Our Heroes in Uniform

Every once in a while a series of images is captured on film that provides a shocking glimpse behind the curtains of our authoritarian society. A generation ago it was the Los Angeles police mercilessly beating a man lying defenceless on the ground. His name was Rodney King.

Today we have the US helicopter gunship video, its two-man crew methodically mowing down a group of civilians below who are simply going about their business on a Baghdad street corner.

And also on youtube you can find a video of Royal Canadian Mounted Police executing with repeated taser jolts a middle-aged, somewhat overweight Polish would-be immigrant who had just landed at the Vancouver airport, but would never even get to step foot on Canadian soil.

There are many more such videos, either police or military brutality, torture and even executions, that they have become rather passé. Ho-hum. We are not a society that is interested in self-examination. It is a waste of our energy–”which is much better spent hurling rocks of criticism at others. Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Serbia, and the list goes on…

Near my home here in the province of Ontario, there is a “Highway of Heroes” that has been named in honour of Canada’s soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Honouring our troops has become something like a national religion. Canada has lost about 150 soldiers in Afghanistan and each time the news media puts on a splendid extravaganza of coverage. Ordinary citizens gather on bridges overlooking the Highway of Heroes as the hearse convoy bearing the soldier’s body passes below.

“Support Our Troops” bumper stickers are everywhere. The airwaves and news pages are filled with the words “Hero,” over and over again. It makes me wonder what kind of honour would be appropriate if we were fighting a real war of homeland defence in which one in five of our population died defending our country (like the Russians in World War Two). I think the entire country would have to just keep chanting the word “Hero” for a year, non-stop–”taking a break only to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom.

What is also conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the Afghan victims in this “war.” (I use the word war in quotation marks because this action is technically an invasion and occupation, since the Afghans never attacked us, nor even threatened to, and most would prefer that we leave as soon as possible).

From time to time we hear some unfortunate mishap. Such as last October when our “Heroes” inexplicably gunned down a couple of school kids on a scooter. Just a month prior, Canadian troops killed a young girl when they again shot at a fleeing scooter. In July, Canadian troops at a checkpoint opened fire on a car with a 25 mm cannon and claimed the lives of two toddlers, a girl aged four and her two-year old brother.

The CBC report is careful to call this an “accident,” and notes, with a straight face, that an estimated 450 Afghan civilians were killed by coalition forces in the previous year. That’s a lot of accidents, even if this is really the true figure and not a biased estimate coming from a US-based group.

Of course it is no accident that the Canadian troops are there in the first place, since the news media has gone out of its way to drum up public support for this “mission.” It’s all about making life better for the Afghans they tell us. Oh really? Is that why 85 percent of Afghans recently polled (by the US) in Kandahar province want the foreign troops to get out right away?

We need to be in Afghanistan in order to make sure that women have rights and girls can go to school without having acid thrown in their faces. That is the story. That is why our “Heroes” are over there, laying their lives on the line.

But what about some girls (and boys) closer to home who would also like to go to a proper school and would also like to have some of the basic necessities of life, such as decent shelter and food and clothing and clean drinking water? There are thousands of Real Canadians who do not have any of these things. I call them Real Canadians because they are the First Nations of this land, the original inhabitants, or what is left of them after centuries of genocide and land theft by the colonial conquerors who sailed over from Europe and decided to make this their land.

Just last week another heartbreaking news item with Real Canadians caught my attention. A native family driving across a remote northern region in their car got stuck in deep mud. They called 911, but no one came. A week later, members of the native community organized their own search and found one woman dead and three survivors, two of them children, clinging to life. The RCMP, who took the 911 call, never bothered to send anyone to help. “Heroes” indeed.

Many times I have heard the word “squaw” or “wagon burner” used to describe a Real Canadian. I have even heard those kinds of words coming out of the mouths of our “Heroes” in uniform.

So here is my suggestion to the Canadian Prime Minister and to the media the next time they get to talking about how we are in Afghanistan to “help.” Why don’t you bring those troops home and put them to work helping the poor Real Canadian folks right here in our own country. You want to be a hero? Try sending someone to rescue two native women and two native kids stranded in the wilderness, who are calling 911 for help. Until then, I think it might be time to give the word “Hero” a bit of a rest.