This issue just disappeared like a stone into the depths of mainstream media archives and out of the memories of the public. Support our troops except when they work for UN peacekeeping in Lebanon. Imagine Harper did not even know why he was where he was. Apparently peace-keeping as contrasted with battling is not worth knowing about. The macho crap about Afghanistan by Granatstein et al makes me puke.
Maybe he is, or should be, a paid advisor for the recruiting ads described by Swift.
Why the Major died
Harperites waging a war against peacekeeping.
Dateline: Monday, March 03, 2008
by Jamie Swift for the Kingston Whig-Standard
Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener wants some answers. Why did the Israeli military kill her husband in 2006 while he was on United Nations peacekeeping duty in Lebanon? The Kingston widow is upset that Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims he did not know why Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener was even there in the first place.
Immediately after an Israeli air assault killed the Major as he remained at his post under withering fire, Harper said he doubted the bombing was a deliberate attack. His concern, rather, was about why peacekeepers were in a war zone:
A dose of war-on-terror Viagara has stiffened the resolve of those who want Canada to spend more treasure and lives in places like Afghanistan.
"We want to find out why this United Nations post was attacked and also why it remained manned, during what is, more or less, a war, during obvious danger to these particular individuals."
Coming from a man who never hesitates to wax patriotic whenever someone questions the wisdom of the war in Afghanistan, this amounts to thin gruel. So does General Rick Hillier's description of the Major's death a "tragic accident."
This is the line that Harper and Hillier share with the Israeli Defence Forces, who refused to co-operate with the Canadian military probe that last week blamed the IDF for the unwarranted attack on what was so clearly a peacekeeping outpost.
The fact is that war enthusiasts have little use for the notion of peacekeeping. Sending Canadians to fight ("Fight!" scream the expensive recruiting ads aimed at young men watching TV hockey) in Afghanistan has, they hope, helped to put a naive era of peacekeeping to rest and allowed us to get on with the traditional military job — killing bad guys.
Except it's hard to tell who the good guys are when Canada's allies routinely torture prisoners. When the Governor of Kandahar — praised by Hillier for his "phenomenal work" — is accused of personally torturing prisoners, the good Governor's name gets blacked out of our government's reports for reasons of "national security."
Canada's militarists and their political allies are on a roll these days. Military budgets, threatened by the end of the Cold War and lack of credible enemies, are on the rise against the background of the Bush regime's "war on terror." Remember, that's what got us into Afghanistan in the first place. Hillier enjoys fawning media treatment with tough talk about how the real purpose of the military is "to be able to kill people."
Those who point out that the international scene is a bit more complex than this Good Guys/Bad Guys world view and that Canada still should concentrate on peacekeeping get dismissed as naive at best, deluded at worst.
The macho talk is best exemplified by the Freudian musings of perennial war pundit and historian Jack Granatstein, who has described the terrible effects that peacekeeping has had on Canada's military. Having too many United Nations blue helmets like that worn by Major Hess-von Kruedener, wrote Granatstein, risked turning Canada's armed forces into "a flaccid military."
But a dose of war-on-terror Viagara has stiffened the resolve of those who think that spending more treasure and lives in places like Afghanistan is exactly the right thing to do. Anyone who objects risks being smeared as a traitor who doesn't Support Our Troops.
We're now headed for a Parliamentary debate on the war that's sold as a "mission." The last such debate unfolded when the Harperites rammed through a quickie motion to extend Canada's Afghan war until 2009. Then Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor — since cashiered from that job for chronic fumbling — is a former general who quit his job pushing weapons systems for General Dynamics and other firms that profit handsomely from war. He had a predictably facile response when questioned by the Opposition.
"I don't want to go back to World War II, but they don't want the military to be involved in anything," said O'Connor in response to NDP leader Jack Layton. "Does this party support our mission in Afghanistan or not?"
General Dynamics probably does.
The Harperite approach is clear. Those asking hard questions about just why more Canadians are being killed and wounded get tarred with the Support Our Troops brush. The reference to the war against Hitler's Nazis is an attempt to portray the Afghan conflict as a remake of The Battle of the Bulge.
It isn't. Afghanistan is a country that has been invaded and occupied by foreign armies as far back as anyone living there can recall. It's run by warlords, drug dealers, and regional power barons who care little or nothing about women's rights and rule their territories with or without the consent of a central government whose power doesn't extend far beyond the capital. Afghanistan's drug dependent economy supplies most of the world's opium.
Afghanistan is an American client state bordered by Iran and Pakistan. These countries have their own regional geopolitical goals. So does Russia to the north. Pakistan's corrupt military regime does not control its territory adjoining Kandahar. This makes for a complex political stew.
Most Canadians would support a "mission" aimed at assisting Afghan civilians and getting girls to go to school. However, Ottawa's current tactics are not going to achieve that. Instead, by blindly mimicking US counter-insurgency tactics we are not only alienating Afghan populations. We are also playing into a US geopolitical strategy that has nothing to do with assisting Afghans. Moreover, the real naïveté out there is on the part of those who believe that if the US obtains what it wants from the Afghan war (or the Iraq war) then it will quietly return home and leave the locals to get on with things.
Canadians are heading into a wrenching debate — maybe even an election — over the war in Afghanistan. Canadians are alarmed at the number of our soldiers getting killed. Lots of locals are dying as well. This does little to win Afghan "hearts and minds."
Peggy Mason, Canada's former ambassador to the UN for disarmament, writes that "Last year saw more civilians killed by Afghan army and allied forces than by insurgents (due to NATO and heavy US aerial bombing)."
Let's hopes that the upcoming Parliamentary debate — literally vital — does not again degenerate into simplistic, Support Our Troops talk. But things don't look good.
Right after Canada's report on the death of Major Hess-von Kruedener came out, Stephen Harper's House Leader responded to opposition questions about his government's inept cover-up of the torture of Afghan detainees handed over to Canada's local allies. Peter Van Loan slurred those questioning the apparent violations of international law as "agents of the Taliban intelligence agency."
Tragically, Major Hess-von Kruedener's widow Cynthia said last week that she felt her husband "died in vain." She was scathing about the Harper government's weak response to the explanation of her husband's death.
"I'm shocked that Harper doesn't know why Paeta was there," she told the Globe and Mail.
This government is clearly keen on supporting our troops. Except when they are working as peacekeepers.
Jamie Swift is a Kingston author of 10 books including, most recently, with Keith Stewart, Hydro: The Decline and Fall of Ontario's Electric Empire.