Why is Canada shocked?

23 Oct

Canada is in shock. According to some commentators it has ‘lost its innocence’. Things will never be the same again.

What is interesting is that it is possible to hold such opinions. Listening to Canadians speak on the media last night it was clear that they were genuinely shocked. They were genuine in their sense that innocence had been lost.

How can it be that a country that has been at war for 13 years can be shocked when that war comes home? The victim of yesterday’s incident was, after all, guarding the cenotaph – a monument commemorating (among other conflicts) the meat-grinder that was World War I.

So how can a country that is at war feel so distanced from that war? A number of obvious reasons jump out: the first is geography – the invasions, occupations and militarized policing operations that Canada has been involved in take place ‘over there’ – in far-away continents. Second, with a professionalized military, only volunteers serve overseas. The randomness of conscription does not apply in this case. Third, the nature of techno-warfare as waged by democracies reflects an intolerance of casualties. Drones, body armour, air cover and risk averse strategies (such as Afghan-led security policies) means that Canadians ‘in the field’ may fire but work very hard not to be fired at.

But in addition to these factors, there has been another factor at work – one which helps explain Canadian ‘shock’. It has been the recasting of war as a one-way policing operation that is done to people ‘over there’ with no risk of blowback ‘back here’. This recasting process involves many elements. Perhaps the most important one is the sense of righteousness that Canada and its allies have the legitimacy and right to intervene in other societies. The self-declared (and frankly deluded) assumption of the right to intervene has been smoothed by the recasting of war as ‘peace’, ‘security’ and the ‘right thing to do’. A dollop of nationalism was also thrown in in the ‘our boys’.
The people of Baghdad (daily casualty rate about 20), or Sanaa or Mosul or Damascus are not surprised when war comes to them. Why should Ottawa be any different?

None of this is to say ‘I told you so’ or ‘you deserved it’. It is, instead, to question how war has been recast as a risk-free endeavor that is about dishing out lead (to be very blunt but entirely accurate about it) and not taking it.

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