The futility of war
Leaders see the invasion of another country as an easy short-term policy. Canadians don’t seem to understand the political manipulation underway.
Gar Pardy, Embassy Magazine
It is to be regretted that historian Barbara Tuchman is no longer with us. If she was, there is some certainty she would add the “war on terror” and its offshoots to her catalogue of political follies she intelligently identified in her book The March of Folly.
The book has been described as “meditation on the historical recurrence of governments pursuing policies evidently contrary to their own interests.” As Western powers stumble around the battlefields of the Middle East and Central Asia, there is overwhelming evidence supporting the conclusion that today’s policies are contrary to their own interests.
Since the start of our third millennium, the back-to-back wars against so-called terrorism are really wars against ourselves. Bill C-51, the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, is but the latest misdirected attempt by the government to fight a war it wants it to be, not the one we read about each morning.
In the last half of the previous century the scourge of terrorism was as serious as it is today. To board a flight often provided the opportunity to see Algiers or Havana. Nevertheless our sense of self-interest did not lead to misguided attempts to treat terrorism as wars that could be won through the use of Western military forces in places of which they had little understanding and were not less welcomed.
Rather the Western reaction largely was to deal with terrorism as a product of overwhelming frustration created by imposed colonial-era gerrymandering of borders and imposed political arrangements. There was general agreement the external manifestations of these frustrations had to be contained and to some extent there was currency for the concept of international terrorism, as compared to the terrors contained by national boundaries. The one over-reaction was the attempt to have American forces intervene in Lebanon. The bombing of their barracks in Beirut soon put an end to the folly of that adventure.
In turn this prompted the international community to create a body on international containment treaties aimed at protecting the larger world from hijackings, attacks on diplomats, aid and humanitarian workers and businesspeople and travel by those who would do us harm.
This provided a thick forest of containment measures such as the Tokyo, Hague and Montreal Conventions dealing with air travel and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons. Such measures combined with increased screening of travelers, domestic police and security enhancements, international police co-operation and efforts to solve underlying political and economic issues largely contained the scourge of violence outside of national boundaries.
Today we are living with the legacy of the American over-reaction to the events of 9/11. Then, the tragic failure of American security agencies to identify an internal attack led to a lashing out and the October 2001 military interventions in Afghanistan and, two years later, in Iraq. Over a decade later, these interventions are seen as the follies they were. In Iraq we are now dealing with the consequences.
Another military intervention in which Canada is a willing participant will do nothing to quell the forces at work there and in neighbouring Syria. Another few months will likely see an Afghanistan similar to what it was prior to the American invasion of 2001. Last year in Afghanistan, the UN reported the highest level of civilian casualties in five years.
If more proof of the folly of such interventions is needed we need only to look at today’s Libya, only three years after the West declared “mission accomplished” there.
Most tragically these Western military interventions have accentuated the forces at work in our own countries where a few native born and recent immigrants see some measure of commonality with the local forces in the invaded countries.
The increasing numbers of violent reactions-Madrid, London, Glasgow, Texas, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Toulouse, Boston, Brussels, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen-are graphic. But in the cool light of retrospect these are manifestations of a disparate lot influenced more by inner demons than a massive conversion externally directed.
Western political leaders singularly see the invasion of another country as an easy short term policy rather than coping with the complexities the violence represents. Certainly all see such invasions as providing short term domestic political support. There is no evidence to suggest, despite its repeated use, that Canadians understand the political manipulation that is underway.
The disparity between the folly of today’s wars and serious effort to resolve the political problems inherited from the Western colonial era continues to grow as political leaders fuel the flames of racial and religious mistrust among their own citizens. Nowhere is this more evident than here in Canada, where we have a prime minister who has not seen a war he did not like.
Indeed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper actively seeks out wars in which Canadians can be engaged. His legacy will be as a warmonger, rather than his imagined “values.”
Gar Pardy is retired from the Foreign Service and comments on foreign policy issues from Ottawa.