Issues

June 2012

Re: “Beyond War and Peacekeeping,” by Jennifer Welsh

Jennifer Welsh’s musings on our recent Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety is important because it adds to a vital discussion of the way Canada relates to war, peace and peacemaking. But her claims that the Harper regime is given too much credit, that many will see our analysis of the effort to reconstruct Canadian memory as a “right-wing plot” suggest an incapacity to grasping long-term historical patterns in anything but conspiratorial ways.

Warrior Nation explores how our history reflects disparate understandings of war and peacemaking. We examine drum-and-bugle patriotism and broadly based peace movements and traditions. Canada has now reached a crucial juncture. How will the Kandahar misadventure be remembered? Earlier this year an American soldier based in Kandahar shot, stabbed and set ablaze 16 men, women and children. The Globe and Mail’s front page headline read “Rampage by U.S. Soldier Shatters Trust That Canadian Forces Built.”

New warrior politicians and historians are trying to repackage Canada’s Kandahar campaign as an uplifting moment. The Harper government deploys Afghanistan veterans to swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens who have been obliged to study Discover Canada, a citizenship guide glorifying war. Peacekeeping is not entirely overlooked. It gets an entire half-sentence—less, revealingly, than space devoted to some Canadians’ imperial ambition to have the Dominion take over the British West Indies in the 1920s.

If successful—and this will always be contested terrain—new warriors might succeed in evading their responsibility for the war. News from Afghanistan will be parsed for any evidence, however slim, that Canada’s murky objectives were even partially met. Yet over time it will become difficult to disguise defeat in Afghanistan as victory. And for that defeat, the country’s political and military leadership must be held accountable.

The new warriors’ sense of nation—energy superpower with muscular military and minimal public provision—rejects Canada’s post-1945 achievements. Unlike Québécois nationalism exalting survival on a continent dominated by Anglos, unlike a pan-Canadian nationalism hailing the democratic evolution of the country from colony to nation, new warrior nationalism nominates as its heroes those who relished the consolidation of the empires they cherish. People like race theorist and concentration camp administrator John Buchan, featured in Discover Canada.

For new warriors, Canadian history’s landmark events were those in which the British and American empires were built and defended. And it is in the rush of soldiers to the defence of empire that Canadians should seek their national identity. Warrior Nation argues that Canada’s stance on peace and war is not governed by a “plot” but emerges from our history—and our habits of remembering.

Jamie Swift and Ian McKay
Kingston, Ontario


Jennifer Welsh, in her analysis of the decline of conflict and the seeming sudden lull, is ignoring Pax Americana, a rather large omission. Without, for instance, the quiet defence of the Global Commons we would have a different world. The United Nations for another instance would simply not exist, never mind be able to act in even it’s limited way to mitigate conflict. The end of the Cold War and the USSR sponsoring mischief around the globe, and if you like the United States ending similar mischief as well also contribute to the lull in violence, which I’m afraid is all man gets. She is drawing conclusions based on the past decade, to find war as the bloody ink of history we have all of man’s recorded history.

If Stephen Harper is urging his nation to gird their loins he may be taking the longer view of history, and he’s probably correct. The Pax Americana is ending. Please contain any Schadenfreude or at least don’t be carried away by it, the next bell may toll for thee.

Brendan Doran
Halifax, Nova Scotia


In response to Jennifer Welsh’s discussion of their book, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety, Jamie Swift and Ian McKay cite the Canadian citizenship guide as setting out a “concentration camp administrator” as hero of a “new warrior nationalism” (“Beyond War and Peacekeeping,” June 2012). The individual they malign is John Buchan.

The context of the “concentration camp” reference is toward the end of the Boer War in South Africa, where Buchan served from October 1901 to August 1903 under High Commissioner Alfred Milner. The camps where Boer women and children were concentrated were set up by General Kitchener’s army, partly to prevent the Boer guerrillas from receiving help from the civilians and partly, as Thomas Pakenham writes in his book, The Boer War, “to protect the families of the Boers who were at risk because their menfolk had surrendered.” Boer civilians were also at risk of retaliation from the Africans. Death rates in the camps were very high. Milner’s opposition to Kitchener succeeded in transferring administration of the camps from the military to civilians, after which there was a “remarkable decrease in the mortality rate,” as historian Peter Warwick notes in The South African War: The Anglo-Boer War, 1899–1902. Who had responsibility for the camps? Milner had given this daunting task to Buchan when he arrived and he “visited most of the camps, sometimes risking a great deal.” The mortality rate declined for both whites and Africans in the camps, Pakenham notes, from 34 percent and 20 percent respectively in October 1901 to 3 percent and 6 percent respectively by April 1902. Buchan was then given responsibility for resettlement. Pakenham adds that Boer commander Louis Botha admitted: “One is only too thankful nowadays to know that our wives are under English protection.”

In making such a false and unfounded accusation about John Buchan, Swift and McKay have abandoned any claim to serious scholarship.

J. William Galbraith


Re: “King Richard's Lament,” by Suanne Kelman

Suanne Kelman’s excellent review of Richard Stursberg’s book, Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC, skillfully captured the essence of the man and his CBC legacy: narcissistic, mean spirited and still utterly clueless about the distinctive value of public broadcasting in Canada. By making CBC TV appear like a low-rent clone of its commercial rivals, Stursberg made it inevitable that a Conservative government already hostile to public broadcasting could get away with savage cuts to the CBC without much public outcry. Richard Stursberg did Stephen Harper’s work for him.

As head of CBC news and current affairs for the first three years of Stursberg’s reign, before I joined Al Jazeera English as managing director, I had a front row seat in witnessing how this train wreck took shape. Stursberg’s theory was that, by going “populist” in CBC’s programming at the expense of, among other things, its historic focus on news, current affairs and documentaries, Canadians’ support of the CBC would increase. A key issue for the CBC as it moves forward is whether this approach worked. Stursberg claims the CBC experienced its “best ratings in history” while he was at the CBC. Is he accurate? Well, no.

In fact, the audience share for CBC Television was higher in the period immediately before he was hired in 2004, when his predecessor Harold Redekopp was CBC’s executive vice-president. In her review, Kelman correctly notes Stursberg’s “great gift for massaging” audience ratings by choosing “his time frames to enhance his own achievements and to denigrate what preceded them.” In an analysis for The Toronto Star, former head of CBC audience research Barry Kiefl wrote the “claim that a recent shift toward more populist programming caused a spike in CBC TV’s ratings is based on a distortion of the facts.”

The challenge for the CBC in this 21st century is, as Kelman writes, “to provide added value—not just numbers, but some less tangible benefit that the private networks cannot provide.” This is not easy. It has never been easy. I certainly know that now after more than 30 years at the CBC, and I don’t envy the people who currently run the place now. But I also know that it is a losing strategy for the CBC to turn its back on the values of public broadcasting. The dismal achievements from Stursberg’s period at the CBC are certainly evidence of that.

Tony Burman
Toronto, Ontario


I hope I live long enough to hear one day that Mr. Stursberg must stand outside the CBC headquarters in Toronto holding a packet of pencils in one hand and a tin cup in the other, begging for nickles and dimes from his old pals inside to make ends meet. Failing this, perhaps, in the same way one sees a pair of old running shoes dangling from hydro lines as they drive down a street, someone could find a way to do that with Mr. Stursberg’s testicles.

Please note, my sentiments are not derived from having been a former employee of the CBC; nor have I ever been connected to the Corporation in any business way. I am just a Canadian citizen who, at age 30 in 1973, discovered CBC FM Radio and stayed tuned to it for the next 35 years, even into the early days of its reincarnation as Radio 2. Quite simply, it was the best radio station on planet earth—until, that is, Mr. Stursberg started messing with it in the mid 2000s.

Because I stopped watching CBC TV decades ago and, now, no longer listen to CBC Radio (too much talking on Radio 1), I find I have no connection whatever with the Corporation and, frankly, don’t give a damn what happens to it.

 

P.S. I thought Suanne Kelman’s review of the Stursberg book to be fair and balanced.

Chris Seymour
Perth, Ontario


Re: “Lester Pearson on Trial,” by Christopher Dummitt

Christopher Dummitt’s review is fair, as far as it goes. But where it does not go is the terrain on which the book is located.

As is made clear, the book is a polemic aimed at “leftists” who promote Pearson’s foreign policy as something to emulate. I cite many progressives from Jack Layton to Steven Staples, Elizabeth May and Linda McQuaig who have counter-posed Pearson’s supposed humanistic internationalism to Harper’s aggressive militarism.

The distortions reach mind boggling proportions. In Holding the Bully’s Coat, for instance, Linda McQuaig claims “one could argue that Pearson’s urgings may have, in some small way, contributed to ending the U.S. war effort in Vietnam.” Hansard, however, provides a different portrait. “My government,” Pearson told Parliament in the spring of 1965, “supports the purposes and objectives of United States policy in Vietnam.” On another occasion he told the House: “This government had supported the policy of the United States in Vietnam and wished to continue that support.”

A speech Pearson delivered at Temple University in Philadelphia in April 1965 is the most cited example of Pearson (supposedly) opposing U.S. militarism. Here are Pearson’s actual words: “The government and great majority of people of my country have supported wholeheartedly the U.S. peacekeeping and peacemaking policies in Vietnam.” He then called for a short-term cessation of bombing.

The facts speak for themselves. From the wars in Vietnam and Korea to the coups in Guatemala and Iran, Pearson backed U.S. imperialism. While McQuaig and others may believe that Pearson “managed to create a role for Canada outside the U.S. sphere of influence,” in reality he was the individual most responsible for Canada’s post–World War Two shift away from British imperialism and towards the U.S. version. No progressive should call for our government to emulate Canada’s Pearsonian past.

Yves Engler
Montreal, Quebec


Re: “Keeping Party Leaders Honest,” by Christopher Moore

While we thank Christopher Moore for his review of our book Politics at the Centre: The Selection and Removal of Party Leaders in the Anglo Parliamentary Democracies, we would like to correct some errors in his review and, more importantly, address his misrepresentation of our principal argument.

Moore is critical of our reliance on quantitative data in our analysis. We plead guilty to methodically collecting data on more than 200 party leadership contests in order to rigorously examine the relationship between leadership selection processes and variables such as the competitiveness of contests; the longevity of leaders; and the prior political experience, age and gender of winners. However, we are also firm believers in the power of qualitative research and accordingly conducted more than 50 interviews in the five countries we study with current and former party leaders, members of parliament, party officials, political journalists and academics. Bringing together these research methods allows us to present a comprehensive portrait of party leadership selection.

Moore suggests that we overstate the trend to expansion of the leadership selectorate. In this regard, he incorrectly asserts that the major parties in Ireland have not followed this trend. In fact, the largest Irish parties, Fine Gael and Labour, both give their rank-and-file members a vote when choosing leaders. Similarly he suggests that the United Kingdom’s Gordon Brown was selected through rules restricting the vote to MPs. In fact, Brown, like his predecessor Blair and successor Miliband, was selected through rules adopted by Labour in 1981 sharing the authority between members, MPs and trade unions. It is also worth noting that Labour parties in New Zealand and Australia have recently begun debating whether to expand their leadership selectorates beyond the parliamentary party.

Most importantly, Moore misrepresents our normative argument. Contrary to his assertion we are not apologists for the Canadian parties. In fact, we explicitly argue that MPs should play an important role in the selection of their party’s leader. Our study leads us to the conclusion that those processes including both MPs and grassroots party members in the selectorate are to be preferred. In this vein, we point, in our concluding chapter, to the methods used by the UK Tory and Labour parties as exemplars. We are critical of much about the Canadian method including the costs to candidates, the difficulties of party self-regulation of these campaigns and the possibility of selecting a leader with little parliamentary support.

In sum, our argument is considerably more nuanced than that presented by Christopher Moore.

William Cross and André Blais
Ottawa, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec


Re: “The Inconvenient Crown,” by Mark Lovewell

Regardless of the merits or not of a monarchy, and the charm and competency or not of any particular ruling British monarch, whenever I see any member of the royal family on TV or in print, I think, “There go the last vestiges of our own tribal warlords.” I long for the day when Canada’s democracy is monarch free!

Ken Goldberg
Toronto, Ontario


I do not see anywhere in Mark Lovewell’s review of two new books about the monarchy a reference to the chief advantage of a constitutional monarch over a republican president. I just see a great deal of quibbling.

The governor general is the official head of state and the Queen’s representative in Canada and not a politician; consequently he commands the loyalty of all Canadian citizens. In contrast, in the United States the president is both head of state and an elected politician. George Bush could and did challenge the loyalty of any American citizen who opposed his war on Iraq. This could never happen in Canada.

Our system works.

John Brinckman
Toronto, Ontario


The LRC welcomes letters. We reserve the right to publish such letters and edit them for length, clarity and accuracy. E-mail editor@lrcreview.com.