Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Good Question

There are days when it is difficult to see any long-term future for the human race. Stories abound of both our collective and individual acts of brutality that attest to the fact that purely animal urges prevail within us far too frequently. The scintilla of hope that something better is possible is offered, paradoxically, by collective and individual acts of kindness and compassion that also occur on a regular basis.

The problem, it seems to me, resides in our refusal to tame and regulate the bestial side of our nature, its most frequent expression being found in the behaviour of those who claim to represent us, our governments. Too many of us are content to simply throw up our hands and say these things are out of our control, and then go on to divert ourselves with the latest technological toy. Neil Postman wrote about such in Amusing Ourselves to Death.

I am, however, frequently buoyed by letters to the editor that amply demonstrate that there are those among us with insight, clarity and the capacity for analysis and are willing to challenge the insensate among us. Two such letters I reproduce below:
Husband of terror victim cut PM's call short, Jan. 22

I sympathize with the families of people killed in the Burkina Faso terror attack but I can’t help wondering about suggestions that Canada should step up bombing in Syria in retaliation. The Canadians were killed in Burkina Faso. Would it not be more satisfying retribution to send our planes to bomb Burkina Faso?

But who do we blame for the attacks? If the killing of a few Canadians in Burkina Faso justifies bombing attacks in Syria, then surely the killing of Canadians in Burkina Faso was justified by the killing of Afghans in Afghanistan, Iraqis in Iraq and Syrians in Syria. Turnabout is fair play, they say, and at this stage we of the Western world are ahead by several hundred thousand killings. Let’s hope ISIS and other “terror” groups don’t try to even the score.

We could also note that bombing has never yet won a war. Hitler’s blitz did not knock England out of World War II and when economist J.K. Galbraith studied the effect of allied bombing on Germany, he found that German arms production had peaked in late 1944.

We had air superiority, but the Korean war was a draw. The Americans dropped more bombs in Vietnam than they had in World War II, but they lost the war. The bombing of Cambodia helped Pol Pot to take power there.

It’s lots of fun to bomb an “enemy” and it’s very profitable for the corporations that make the planes and the bombs, but the evidence suggests that bombing builds, rather than breaks, resistance.
Western governments have spent billions of dollars on the series of wars that George Bush Sr. began and Jr. continued, but we’re a long way from peace. Does anyone else notice that the flood of refugees coming to Europe from Libya, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria are coming from three countries that the U.S. “liberated” from governments that people did not see the need to flee, and one that was for years a client state that, in one case at least, tortured a Canadian on the orders of American “security” forces.

Maybe the best way to end terrorism would be to stop provoking it.

Andy Turnbull, Toronto

Respectfully, Westerners have no business in countries such as Burkina Faso, a state that is frequently rated among the worst countries in the world. Suggesting Prime Minister Trudeau is wrong to pull fighter jets in the fight against terrorism is unfair and just plain folly as incidents such as the recent deaths of six Quebec residents in the terrorist attack in Burkina Faso are literally a daily occurrence across the width and breadth of the African continent as well as many other territories in the world.

People who visit such countries in the name of faith-based altruism do so at their peril, and should not expect the governments of their home states to be held accountable for their misfortune. Tough, unsympathetic words? Perhaps, but that is the reality of the world we live in.

States such as Burkina Faso must forge their own destiny. Westerners who wish to help others in the name of faith would be better served if they looked in their own backyard first before disseminating their brand of religious altruism abroad.

Louis MacPherson, Bowmanville
Both letters will, no doubt, provoke a flurry of outrage. The truth often hurts.


  1. A harbinger of the decline of our civilization is the phenomenon of "permawar." War without end, war without result, war without even much meaning. The state does its talking at the fuse end of a 500-pounder. If we're really pissed, it'll be a 2,000 pounder.

    It's a display of strength that morphs into a display of our weakness, vulnerability, incoherence. States have reduced themselves to mere assassins and no one parlays with assassins.

    If only we were achieving something, anything meaningful with all this butchery but we're not. They've got our number. They know that we come, lay waste, get bored and then we leave.

    I remember reading Andrew Bacevich's brilliant analysis of how military violence came to displace diplomacy as his country's preferred instrument of foreign policy. To some in Canada that seems to be an appropriate path. Whack-a-mole as foreign policy.

    1. Of course, Orwell wrote about this permawar most presciently, Mound, in 1984. Shifting alliances, shifting enemies and allies all seem to be part of this diversionary phenomenon that the writer seemed to know so well.

  2. But like you, I found them excellent.

    1. Long may such fearless commentators live, thwap.