Monday, February 11, 2008

Canada, NATO, and Europe's Vanishing Soldiers

I realize that Stephen Harper is using the war in Afghanistan and the lives of our troops for the sole purpose of dividing the Liberals.

So he can try to win a majority and change this country beyond recognition.

And I also realize that being a parochial country many Canadians probably think that we're responsible for this debate.

But actually we're just bit players in a much bigger drama. A struggle to reconfigure NATO now the Soviet Menace has disappeared. And more fundamentally, a clash between European values and American ones.

As James J. Sheehan points out in his new book "Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?

In Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? Stanford historian Sheehan charts what is perhaps the most radical shift in Europe's history. For centuries, nations defined themselves by their willingness and ability to wage war. But after World War II, Europe began to redefine statehood, rejecting ballooning defense budgets in favor of material well-being, social stability, and economic growth.

In the New York Times, Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews the book.

And looks at the gulf opening up between the Americans and the Europeans over the question of military power.’s a surely astonishing fact that no European war has been fought for more than 60 years, at least outside the ruins of Yugoslavia. Western Europe has become politically and socially demilitarized to a degree once unimaginable; after so many centuries of bloody conflict, Europeans don’t want to study war no more.

Because they've been there. Done it. And got tired of wars that din't have to be fought.

The brute force with which empire had been won and held now seemed anachronistic, “part of a vanished world in which the ability to wage war had been centrally important to what it meant to be a state.”

Canada's little NATO problem will no doubt be patched up...when the cheese eating surrender monkeys send their soldiers to bail us out. I'm sure the right wingers will enjoy that.

But the American view of endless war...and the European view that war is anachronistic ...and the money best spent on other things... cannot be reconciled. And the gulf will only grow wider.

Which leaves Canada sort of caught in the middle.With a population closer to the European view. But a government firmly on the American side. Or the Pentagon one.

Sometimes I can't help feel that some people in English Canada are trying to define this country through war. Like we had to do when we became a nation in the bloody battlefields of the First World War. As if sacrifice something to glorify rather than mourn. As if it's the only national myth we can come up with to hang our identity on.

But as Wheatcroft points out, when it comes to war and sacrifice, the Europeans don't have any lessons to learn ...... even from the Americans.

In 1914-18, 1.3 million Frenchmen (those cheese-eating surrender monkeys) were killed defending their country, which is to say more than twice as many as all the Americans who have died in every foreign war from 1776 until today.

So they're moving on. They like who they are. They're comfortable in their skin as we say in Quebec.They're building a modern, progressive union that will be one of the three great superpowers of this century.

Meanwhile back in our increasingly dilapidated country we're paddling in circles... puffing out our chests and making it sound like we're big players. When in fact we're increasingly seen as annoying little yankee stooges in the pockets of the Pentagon.

Instead of building bridges to Europe we're destroying them. And most Canadians are so parochial...or so American...they don't even know it.

Oh boy. I can see quite clearly which way the current of history is flowing.

But where are WE going ?

P.S. Eric Margolis has a column on the European view.

Why does the rich, powerful European Union even need NATO any more? The Soviet threat is gone -- at least for now. Nuclear-armed France and Britain are quite capable of defending Europe against outside threats. Why can't the new European Defence Force take over NATO's role of defending Europe and protecting EU interests?

Honestly...if we can't see can't see the larger forces at play here...we must be blind...or dum.


Anonymous said...

The world needed the second world war, despite the horrors. It has been a unifying force throughout the countries which saw its battles.

Europe has a long history of warfare, and finally, its at peace. Although it may be wrong, can we realy condemn the americans? It took so much for europe to learn its lesson.

And, as a tid-bit, no democratic nation hasever gone to war with another democratic nation. pretty cool eh?

Simon said...

Hi're right that unfortunately some wars like the second world war had to fought to beat back the fascists. But most wars are not needed and are criminal.
And yes I do blame the Americans. Because they should have learned their lesson in Vietnam. But they didn't because the military industrial complex is so huge they have to have a warlet every now and then just to keep it going.
If our generation is going to have a future we've got to find a better way of settling our differences...