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Governor-General Michaelle Jean and Prince Charles speak with veterans after a Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 11, 2009. (Adrian Wyld)
Governor-General Michaelle Jean and Prince Charles speak with veterans after a Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 11, 2009. (Adrian Wyld)

Gerald Caplan

Oh-oh, Canada Add to ...

My country seems to be slipping away in front of my very eyes.

Our proud identity, our cherished core values - never mind the vast gap between aspiration and achievement - are being turned upside down.

Gun control advocates are out, gun apologists are in.

Peacekeeping is out, warriors are in.

Preventing war is out, killing scumbags is in.

Demonstrations for peace are out, demonstrations of a martial spirit are in.

Thoughtful, restrained Canadianism is out, hand-on-heart Yankee-style patriotism is in.

Take a gander at Michäelle Jean. She herself, when appointed Governor-General, was the very embodiment of Canada's finest aspirations. But GG Jean suddenly has become GI Jean, all resplendent in military uniform. Nor is this a mere gesture to boost the morale of the troops. Only recently Jean declared that "the people of Afghanistan support progress, democracy, the reconstruction of peace, the respect of rights and freedoms, the equality of women, education and development."

This is self-evidently baloney. Who's she talking about - the Karzai government, the Taliban, the religious leaders, the war lords, the poppy growers, the torturers, the rapists of girls and women?

Canada, Jean added, "in turn supports their efforts and initiatives to promote viable Afghan solutions to Afghan problems." This is a deeply controversial, partisan assertion. Since when did our GG become a maven on Afghanistan and since when does she take sides in issues that deeply divide Canadians at home? This is fairly precarious turf our figurehead is treading on. She too has caught the new macho virus, the military-based nationalism that has suddenly infected large parts of our peaceable little dominion.

Just look at the huge gala that the True Patriot Love Foundation threw in Toronto on the eve of Remembrance Day last month. Who had ever heard of this foundation before that night? Who in fact had ever heard those three little words outside of the national anthem - whose other lyrics many Canadians still can't exactly recall, a nice symptom of our maturity and sophistication. Canadians could love Canada without invoking bombs bursting in air. We had nothing to prove about our belligerence.

No more. Everyone and their aunt was at that foundation event, to be seen and to be counted. Naturally and appropriately, military families were present, including Jodi Mitic (whose father I know) and Trevor Green, extraordinarily courageous soldiers who had suffered grievous injuries in Afghanistan. But so were a veritable cornucopia of political leaders, various Canadian "celebrities," and not least, lots and lots and of business folk.

Why not? It was in a good cause: to raise about $2-million for something called the Military Families Fund, to assist military families facing urgent financial need resulting from conditions of service.

And more. As Chief of the Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk told the 1,700 glitterati, part of the mission of the TPLF was "recognizing the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform and their families are making today."

Several questions demand to be raised.

Why are military families dependent on private charity for any needs resulting from conditions of service? Two million dollars is chump change for any government. The Harperites waste that amount on partisan political gimmicks every morning. And the PM loves our troops. He embraces them at the drop of a photo op.

So why do they need $2-million from private sources? Does this mean that until that gala evening, Canadian military families in time of need were left in the lurch by their government? What if those families need more than $2-million? Why should the soldiers we honour so loudly be dependent on private handouts?

As for recognizing the sacrifices of our troops in Afghanistan and their families, let it be noted that virtually no one else in Canada shares their sacrifice or ever has. Most of the business-people at the gala didn't even pay for their own $750 seat; their companies bought tables which they'll bill as a charitable donation for a tax refund.

No Canadian has ever been asked to give up a single pleasure, a luxury, a frivolity, an indulgence, a frivolous consumer want, on behalf of our soldiers. Rich Canadians and Corporate Canada fight like the devil any suggestion they pay more taxes for the greater good of the larger community. Sacrifices are for others - those fine boys and girls we love to be seen honouring.

Finally, I wonder what would have happened if some political leader had chosen not to endorse the True Patriot Love gala. Well, I don't really wonder. I know. We all know. They would have been denounced on every front for being unpatriotic, un-Canadian, betrayers of our boys and girls abroad. And not one dared do so.

I'm no pacifist. There are, very occasionally, conflicts that can only be resolved by war. I would not have been with the founder of my party, J. S. Woodsworth, when he stood alone in the House of Commons in 1939 to vote against Canada declaring war on Nazi Germany, though my admiration for his courage is boundless. There are principles worth losing popularity for.

But I do stand with - of all people - U.S. general Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the allied forces in Europe on D-Day 1944. "I hate war," Ike said, "as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."

Those who glorify war will always find it. My Canada will not.

Gerald Caplan is a former national campaign director for the New Democratic Party and author of The Betrayal of Africa

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