What's Left
September 11, 2002

Canadian Prime Minister's Bogus History Lesson

By Stephen Gowans

Canadians pride themselves on being peace keepers. Too small to throw their weight around as their American neighbors do, too weak militarily to issue ultimata and threats, they content themselves with the illusion  they're a pacific force in the world, a voice of calm, of reason, of cool, dispassionate peace-making.

Seemingly oblivious to the dissonance, the country -- rather, its government --  also boasts it dropped 10 percent of the bombs NATO forces let fly over Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, topped only by the UK and the world's undisputed heavyweight champion bomber, the United States.

This has implications that hardly square with Canadians' cherished belief in their role as the world's premier peace keepers. At the very least, 500 Yugoslav civilians were killed by NATO bombs, and probably more on the order of a couple of thousand, most having nothing whatever to do with the civil war in Kosovo NATO said it had to stop. That the blood of up to 200 Yugoslavs, including that of children, has maculated the hands of the world's self-declared peace lovers, is an implication that has largely escaped Canadians.

Try as you will, you'll find no traces of  innocents' blood on Canada's peace keeper monument, though it's surely there. Located in Ottawa, the nation's capital, and within spitting distance of the baleful security perimeter surrounding the real seat of power in Canada -- the US Embassy, the monument serves as a place Canadians can gather to revel in how very different they are from Americans. "Americans are warlike; we keep the peace," Canadians say complacently, the behemoth across the street casting a shadow across their beloved monument, and them.

Canada's 14th Prime Minister, Lester Bowles Pearson, who won the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in settling the Suez crisis, is revered by Canadians as an icon, the embodiment of Canada's commitment to the UN and its abhorrence of crimes against peace. But Pearson, it is often forgotten, was chairman of NATO in 1951. Would he have been anymore committed to peace than the NATO grandees who engineered the crime against peace -- and the circumventing of the UN -- that marked the alliance's war on Yugoslavia?

I doubt it. Canadians, like Americans, have their own myths, their own self-serving lies trotted out whenever the national conceit is at risk of being punctured by reality. We keep the peace. We back the UN. We're not bullies.

The reality is that Canadians do what the world's greatest bully tells them to do. There's a shadow cast over more than just the country's peace keeping monument.

Last Monday, meeting with George W. Bush at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel that connects the two countries,  Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien served up the warmed over Canadian myth about Canada's commitment to the UN, even going so far as invoking the ghost of Lester Pearson.

Canada's position on Washington's threat to kick the campaign of mass murder against Iraqis into overdrive is rapidly evolving, converging, as it inevitably must, on the US position. But not before the country's prime minister issues the obligatory protests, like a willing concubine whose submission is foreordained, but must make a token display of resistance.

Last week Chretien was talking tough. Saddam Hussein may be unpleasant, and he would prefer the Iraqi leader weren't in power, but the same could be said about a lot of other world leaders. That didn't justify a pre-emptive war.

And Washington would have to show that Iraq had developed weapons of mass destruction, had the means of delivering them, and intended to do so, if Canada was going to play along.

A few days later, Chretien's position had softened. Now, all out war against Iraq was okay with him, as long as the United States "went through the UN."

This softer, UN-affirming, position was supposed to be consistent with Canada's values.

He "gave US President George W. Bush a history lesson on Canadian support for the United Nations," the country's establishment newspaper, The Globe and Mail, reported.

The problem is, the history lesson he gave was highly selective, kind of like a history of Germany without the events of 1933 to 1945.

Canada hardly supported the UN when it participated in the 78-day NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, an action taken after the NATO alliance deliberately side-stepped the UN, knowing it couldn't get Security Council authorization for military intervention.

And the UN resolutions respecting Sept. 11 hardly authorized an attack on Afghanistan. Still,  Canadian troops participated in the US-led military operations.

Both actions were approved by Chretien.

And when members of Canada's elite anti-terrorism squad were photographed emerging from the belly of a Hercules with captured al-Qaeda fighters -- which they turned over to the US military to be imprisoned as "battlefield" detainees, not prisoners of war, in violation of the Geneva Conventions -- Canada's complicity in trampling an international protocol was sloughed off. Instead, a mini-scandal erupted over whether the Minister of Defense had withheld information from the Prime Minister about the anti-terrorism squad's activities in Afghanistan, while the larger issue of the legality of detaining Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, and imprisoning them under barbaric conditions at Gauntanamo Bay, was avoided altogether. That too clashed  discordantly with Canadians view of their country as being bound by the rule of law.

"War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength," wrote George Orwell. He could have added, "propaganda is truth." And "crime is law."

The UN's value these days lies largely in the degree to which it can be used as a cover for illegal actions taken to expand US influence. The Pentagon doesn't jackboot around the world. It enforces international law and punishes countries that defy the UN, or world opinion, or the international community. Anything but what's really at issue -- the political, military and economic interests of the United States.

So when Jean Chretien says Canada will back the US if Washington goes through the UN, he really means Canada will back whatever crimes against peace the US commits, so long as the illusion can be conjured that the crimes are police actions authorized by the UN, or that they carry the imprimatur of the "international community," the latter being any grouping of the United States and a few others.

Like the no-fly zones the United States established over Iraq,  American actions need not actually be endorsed by the UN; they must only seem to be endorsed. That condition being fulfilled, Canada can do what it always does: find a way to make it seem it has kept its principles -- and sovereignty --  intact, while submitting to the master.


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