Because I have a reputation as tacking left on foreign affairs issues, because I’m skeptical about military intervention, because I find patriotism and jingoism abhorrent, I’m often accused of not supporting our troops. But then the Conservatives regularly imply that all of us non-Tories don’t support our troops so at least I’m in good company with the majority of Canadians.
My views on the military were largely shaped by my dad. He and I have been mostly at odds for a lifetime – we’re just too similar in temperament to get along – and I certainly don’t agree with him on all politics. Domestically the man makes no sense; he voted for Preston Manning and Mike Harris but loathes Stephen Harper, thinks Bob Rae is our nation’s saviour but favours Tim Hudak over Dalton McGuinty.
Dad’s views on foreign affairs are equally complex. My father joined the navy to pay for school and as a student, he automatically became an officer, and if I have to hear the story one more time about how officers drank better liquor than the enlisted men, I’m going to scream.
Anyway, Dad had a good time looking out for Russian subs in the Pacific, and never had anything bad to say about the navy. To this day he keeps up his Legion membership. He signed me up as well, and I certainly didn’t mind vowing not to be a fascist or communist, nor did I object to promising to protect Queen Elizabeth because as far as I know no one’s out to get her, but if they were I’d be seriously not okay with it.
Both Dad and I have a healthy respect for Canadian history and tradition. Of course we think our fallen dead should be remembered, it’s just that we don’t think support for the men and women of our military, past and present, gives us or anyone else the right to wrap it all up in the flag and disparage intelligent discourse with dumbed down sloganeering.
We hate the saying, “If you can’t get behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.” His sister has it in bumper sticker form, which drives my father batty. I find it offensive on several levels, and I think that it shows a lack of understanding about war that amounts to disrespect for Canadian values and our troops’ sacrifices.
The right can spin it like a top and it’s still indefensible. Clearly the sentiment is aggressive, even violent in its implication that the proper punishment for those who don’t support the military (the meaning of this left conveniently vague) is to harm them.
Personally, I think Canada treats its soldiers poorly. Collectively we praise the sacrifice made by the service of men and women to whom we’re unwilling to pay a living wage. If we treated our enlisted better, their ranks would include fewer disadvantaged groups (linguistic, regional, economic). And we really don’t like talking about how much it messes with their heads to be subjected to horrible situations and conditions, further compounding the problem.
In that sense, I’m certainly on their side. But I think it’s disgusting that the punishment for a soldier convicted of possessing child pornography isn’t jail but a demotion, so am I anti-military now?
Similarly I think some wars are just and others unjust, so I suppose I should either be shot or commended depending on whether we’re discussing WWII or Iraq.
Look, I’m a moderate English Canadian. I was raised on “In Flanders Fields” and venerate Allied war heroes. I was taught that being the aggressor is wrong, that we are pro-little guy and anti-bully, and that we should go to war for our democratic rights, including the right to free expression without oppression.
I find it disrespectful to encourage violence on Remembrance Day, and it’s disingenuous to do so in a public forum then claim that this day is sacred and solemn and should not be political. In my opinion, it is offensive to suggest that anyone, even our worst enemy, should “get in front of” armed soldiers on this day on which we commemorate an end to hostilities, and perhaps mourn the death of the now one-hundred year-old dream of a war to end all wars.
I have no problem reconciling my support for the men and women serving in our military, those who have served, and those who have given their lives because our country asked it of them, with my political beliefs, and I’m sorry but “if you can’t get behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them” is a political statement, and an antagonistic one at that.
Frankly, I don’t like killing, period, and I don’t believe soldiers do, either. That slogan is borderline bloodthirsty in a way that doesn’t jive with what every solider has ever told me: that he or she wants peace, not war.
After all, what did McRae single out for praise in his famous poem? He praised the larks, brave enough to sing over the din of the battlefield, and to me, the larks represented what McRae and all the others fought for: a way of life in a society so free that even in the darkest times, our right to express ourselves bravely prevails even if “scarce heard amid the guns below.”