Rick Mercer wrote a great article a few years ago and it defiantly bears repeating especially as we head into the holiday season. Those who attack by the pen must be able to accept that they can be attacked by the pen. Noreen Golfman wrote a piece in the Independent about her dislike of the war in Afghanistan and how it ruined her Christmas vacation.. written on December 1, 2007.
Blowing in the wind . . .
Between mouthfuls of fruitcake and blissful stretches of catch-up sleep, you couldn’t ignore the war (oh, sorry, is that peaceful restoration work?) in Afghanistan during the holiday season if you tried. On the one hand, you were given license to let go and savour slow food, idle afternoons, and the constant pleasure of friends and family—in other words, fully appreciate the privileges of life in the West; on the other hand, you were constantly reminded of Our Boys our on patrol, eating reconstituted turkey in the Afghan desert—in other words, invited to feel guilty for not chowing down sand and fighting the war on terror.
Every time you opened a newspaper or listened to the news, especially on the CBC, you were compelled to reach for the box of tissues. If it wasn’t a story about some poor sod’s legs being blown off then it was an extended interview with some dead soldier’s parents. Indulging in another bite of dark chocolate was meant to be more painful this year. Here, have a plate of guilt with your second helping, my dear, and pass the self-reproach.
Amidst all the cranked up sentimentality and the daily barrage of stories from the likes of reporter Christy ‘one of the boys’ Blatchford or Peter ‘not exactly on the front lines’ Mansbridge, The Globe and Mail’s television columnist, John Doyle, dared to question the nature of the coverage. Doyle openly wondered, as is his right and responsibility, what in the world the public broadcaster was doing, let alone his own privately owned newspaper, devoting so much mawkish attention to the Canadian troops?
It’s one thing to pay full respect to the men (and some women) who have chosen a life in uniform and are therefore more or less voluntarily enduring punishing conditions, risking their lives many thousands of miles away from the comforts of home.
It is another to report on their presence in that unfamiliar place without so much as a hint that they don’t belong there, that the campaign to restore order and keep the Taliban from returning to power might be doomed, that blood is obviously begetting blood and that Canadians, and especially the Newfoundlanders who comprise such a disproportionate percentage of the overseas troops (compare with the number of African-Americans fighting in the doomed project of Viet Nam), are destined to return in body bags.
Shouldn’t we—the media, our public intellectual, citizens in general—at least be questioning, not merely glorifying or going sloppy over this fact?
Any time anyone questions the coverage, as Doyle did and as this column is venturing to do, you can practically hear the rage mounting in the neck veins of the military huggers. Peter Mansbridge threw a public hissy fit, obviously protesting too much. And Doyle told his readers that he’d been receiving some pretty nasty hate mail after his columns in December, not surprising, really, when you consider how defensive people are about the troops. I expect I’ll get some ugly stuff, too. It is a trite irony that you are chastised for daring to question the purpose of the military mission when that very mission is allegedly about restoring democracy and freedom of speech.
Which leads me to kick at another sacred cow--that is, Rick Mercer and that whole lot of star Newfoundlanders who went over to entertain Our Boys (and Girls) over Christmas, reportedly flown to unmarked destinations and, presumably, forced to share some dehydrated food and wear really ugly clothing for a few days.
|Tomb of the Unknown in Ottawa.|
The unidentified soldier was selected from a cemetery in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge, the site of a famous Canadian battle of the First World War. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was created to honour the Canadians whether they be navy, army, air force or merchant marine, who died or may die for their country in all conflicts - past, present, and future.
What in the world is going on? Where are the protest songs of yesteryear? I guess, when General Rick ‘MUN Graduate’ Hiller invites you to come along and share the joy ride you have to join up faster than you can say ‘Bob Hope is dead.’ Reading Mercer’s widely circulated piece on the joys of serving gravy to the grateful Canadian boys was almost as painful as watching Peter McKay flirt with Condoleezza ‘Condee’ Rice.
Just when did the worm turn? When was it suddenly acceptable for your garden variety progressive, satire-loving celebrity to hug the troops, praise military actions, and pass the ammunition without so much as a hint of dissent or any questioning of the value of the mission, not to mention its obviously USA-linked agenda? Can you imagine popular talk show host Jon Stewart flying overseas over for a few feel-good shows in Iraq?
What looking-glass world have Rick and his talented cronies walked into?
But not here, not if you listen to Stephen Harper, not if you are getting all warm and fuzzy about how meaningful it is to stand in line waiting for a double double at the Tim Horton’s shop in Kandahar, not if Christy Blanchard’s columns make you cry, and you want to make Rick Mercer and his buddies honourary soldiers.
It is really hard to see how the road to open debate, let alone peace, can be paved with military offensives and the song and laugh shows of Newfoundland talent, and there is something deeply disturbing about the unquestioning belief that it can.
By Courtesy (St. John's)
Friday, January 26, 2007
By Rick Mercer
For The Independent
Poor Noreen Golfman. She wrote in her Jan. 12 column (Blowing in the Wind … ) that her holidays were ruined by what she felt were incessant reports about Canadian men and women serving in Afghanistan. So upset was Noreen that, armed with her legendary pen, sharpened from years in the trenches at Memorial University’s women’s studies department, she went on the attack. I know I should just ignore the good professor and write her off as another bitter baby boom academic pining for what she fondly calls “the protest songs of yesteryear,” but I can’t help myself. A response is exactly what she wants; and so I include it here. After all, Newfoundlanders have seen this before: Noreen Golfman, sadly, is Margaret Wentewithout the wit.
I am so sorry to hear about the interruption to your holiday cheer. You say in your column that it all started when the CBC ran a story on some “poor sod” who got his legs blown off in Afghanistan.
The “poor sod” in question, Noreen, has a name and it is MCpl. Paul Franklin. He is a medic in the Forces and has been a buddy of mine for years. I had dinner with him last week in Edmonton, in fact. I will be sure to pass on to him that his lack of legs caused you some personal discomfort this Christmas.
Paul is a pretty amazing guy. You would like him I think. When I met him years ago he had two good legs and a brutally funny sense of humour. He was so funny that I was pretty sure he was a Newfoundlander. You probably know the type (or maybe you don’t) — salt of the earth, always smiling, and like so many health-care professionals, seemingly obsessed with helping others in need.
These days he spends his time training other health-care workers and learning how to walk again. That’s a pretty exhausting task for Paul … heading into rehabilitation he knew very well his chances of walking again were next to none, considering he’s a double amputee, missing both legs above the knee.
At the risk of ruining your day Noreen, I’m proud to report that for the last few months he has managed to walk his son to school almost every morning and it’s almost a kilometre from his house. Next month Paul hopes to travel to Washington where he claims he will learn how to run on something he calls “bionic flipper cheetah feet.” The legs may be gone but the sense of humour is still very much intact.
Forgive me Noreen for using Paul’s name so much, but seeing as you didn’t catch it when CBC ran the profile on his recovery I thought it might be nice if you perhaps bothered to remember it from here on in. This way, when you are pontificating about him at a dinner party, you no longer have to refer to him simply as the “poor sod,” but you can actually refer to him as Paul Franklin. You may prefer “poor sod” of course; it’s all a matter of how you look at things. You see a “poor sod” that ruined your Christmas and I see a truly inspiring guy. That’s why I am thrilled that the CBC saw fit to run a story on Paul and his wife Audra. I would go so far as to suggest that many people would find their story, their marriage and their charitable endeavours inspiring. Just as I am sure that many readers of The Independent are inspired by your suggestion that Paul’s story has no place on the public broadcaster.
Further on in your column you ask why more people aren’t questioning Canada’s role in Afghanistan. I understand this frustration. It’s a good question. Why should Canada honour its United Nations-sanctioned NATO commitments? Let’s have the discussion. I would welcome debate on the idea that Canada should simply ignore its international obligations and pull out of Afghanistan. By all means ask the questions Noreen, but surely such debates can occur without begrudging the families of injured soldiers too much airtime at Christmas?
Personally, I would have thought that as a professor of women’s studies you would be somewhat supportive of the notion of a NATO presence in Afghanistan. After all, it is the NATO force that is keeping the Taliban from power. In case you missed it Noreen, the Taliban was a regime that systematically de-peopled women to the point where they had no human rights whatsoever. This was a country where until very recently it was illegal for a child to fly a kite or for a little girl to receive any education.
|Afghan woman being executed by the Taliban in 2001 in Kabul on the main soccer field and the puff on the ground is the bullet leaving her skull and hitting the playing field.|
To put it in terms you might understand Noreen, rest assured the Taliban would frown on your attending this year’s opening night gala of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. In fact, as a woman, a professor, a writer and (one supposes) an advocate of the concept that women are people, they would probably want to kill you three or four times over. Thankfully that notion is moot in our cozy part of the world but were it ever come to pass I would suggest that you would be grateful if a “poor sod” like Paul Franklin happened along to risk his life to protect yours.
And then of course you seem to be somehow personally indignant that I would visit troops in Afghanistan over Christmas. You ask the question “When did the worm turn?” Well I hate to break it to you, but in my case this worm has been doing this for a long time now. It’s been a decade since I visited Canadian peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and this Christmas marked my third trip to Afghanistan. Why do I do it? Well I am not a soldier — that much is perfectly clear. I don’t have the discipline or the skills. But I am an entertainer and entertainers entertain. And occasionally, like most Canadians, I get to volunteer my professional time to causes that I find personally satisfying.
As a Newfoundlander this is very personal to me. On every one of these trips I meet Newfoundlanders who serve proudly in the Canadian Forces. Every day they do the hard work that we as a nation ask of them. They do this without complaint and they do it knowing that at every turn there are people like you, Noreen, suggesting that what they do is somehow undignified or misguided.
I am also curious Noreen why you refer to the head of the Canadian Forces, General Rick Hillier, as “Rick ‘MUN graduate’ Hillier.” I would suggest that if you wish to criticize General Hillier’s record of leadership or service to his country you should feel free. He is a big boy. However, when you dismiss him as “Rick ‘MUN Graduate’ Hillier” the message is loud and clear. Are you suggesting that because General Hillier received an education at Memorial he is somehow unqualified for high command? We are used to seeing this type of tactic in certain national papers — not The Independent.
You end by saying you personally cannot envision that peace can ever be paved with military offensives. May I suggest to you that in many instances in history peace has been achieved exactly that way.
The gates of Auschwitz were not opened with peace talks. Holland was not liberated by peacekeepers and fascism was not defeated with a deft pen. Time and time again men and women in uniform have laid down their lives in just causes and in an effort to free others from oppression.
It is unfortunate, Noreen, that in such instances people like yourself may have your sensitivities offended, especially during the holiday season, but perhaps that is a small price to pay. Best wishes for the remainder of 2007; may it be a year of peace and prosperity.
"The university's motto, Provehito in Altum (Launch forth into the deep), captures the spirit of the adventure of learning and urges students to extend the frontiers of knowledge. The Arms of Memorial University have as their central element a cross, a symbol of sacrifice. Its anchor-shaped ends signify the hope that springs from devotion to a good cause. The wavy bars allude to our maritime setting, and the three books signify our educational role. White and claret, derived from the Cross of St. George, are the colours of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment: red for courage and sacrifice, and white for purity. Gold is associated with nobility and generosity. The colours remind us that courage tempered with mercy may be enlisted in the service of noble causes." www.mun.ca
Many students and faculty do not agree with the idea that someone like Gen Hillier (ret) should be a Chancellor of an academic institution... I of course feel differently. It follows in the historical traditions of the University and its these traditions and memories that we must never forget.
When you have consensus and the lack of free speech that are typical of most higher education institutions as of late (one only has to have a pro Israeli position in a place like Ryerson to see the results) these very institutions fail in their mandates of promoting free speech and debate.