Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recommended Read: Warrior Nation

Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety - Ian McKay and Jamie Swift

Anyone who has visited Canada recently will have seen the heightened profile of the Canadian Forces in all walks of life.  From the "Support Our Troops" ribbons on cars, houses, people, fire engines, ambulances, public buildings etc., to the "Highway of Heroes" and the "Route of Heroes", to the presence of more military personnel at Remembrance Day services or during citizenship ceremonies.  The list of examples is endless and fits with an increasingly militarised Canada where police brutality (I speak specifically about the G20 in Toronto) and hockey violence are to be praised and Don Cherry is a national icon.  For left-wing and free thinking Canadians, the blame falls immediately at the feet of Stephen Harper, our unlikely three-term prime minister and warmonger.  I had expected Warrior Nation to follow this train of thought - I was wrong.

In a sense, it does.  It is clear that no previous leader has put so much into the Canadian Forces or has spent so much money and effort into rebranding Canada into a military power.  Under Harper, the military has been raised to demi-god status, the root of all Canada's history (we weren't a country until the Battle of Vimy Ridge apparently) and the saviour for unfree people everywhere.  In this new Canada, where all historical facts are twisted to conform to military ideals, we are nothing without the military to show us how to be real Canadians, heroes.

However, the root of militarisation in Canada can be traced back to the earliest days of the country's existence.  Canada gained independence from the British Empire, but retained romantic visions of civilisation as embodied in the works of Rudyard Kipling and alike, where the British (and by extension anglophones of the world) brought civilisation to all sorts of backwards, barbarous places.  The Boer War is the first example of Canada intervening in a foreign conflict while broadcasting ideals of anglo perfection.  Naturally, much 'warrior' propaganda also accompanied both World Wars.

It is during the analysis of the Cold War years that this book really gets interesting, unpicking the myth of Canadian peacekeeping from the reality.  Pearson was in fact a conflicted man who sided with both peaceful diplomacy and armed force depending on the situation.  Trudeau was also not averse to using force when the situation warranted it, especially during the October Crisis.  Peacekeeping might have been motivated by fears of a nuclear war, but Canada's involvement in the first few decades of the UN missions was real and sincere.  This began to unravel in the 1990s as the scope of the missions extended into areas where no there was no ceasefire in force and NATO (read the United States), not the UN, began to take charge.  Today, Canada has fewer than 300 peacekeepers and the concept's legacy is being erased from official Canadian history or distorted to suit a more aggressive interpretation.

As is clearly shown, the entire blame for militarising Canada cannot be attributed to Harper alone, but this new urgency and zeal can be.  His policies of eroding social welfare spending while bolstering military expenditure pave a way for a Canada in a constant state of readiness for conflict while resurrecting Kipling's imperial ideals of a hundred years ago. 

Harper's ideology does not simply influence politics.  A walk around a major bookstore this morning highlighted how many books on warfare and the military are currently available - they occupy most of the history and politics sections.  Even the aforementioned Highway of Heroes has its own book.  Academia is also influenced as right-wing historians in favour of a 'warrior' past receive government funding.  Even Canada's game, hockey, has been militarised through the rantings of Don Cherry and praising of violence on the ice.

In all, McKay and Swift have told the story of how Canada has followed an American military ideal, and perhaps even surpassed it, in this well-researched history of Canada's military side.  Anyone looking for an indictment of Harper will find one, but they might find some of their own political heroes chastised as well.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Recommended Read: Female Chauvinist Pigs

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture - Ariel Levy

Levy's Book asks a very simple but troubling question: can women today truly call themselves liberated?  Levy examines the modern "raunch culture" of supposedly "liberated" women who feel that their power is in promiscuity.  Levy feels that such a concept of liberation is inaccurate and she calls for a second sexual revolution, concentrating of what people actually want out of their sexuality, rather than what society has dictated they want.  I had always considered myself as a person with strong gender equality values, but having read this book, I now call myself a feminist - much remains to be done before gender equality is a reality.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Recommended Read: Bad Medicine

Bad Medicine: Doctor Doing Hard Since Hippocrates - David Wootton

A powerful and very easy to read history of medicine which argues that there was little benefit to medicine prior to the 1850s and the discovery of germ theory.  Wootton presents potted histories of doctors, medication, treatment, research and failure.  He shows how the inherent conservatism of the medical profession prevented it from embracing new treatments and concepts as they were discovered.  Likewise, any new discovery was perceived as a threat to the privileged status of doctors.  Wootton has a gift for presenting complicated concepts in a way that makes them very easy to understand.  This book concludes with a good summation of how medicine since the 1850s has been of great benefit to humanity.  I really found this book interesting.