Earlier today I suffered the weird experience of being drawn into the narrative drama of a newspaper article. The article was about Canadian military action against the Islamic State, and the pathos of Canada’s leaders struck me as viscerally believable. Citing the horrors of the Islamic State, one leader was quoted saying something like – “it’s not even about politics, it’s about humanitarian aid.” Humanitarian war was offered, and like a sap I fell for it. Only for an instant, and as I set the newspaper down I wondered how a visceral horror could so instantly be transformed into a full-fledged political agenda – one I could accept so easily and unquestioningly. The usual response to growing stupidity is to say that one is getting older and becoming a realist. That won’t cut the mustard with me, but I will say that my mind is weaker than I’d like it to be.
The lesson, that we should all be learning, is that war is war. Humanitarian war is not a thing. If our nation goes to war this means we are sending our young men and women to kill people and to be killed. This is a serious matter, and if the leadership of this country is preparing to send young people into the line of fire they need to be very clear about what they are doing. To say that war is not political is to grossly misrepresent what is going on. War, as the saying goes, is politics by other means. To represent it as heroism is dishonest and manipulative. If Canada is going to war, then we should go to war with clear objectives and an exit strategy. Steps need to be taken with the goal of long-term stability in the region. Finally, beyond the military objectives, we need to be damned sure that we understand that war is about killing people. That killing is hard, and should be hard. Even when we think it may be necessary, we should never think that it is right.