In his bestselling book, "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning," the veteran American war correspondent Chris Hedges writes about "the cold and brutal efficiency of industrial warfare." After describing the "impersonal slaughter" of fleeing Iraqi soldiers in the first Gulf War, Hedges writes it's no wonder the world's richest countries "live in such opulence and determine the fate of so many others. We equip and train the most efficient killers on the planet."
Hedges' observations came to mind last week after the release of a report on steady increases in Canadian military spending and after CBC Radio revealed the results of its investigation into Canada's thriving international arms trade. The new information shatters the comforting myth of Canada as "the peaceable kingdom," showing instead that we are as complicit in organized repression and murder as any of our wealthy allies. I realize that flies in the face of persistent claims that Canada relentlessly promotes world peace and when we do engage in war, as in Afghanistan, we fight for democracy and human rights. But as Chris Hedges warns, "modern war is directed primarily against civilians," just think of the hundreds of thousands of victims in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of turning away from organized violence and working for genuine peace, Canada is taking part in the slaughter, profiting from increased arms sales and building its armed forces into a permanent war-fighting machine.
More Than The Cold War, reads the title of the report on Canada's military spending written for the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives by veteran peace activists Steven Staples and Bill Robinson. The title refers to the fact that Canada's military budget now surpasses our Cold War peak in 1952-53 when we were at war in Korea. Last year, we spent $16 billion on our military; this year, it's $18 billion; next year, $19 billion. The report reveals that the Department of National Defence is seeking long-term increases to bring us to somewhere between $26.9 and $36.6 billion by 2025. Already Canada is the sixth highest military spender among the 26 members of NATO and the 13th highest in the world. You'd never know it though by listening to the right-wing hawks who complain that Canada is "underfunding" its military. They point out that Canada spends "only" 1.2 percent of its economic output on "defence," the same as Hungary and Lithuania. Yet the $16 billion that Canada spent last year bought a hell of a lot more military firepower than Hungary's $1.3 billion or Lithuania's $356 million.
The CCPA report says that by next March, Canada will have spent more than $7.2 billion on its war in Afghanistan. We spend about nine dollars on combat for every one on economic aid. In August, the Senlis Council, an internationally respected think tank, concluded there's little evidence Canadian aid is helping those who desperately need it, including malnourished children at Kandahar Hospital. In one room, "there were 28 children sharing eight beds," the council's report says. It adds that the hospital still needs "basic medical equipment" and that "there is no air conditioning, heating or ventilation in place."
Meantime, the CBC found Canada's overall military exports more than tripled over the past seven years as we sold $3.6 billion in military equipment including $2.7 billion worth of tanks and armoured vehicles to countries such as the US, now at war in Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, one of the world's most repressive police states. "The surge in exports has made Canada the sixth-biggest supplier of military goods to the world, according to the most recent report by the US Congressional Research Service," the CBC concluded.
"Support Our Troops," proclaim those feel-good stickers glued to many of our gas-guzzling SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks. "But modern industrial warfare," Chris Hedges writes, "may well be leading us, with each technological advance, a step closer to our own annihilation."
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