Sunday, April 20, 2014

April 20: Just thinking out loud

This may be short; I feel the need of a break. However, there's an element in the Ukrainian crisis that news media have not touched on.  Why should we get involved in what's going on in Ukraine?

Oh, I know - we must help the weak; we must spread democracy; we must help little girls go to school. I've heard those many times. The reality is that no countries go to war for those reasons. To kill a million people so that little girls could go to school is absurd. Ditto for the usual reasons for war that we hear about.

Sure. And big business is just desperate to go to war to spread democracy.

If so, why has it done so much to kill democracy in Latin America? And here?

In 1914, the US did not go to war. British empire and French army troops died in unheard of numbers. Britain had to sell off most of its American assets for whatever it could get - much to the benefit of American millionaires. There was every possibility that Germany was going to win that war with disastrous results for Britain and France.

So why did the US just look on for most of the war?

Because it couldn't care less what might happen to Britain and France. It was making a fortune out of selling weapons and food. And if the British and French lost, the US could scoop up some very profitable pieces of empire.

I don't know why the US changed its mind in 1917. (I'm only a humble, Canadian historian.) But the sinking of an American ship  was not the reason. To go to war, you need a pretext - like Hussein's supposed stock of weapons of mass destruction.. But the pretext is rarely the real reason.

By 1917, Britain and France owed a tremendous debt to the US. Neither would ever be a leading
industrial power again. And if they lost the war, the US would never see that money. I don't know if that's the reason - and I'm sure there are readers who do.

Why did Canada go to war in 1914? Because, as a member of the Empire, it had to go to war. As well, a high proportion of the Canadian population was British born or of British origins, and still more British than Canadian. Finally, a British defeat would be a disaster for Canadian big business which relied on  British investment, and which relied for trade on favoured access to the Empire.

In 1939, Britain went to war again. So did Canada, but a week later. By 1939, we had gained the right to decide for ourselves whether we wished to go to war, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King was determined to maintain that right. That's why he delayed declaring war for a week - to give parliament time to discuss it and to vote.

The US did not declare war. Same reason as in 1914. There was nothing in it for the US. (As well, Hitler had important admirers in American big business; and there were strong, anti-semitic feelings across the US.)  Again, if Britain lost, the us would be able to snap up pieces of the empire on the cheap.

The US held this attitude through the horror of Dunkirk, the intense bombing of Britain, especially London, and the dreadful food shortages caused by the submarine blockade. The US did not go to war because there was nothing in it for the US.

That changed in 1941, but not because of any concern about Britain. For at least half a century, the great prize in Asia, for US purposes,  was China for its cheap labour and vast market. But Japanese armies were rolling across China. Suddenly, in US newspapers, Japanese armies became  cruel (which they were), and the Japanese generally a vicious and evil people - a depiction now reversed since Japan is an important ally.

All the US needed was a pretext, an attack by Japan. That was arranged when the US cut off Japan's oil supply. (Japan's great weakness was its reliance on imported oil.)  It worked - though probably more spectacularly than planned when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. The US had its excuse. It declared war on Japan.

But it did not declare war on Germany. Why should it? What was there to gain? In fact, it was Germany that declared war on the US some three weeks after Pearl Harbour.

In short, nations go to war when it suits their purposes. And, for at least a century, it has been a major function of news media to set up the nation for war when the bosses tell it to - because they decide what the nation's purposes are.

Canada's role has always been a junior one. Our forces have done very well. But we have never been in a position to make major decisions about the war.

Just recently, Harper sent six Canadian fighter jets to Ukraine. That's a decision to go to war. (It is scarcely thinkable that if a war broke out, we would simply call our jets back home.) Harper has broken a right our soldiers earned for us at a cost of 60,000 dead in World War I. He has taken away our right for our elected representatives to decide when we go to war and against whom.

And the Canadian news media haven't even noticed it.

The great question in Ukraine is not who is right and who is wrong. Hell, we intervened in Afghanistan even though that war was obviously wrong - and wrong on our side. We don't intervene in Syria because people on our side want the government and the nation to be destroyed.

So right and wrong have nothing to do with it. What most other nations decide is - what does this war have to do with us? Why should we be involved?

Our news media don't even look at that. All they do is chant, "Russians evil, ugh, kill Russians."

It is impossible to see how any war would benefit Canada. They are almost all fought to benefit the big kids.

It is impossible to see how we could limit the world damage risked by a war with Russia. Even if we win, and even if the world is not set back centuries by the nuclear damage, the result would be to put US missiles and soldiers on the border with China to repeat the same exercise. And what would Canada get from all that world damage and loss of life?

A pat on the head for being a good kid.

It's dismaying to realize how much independence and freedom we have lost as shown by our news media's ignoring our right to fight wars for our own purposes.

We also have to realize that the question is not who is  right and who is wrong. You can argue the rights and wrongs of a war until you're blue in the face without convincing anybody. The question is - what action or inaction is it best for Canada to follow?


  1. Good points, I'll rebut just a couple before bed. First, I don't think sending six jets is 'declaring war'. Troop movements of various kinds happen all the time, six jets is really nothing.
    Second, the US ruled out military intervention ages ago, remember YOU are media as well, you just may not have the same style or reach as 'mainstream', but your ideas, like those of Irving pundits, are there for people to see. So even TALKING about war is a bit of a mistake as it leads into a debate as to whether there SHOULD be a war, so it shouldn't even be introduced. In fact, I don't know your readership, but unlike Irving reporters, you actually sound like you have two clues to rub together, and I don't know anybody who takes Irving reports seriously.

    Third and most important, you forget the nature of canadian governance. Unlike the US, Canada does not require a legislative vote on whether to go to war. That is completely up to the Prime Minister and Cabinet-which pretty much means the PM since by dictate the Cabinet cannot disagree with the PM or else the government falls. In the second world war you are correct that 'to make a show of our independance' King waited a week and there were some discussions in the House, however, none of that was necessary. If King wanted to, he could have declared war on the same day. Its worth noting that though Canada was involved in both Afghanistan and Korea, Canada has only ever declared war that one time.

    But Harper could do it tomorrow if he wanted to. So whatever 'freedom' you think soldiers fought for, it certainly wasn't that. Canadians have absolutely no control over when and under what conditions they go to war-we never have, maybe never will.

    And PS, you were right about many of the reasonings about world war one and the US, you just missed the Mexico angle-that war had just ended and Germany had sent an agreement to form an alliance with Mexico.

    But like I said, in Canada its up to ONE guy. Most countries have the same situation, so often the reasons why countries go to war can be very complex, or very stupid. Its still pretty much like the old days, where if the king said lets go to war, people pretty much had to dutifully follow along.

  2. Maybe Stevie Dubba-U Harper has stolen the crib notes from his buddies south of the 49th on the Patriot Act and Executive Orders on tried and true methods to engage military industrial suppliers in a money making venture. (we do have an abundance of those bottom feeders in Canada dontchaknow)

  3. Easter's tragic events in Ukraine point out pretty well the problems saying who did what. Russian special forces carried out the attack, no, the Right Sector with its US aid carried out the attack. At this point its impossible to know which is true. Pro russian investigators claim that a Right Sector business card was found, as well as american dollars. That seems odd-"ok boys, we're going to storm the police station, oh wait, I forgot my business card, I might make important business connections".

    The US also seemed to have other things on its mind than this, and apparantly now is scrambling to get its intelligence services out of 'middle east mode'.

    From what I can find, the most involvement has been from the group USAID, which definitely seems to get money from the US, but mostly distributes pamphlets and does non violent training.

    So I think this is more like 9/11, where the US is taking advantage of a situation, rather than instigating it. Canada of course is doing it to satisfy Ukrainian immigrants, and I'd say a bit for NATO, but its not like NATO really NEEDS Ukraine.

    For the US its a worthwhile distraction, and much easier involvement than Syria. And with european involvement then its far easier to make Obama seem like a 'tough guy'. And that goes as well for Putin.

    Personally, what I find all these things show is the decline, perhaps terminal, of the nation state. A country is made up of too many disparate elements to be centrally controlled, particularly when trade deals have largely meant that the ONLY legislation many regions can make are ones that do not touch industry, which is a pretty big part of society.

    To go back to democracy, I think its pretty funny that ONLY the Russian side is even mentioning referenda. The west rejects it outright, meanwhile we will support even crooked elections in many regions, 'because its the best we can do'. If we were REALLY interested in democracy, we'd be joining sides with the people of the region and the russians and creating the conditions for fair referenda.

  4. Sorry, forgot my main point! I read some media from the OTHER side of the fence, and their media coverage is just as bad as ours, in most cases worse. That, of course, doesn't excuse our media, just makes it that much harder to find out what is actually going on so far away when NOBODY can be trusted.