprising, it is somewhat predictable.

The fact that they make their objections on the grounds of their opposition to "Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan and elsewhere," is not only ridiculous but offensive, as is the choice of target for their indignation.

First of all, if you want to throw around a word like 'imperialism', which is normally defined as 'the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries', how in the hell does this even apply to a country so poor, that without the import of Islamist warriors or the export of opium, would barely be able to feed itself? What sort of colony are we building over there, beyond the Tim Hortons I expect will close when the current mission ends in 2011? If you want to use that bat to take a swing at the situation in Iraq, with profiteers ranging from the private military contractors like Blackwater (and now called Xe Services LLC; "Some bad press? Quick, change our name!" Now, that's risk management!) to oilfield magnates Halliburton, I'll hold your coat while you do it. But when a country not only oppresses its own people to the point where it is a flogging offense to fly a kite, but then opens its doors to criminals who perpetrate one of the greatest hate crimes of the century, it's time for a change of management. Strangely, very few people objected to this in 2001, when everyone in North America wondered if their city was next in line for a commandeered jetliner...

More importantly, there are a whole lot of excellent reasons as to why the military is not allowed to dictate foreign policy. Troops go where they are told in order to do the bidding of the state, wherever and whatever this may be. And in our case, this state is a democratically elected body, chosen by you and me, assuming you are one of the ever-decreasing numbers who bothered to go out and vote last time around. Ideologically speaking, you can blame either the Liberals for allowing us to go to Afghanistan or the Conservatives for allowing us to stay, but you can't blame the soldiers, and you sure as hell cannot blame the children of those who have lost their parents to this conflict.

Am I frustrated that it has taken longer to defeat the Taliban than it did to defeat The Axis in WWII? Sure I am, but there was a lot more political will in play in that situation. Sometimes it seems our modern isolationism here in the West has done everything possible to counter the shrinking globe we've heard so much about, making it easier and easier to turn our backs on increasingly volatile situations overseas, at least until the next attack. Or, you know, the next attack in a place we've actually heard of.

Am I discouraged by how much harder the job of reclaiming Afghanistan from the Taliban is due to the rampant and systemic corruption in the country, even under a reformer like Karzai? Of course I am, but I have a hard time believing that a hate-fueled theocracy or tribal feudalism backed up by modern weapons and narco-profits are a better option for either the Afghani people or the world at large.

Does any of this justify the pompous, arrogant and ill-informed desire of privileged academia to march their agenda of peace at any cost over the backs of those whose family members have paid the ultimate price in hopes of a better future for not only those people of a faraway land but our own country and perhaps the entire world? And who have done so, and continue to do so at our behest?

I think not. In fact, I think calling this letter and the ideas behind it 'complete and utter horseshit' is an insult to the field of equine faecology.

The Edmonton Journal said it best, I think, in this morning's editorial entitled "Twisted Priorities for Regina profs", when they said:
"Well, we don't want students taught by teachers so dense and myopic who trumpet such a confused, wretched piece of dated nonsense aimed against blameless bereaved children, making preposterous assumptions that dishonour both those who serve and those who question our military interventions."

I hope these 16 professors get an opportunity to teach someone who comes to the U of R under the auspices of Project Hero; that feels like justice to me.


  1. One of the professors involved made an asinine comment about people being killed in workplace accidents all the time...
    Not the same thing, jackass. Soldiers die in the service of their country and its citizens (including you). They go into it knowing that there is a risk, yet they go anyway.
    Bah. I love the academic world, but sometimes academics are so out of touch they need a smack.

  2. After reading their letter, I am less outraged than I was when I started reading your post Stephen. Mellowing in my old age I suppose.

    A key point for them is their opposition to the "glorification" of the military efforts. A name like Project Hero does lend itself to criticism from that angle. For myself, Project Hero is the right name because I believe their valour & sacrifice should be recognized and never forgotten. But on the other hand, had we called the scholarship program Project Lone Cub or something, the focus would be less on recognizing the valour of those fallen soldiers and more on the kids who lost a parent serving Canada and now Canada is trying to do something, however small, to help them. The latter is a position better defended to the folks out there who feel they never voted for Canada's involvement in the Afghan war.

    Reading the list of demands from the U of R profs, perhaps the mere existence of such a fund would've been enough to launch them anyway but I'm not so sure.

  3. That's a very thoughtful and well reasoned answer, but since Project Hero is not directly tied to a specific mission like Afghanistan and would also be used in other situations or theatres (i.e. peacekeeping in the Congo or what have you), I am not so sure the semantics are the biggest issue for them. But it's a good point nonetheless.