Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Perspective That Age Bestows

Unlike some, I do not bemoan the passage of time. True, I am of that generation known as 'the baby boomers,' but while I am at times mildly bemused about certain things ('How can it be 50 years since the Beatles first played in Toronto?'), I was never beguiled by the notion that we would be young forever. Yes, I try to keep fit and hope to be active throughout the rest of my years, but ceding my place to others in both the workplace and the larger world bothers me not in the least. As Margaret Wente recently noted in a surprisingly (for her) good column, the real surprise is that there is no adventure remotely like aging.

Probably one of the biggest benefits (and potentially one of the biggest curses, depending upon one's frustration threshold) of growing older is the perspective that age bestows. The experiences of a lifetime offer a tremendous filter by which to assess the things that we see and hear, the people we meet, the 'truths' that are offered to us, etc. It was with this filter that I read Tim Harper's column the other day in the Toronto Star.

Examining the Harper regime's decision to send troops to Iraq as 'advisers' to help in the fight against ISIS, Tim Harper seems to lament the complacence about terrorism felt at home:

When Abacus Data asked Canadians voters to rank the importance of 13 different issues in a poll done last month, security and terrorism ranked 13th, cited by a mere six of 100 respondents as one of their top three concerns.

He seems to suggest we should be alarmed for reasons of domestic security:

We know there have been at least 130 Canadians who have travelled to join radical fighting forces, including the Islamic State. At least 130. That number was released early in the year and other estimates put the number much higher.

We know that at least 80 of them have returned to this country, with the training and the motivation to cause much harm here.

And he reminds us of this:

Even as daily dispatches of Islamic State barbarism, mass executions, beheadings of two Americans with a Briton now much in danger, and genocide come into their homes, Canadians apparently believe it is something which merits a baleful shake of the head.

While not an outright endorsement of the government's decision to dispatch troops to Iraq, it seems to me that the columnist is providing the context within which that decision makes sense.

It is an analysis with which I profoundly disagree.

And that's where the perspective offered by both age and history becomes most relevant. Having lived through times when the rhetoric of threat has been used to frighten people into compliant thinking, surely some critical reflection is warranted here. I remember oh so well how, during the years the U.S. was fighting a losing war in Vietnam that cost so many lives and exacted so many grievous injuries, the justification was 'The Domino Theory', the idea that if South Vietnam fell to the communists, a cascading effect would ensue throughout southeast Asia, and would end who knew where.

But the fact of the matter is that the Vietcong were employing a form of warfare that was not amenable to traditional methods of containment, thereby rendering the war futile, and the lives lost and injuries sustained meaningless.

The same is true about Afghanistan. Ignoring the lessons of history provided by Alexander the Great, the British and the Russians, the Americans and their allies plunged headlong into battle, again with the same results. As to the egregious failure of Iraq, the same lessons apply.

Yet here we are, back at the beginning, once more embracing the hubristic belief that hydra-headed terrorism can be contained. While it may be humbling and frightening to admit, there are some things over which we have no control.

Thus endeth a hard lesson.


  1. How many other wars, Lorne, were supposed to be over in six weeks?

    1. Orwell would have a ready answer to that question, I'm sure, Owen.

    2. Hi Lorne
      Good article. Canada was a different country back then with different leadership. Pearson told Johnson that Canada would not support the Viet Nam war and along with that we took in 50K Americans who did not want to fight. I am a boomer too and I was wondering the other day about what has happened to the anti-war movement. What about the peace movement?Even our music was imbued with ant-war lyrics."All we are saying is give peace a chance' John Lennon. We were and still are I think an idealistic generation.

    3. Thanks, Pamela. I'm not so sure that given what we have seen we are so much an idealistic as a realistic generation that has lived through too many lies to drink any more of the official kool-aid.

    4. Hi Lorne
      Did we ever drink the kool-aid?

  2. The Pavlovian dogs of the Harper evangelical Christian base must be salivating at the thought of Canadians fighting in Iraq. The warlords in Afghanistan thank us for our participation - the opium crops are better than ever. The people of Libya thank Canadians for the bombing of their infrastructure which allowed the proliferation of terrorists who have since destroyed their society.

    This American white bread middle class kid of four decades ago might not have been not far off the mark.

    1. The list of casualties of Western intervention for 'everyone's good' is indeed long, Anon. And thanks for the link; I say 'Amen' to James Taylor's sentiments.

  3. Age does appear to make some people wiser. For others, it just makes them ..... older. As a former colleague of mine used to fondly say, ignorance is curable (and perhaps this is where the passing of the years comes in) but stupidity is forever.

    A better question that Tim Harpers should have pondered is: why have 130 people presumably born and bred in an "open" and "democratic" society such as ours found it necessary to involve themselves in a political struggle where they could possibly be seriously injured or even lose their lives?

    Therefore, I would suggest that the real reason some Canadians are balefully shaking their heads is how columnists like Tim Harper fail to see the really important issue, eh? Could these people perhaps have felt the injustice that the west had done to their former homelands or those of their parents?

    But then, perhaps like Dear Leader, that would be like committing sociology when one could instead be building more jails, throwing even more money at CSIS or CSEC to monitor our everyday communications and spending more money on communication "specialists" to constantly instill the fear in us (with the help, wittingly or otherwise, of people like Tim Harpers) of our so-called homegrown terrorism.

    1. You raise some excellent points here, Anon. I have to confess that I was rather surprised at the tone of Harper's column; while he wasn't necessarily endorsing involvement in overseas' adventurism, he was helping to stoke the fears that make such adventurism seem acceptable - a serious lapse in his usually more critical outlook.

  4. What age generally means politically speaking is conservative and reactionary. Your blog from my observation seems at times to resemble a Golden Age club. A place where a
    bunch of old white men mutually stroke each other, and try compete with the younger ones. I'm old myself so I notice these things. Maybe it's human nature, but it's certainly nothing to boast about.

    1. First of all, Anon, I suggest you resist the stereotypical notion that age equates with conservatism and reactionary tendencies. While that may have been in part true of preceding generations, i doubt it is true with this one.

      Secondly, I don't consider myself competing with younger people. The fact that I am retired allows me the time to follow events closely and write about them, my purpose being to inform. While I have always been aware that my my blog has limited efficacy in that regard, I do believe in fighting the good fight. The alternatives, silent complacence and passivity, are too horrible to contemplate.

    2. When the Harperite base resorts to ad hominem attacks, you know you're on the right course Lorne.