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CALGARY, Alta. Feb. 26, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Discussion regarding the Canadian military has renewed as the Trudeau government charts a course in foreign and defence policy, and what to do about military expenditures.
The comments of Matthew Fisher and Matt Gurney of the National Post are worth considering, as they hint at something that might be spelled out further.
[popup url=”http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/matthew-fisher-lessons-on-national-defence-from-down-under” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]Fisher [/popup]offered some “Lessons on national defence from Down Under,” stating that in a country with much in common with Canada, one finds “an all-party consensus that robustly defending Australia is a top-level national interest.” This consensus, Fisher argues, is manifest in decisions on strategy, expenditures and procurement, leading him to suggest, “a common vision on security supersedes everything.”
This is in stark contrast to Canada, where the varying parties stake opposing positions and successive governments have, erroneously, treated national security policy as though it was a swift ship that can rapidly change course. There is neither consensus nor robustness on the matter in Canadian politics, and in some quarters national defence takes a secondary position below, say, environmental policy.
[popup url=”http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/matt-gurney-australia-is-a-grown-up-country-we-arent” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]Gurney[/popup] picked up on his colleague’s commentary, concluding that in light of the differences on defence, “Australia is a grown-up country. Canada, sadly, isn’t.” He argued the problem is “more public than political.” In short, the Canadian public has “low literacy on military matters,” since most Canadians rarely see the military, know little of its history, or understand the role it plays.
Fisher and Gurney, among others, remind us that Canada’s proximity to the United States, with the latter’s comparatively tremendous defence spending, gives Canadians a sense of comfort about the world. We presume our strong American neighbours will come to our defense should we find ourselves in the midst of crisis or attack.
This presumption rests in part on the fact that we consider the Americans an unquestionable ally and friend. Nevertheless, we often question the policies and actions of our defenders – sometimes without the tact and courtesy friendship requires.
To the extent that Canadians take friendship for granted at times, our typical stance on enemies is cause for concern. The very idea – the category – of the enemy is abhorrent to most Canadians, for it stands athwart our ideals of inclusivity, openness and peacefulness. But that is precisely what defines an enemy: the other that threatens our ideals. Canadians hate the idea of the enemy more than they do real enemies.
The point here is by no means to induce hatred, but to acknowledge the existence of enemies and to recognize them as they emerge. One no more chooses enemies than one may always find precise “root causes” for their existence.
Contrary to what many Canadians – politicians included – may believe, enemies are not simply friends-in-waiting; individuals, peoples or countries towards whom we have not yet been sufficiently friendly. Nor are enemies merely opponents or competitors. Rather, the enemy poses an existential danger – the enemy is one who wishes to destroy you and your people.
Arguments abound proclaiming enmity, hostility and war are on the decline, and that the progress is bringing greater peace in the world. Such proposals are as old as the Enlightenment, whether they follow Benjamin Constant, who argued that trade and economic competition is replacing war and conquest, or Auguste Comte, who held that humanity is evolving from an age of theology and militarism to one of science and industrialism.
All such claims fail to examine the deeper truths of human history, and the wisdom regarding human nature, for whatever novelty emerges, the past recurs – the existence of enemies is inescapable.
As Machiavelli observed in his profound study of human nature and history, [popup url=”http://amzn.to/1n1kY0K” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]Discourses on Livy[/popup], “anyone wishing to see what is to be must consider what has been: all the things of this world in every era have their counterparts in ancient times . . . since these actions are carried out by men who have and have always had the same passions, which, of necessity, must give rise to the same results.”
As we become less versed in our own military history and less knowledgeable about human history more broadly – from antiquity to present day – we lose the proper context for contemporary events and are unable to take the long view.
Obscuring the past, we are tempted into thinking things have fundamentally changed and that our safety is assured. Denying the perpetual possibility of enemies in the world against whom we ought to protect ourselves, we are deceived and leave ourselves vulnerable to potential threats.
Troy Media Columnist Trevor Shelley completed his PhD in political science at Louisiana State University. His book, “Liberalism and Globalization,” will be published in 2016 with St. Augustine Press. Trevor is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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