Saturday, 21 June 2008

Friendly Fire

I can only imagine how thrilled were our thick clutch of autophobes to watch Canadian soil puddled by John McCain's spew of platitudinous drivel at the pretentiously named Economic Club of Canada.

Canada-hating quasimodos never feel more alive than when some U.S. celebrity or politician, gliding northwards upon a prestige conferred by the infallible sagacity and impeccable taste of American trailer-parks, bowling-alleys and dumb-blonde soccer moms, is kind enough to provide Canada with a reason to exist, if only for a day, by stopping by to tell us what to think before revelling in the deafening applause of the millions of Canadians who seem convinced that members of the inveterately corrupt leadership class of a nation fully engaged in the process of failing on every significant quality-of-life level and taking a chainsaw to its own economy have anything of even purely rhetorical value to offer anyone.

To be fair, McCain, though speaking (as always) as if he'd just awakened from an eighteen-year coma, did try to break up his deadly dull oration with some quaint comic relief: he opined that "[Canada and the U.S.] are...both Arctic nations" without adding that the Arctic portion of America could fit comfortably into Saskatchewan.

Naturally, he felt compelled to mumble the usual American nonsense about the sanctity of open trade. He is reported to have said that Canada and the United States have a "shared destiny" in expanding free trade. I wonder if that "expansion" would include bringing down the massive walls of protection behind which U.S. agri-business cowers against the devastating competition which developing nations would otherwise deliver. I wonder, moreover, if McCain expects to be a Congressional champion of the kind of expansion that would give our lumber exports unrestricted access to the U.S. market, thus imposing upon American lumber producers the kind of "discipline" of which Americans are so fond when it can be used to justify the U.S.-driven disembowelment of other nations' economies. In short, I wonder if McCain really thinks he can do anything to counter the global perception that America's actual commitment to free trade suffers from perpetually undescended testicles.

McCain continued with the laughable observation that "the best American statesmen have always understood that Canada is not some adjunct to America". God knows which "statesmen" need be included in the category McCain invokes (most historians would include Bill Clinton), but, surely, each of its members most definitely has considered Canada to be "some adjunct to America", as such is the orthodox American view, codified by the mass American espousal of Manifest Destiny and coddled by our own craven indigenous corporate class and the Vichyite yeomen warders of Fortress America who pollute our politics and our media.

McCain's words are the bored, reflexive "Yeah, yeah, I know you people think you're "sovereign" and all" that American oligarchs and plutocrats always deliver with that uniquely American mix of bumptious self-satisfaction and unctuous condescension. It's as if a Canadian were to feel duty-bound to assure an American audience that the U.S. is more than just an amateurish outgrowth of the British imperial enterprise or more than just a dilapidated lazar house avoiding foreclosure only through the largesse of Chinese banks.

McCain can blow our dearly-won and fragile independence a creepy, thin-lipped kiss if he wants, but it reminds me uncomfortably of an abusive husband pathetically trying to woo back his wife as she lunges for the door by whining, "but haven't we had our good days, too?".

In an act that will do nothing to counter allegations of creeping senility, McCain oozed that "we in America have not forgotten your kindness" in the days following 9/11, forgetting that America immediately forgot our kindness (or, more accurately, never noticed it) and traded in slanderous and hysterically improbable accusations of a "Canadian connection" to the 9/11 plot and later greeted our decision to recuse ourselves from the disastrous Iraq invasion with veiled threats to shut down the border (for "security" reasons, of course) and cripple our economy.

Let's be clear: America's model of cross-border friendship is now what it always has been: simply imagine a friend called "Big Tony" who generously gives you ten thousand dollars and comes by your house a week later demanding the principal plus 80% interest, greeting your incredulity with the sweetly delivered observation that you have a nice family and that it would be a shame if anything unpleasant happened to it.

McCain seems to believe that part of our two nations' "shared destiny" is "maintaining security". This makes sense only if one forgets that America is Canada's prime national-security liability, for there is no other way to describe a nation that has provided the inspiration and organisational infrastructure for the most violent sectors of our own organised crime, that sends thousands of illegal firearms across the border, and that harbours millions of entirely undocumented illegal aliens whose movements are impossible to monitor.

Those who need to be reminded of America's menace to Canadian peace and order are directed to this news item announcing that the Toronto chapter of MS-13, a violent South American gang, has recently been smashed. Predictably, its leadership elements are American migrants who've been using the States as a base of operations. Just as predictably, we have yet to see this incident inspire imprecations against America's corrosive influence upon our nation from those who would not have hesitated to hurl invective at "Islamism" if the gang had been a bunch of jihadist second-generation Arabs led by illegally immigrated Saudis.

The Right's silence in this case and so many others reminds us of how eager they are to denounce the allegedly "evil" (and actually marginal) effects of "alien" cultures when it affords them occasions to spit on people with dark skin, strange headresses and funny accents and how delighted they are to watch our society riven by degenerating, corrosive Americanisms. The relish with which they chase phantom dangers and enable (and often celebrate) real ones is merely one of the many symptoms of the intellectual and moral worthlessness of Canada's Right.

Today, Canadian "Conservatism" is masochism delivered by sadists--the political equivalent of being abducted and forcibly confined by watersport enthusiasts. As people who want to see their nation wiped off the map, the Canadian Right could be compared to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, except that they perfect that clown's insanity by desiring the annihilation of not another nation but their own, thus illustrating a crucial axiom: America's friends are rarely morally different from her enemies.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Ghost of an Iggy Present

Sure. Go ahead. You just try to insulate yourself against the cortex-impaling, amygdalae-corroding tedium of Canadian politics. Run all the way to London, if you like. Your flight will be futile.

For there, in the Baroque/Rococo wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum, you will literally bump into Michael Ignatieff, and you will enjoy the immediate and entirely unbidden reflection that his constituents have little hope of ever meeting the man unless they share his enthusiasm for early Eighteenth-Century Meissen and are fiscally equipped to indulge it.

As you attempt vainly to dispel the effulgent aura of Iggy's presence, it will strike you that the House has almost certainly risen to its Summer recess, thus bringing the axe mercifully down upon yet another wholly worthless session.

You will not care. You will merely be tempted to ask the Iggster what Bob Rae is really like. You will resist, contain yourself, and move placidly on.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Brussels Spout

It is hard not to assume that one "knows" the great European cities even before actually visiting them, as even the most modestly educated Canadian encounters every significant European capital in his literary travels (both forced and unforced) by the time he leaves high-school.

Brussels might have remained an entirely "unimagined" entity for me had I not been an adolescent devotee of Belgian Symbolism (a taste developed through a love of the French Symbolistes and of Emile Nelligan). Naturally, reality must always overbound the frame of one's imagination, but, although today's Brussels in certainly not that of Rodenbach and Verhaeren, it has retained the quiet, restrained melancholy that I expected and that I find rather pleasing--civilised, I would say--as I have always considered melancholy (which is nothing more than an informed acknowledgment of human frailty) to be an emotional concomitant of a civilised conservatism.

I've been here for only a few days. One's initial encounter with a foreign culture always breeds superficial reactions, and I hope to get past my Ugly Canadianisms quickly. For the time being, though, they are legion. To wit, a minute sampling:

1) The Bruxellois are very much not "wired", rather odd for people aspiring to be (in fact feel themselves already to be) the Headquarters of Europe. Good luck finding places offering Wi-Fi access in the downtown core. Even Internet cafés are hopeless in this regard. Oddly, from where I'm staying, a scant few metro stops from downtown, I can detect only two wireless connections, both secured and both with ID codes beginning with "CIA". Hmm.

My host tells me that Europeans suspect the obvious, that the U.S. uses American "lobbyists" and diplomatic staff as spies, presumably under the overall direction of the CIA. On one hand, I think it would be amusing to be able to read that wireless traffic; on the other, I fear much of it would be deadly tedious. In any event, let's hope the CIA learned something from the 9/11 Commission and employs people who can actually translate whatever intercepts EU bureaucrats are providing them.

2) My God, but these people love their dogs. Ownership of a brace of toy terriers seems to be required by municipal ordinance. One cannot sit at an outdoor cafe without being deafened by the yapping of these tiny creatures as their owners march them by, often with no other apparent intention but to show them off--as if they were luxury cars. In Canada, walking the dog is a functional necessity; here, it's a liturgy.

3) My first significant "Note to Sir Francis" had to do with coffee: "Um, no. You cannot order your coffee with milk. There's no such thing as a "double-double" here. If you want a coffee with milk, you order a coffee that is made with milk--like café au lait or cappuccino--you barbaric North American oaf".

Well, I'm just finishing up a brief trip to London, where I've managed to type this post using a very fragile Wi-Fi connection (which I was deliriously happy to find, fragility and all!). Check-out time is only ten minutes away, so I'll need to leg it out sharpish and post again whenever I'm able--likely in a couple of days.

By the way, I've neither time nor inclination to keep abreast of the Canadian news. If something earth-shattering occurs, I hope someone will post a comment to inform me. Meanwhile, I shall just assume that Stephen Harper is still a rectacephalic goon, that Stephane Dion is still an anorchid Pantaloon, etc. About right?

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Blogging From Brussels

So, I never got around to mentioning that I had arranged to sojourn in Brussels (yes, Brussels) from the 12th to the 26th of June. Strangely, that factoid just never emerged organically from within discussions of the Bernier fiasco and the myriad other "Conservative" disasters about which I`ve recently (reluctantly) been concerning myself. I eagerly took the opportunity to stay with a dear friend who works for the EU Commission, and I`m enjoying this ancient city immensely, or enjoying, at least, what I can discern of it through the heavy mist of jet-lag that stilll befogs my consciounsness (we're talking about a six-hour differential here).

I'm a fairly provincial creature, who can boast of only one previous visit to Europe (two, if one is silly enough to count Saint-Pierre et Miquelon!), so I am much more vulnerable to the destabilising effects of "foreignness" than many among my cosmopolitan, jet-setting readership. Still, if my delicate Canadian sensibilities are to be destabilised by foreigness, let it be in Brussels rather than in, say, Calgary.

Sir Francis regrets to say that Brussels seems devoid of unsecured Wi-Fi connections, rendering the lap-top he lugged across the pond utterly useless. Such despatches from the land of Euroweenie surrender-monkeys as appear here will issue from whichever Internet café offers the least extortionate rates.

Until next time, then, rest assured that I shall render unto our proud Dominion dignified embassy here (rather grossly wasting my time thereby, really, as I've already been taken for a Yank and expect to be so taken fairly regularly).

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Lookin' For Some New Values*

* With apologies to Iggy Pop.

So, a House of Representatives committee report indicates that anti-Americanism is at "record levels". Apparently, the committee members agree that this lamentable situation flows primarily from global horror over the Iraq war and "Washington's perceived hypocrisy". I wonder how much money American taxpayers had to fork over to hear their legislators propound a fact easily deducible from even a cursory reading of the news.

Fortunately, we hear, the committee believes that the world still admires American "values", although the committee fails to elaborate upon what those values are. I suppose we're supposed to just know.

Elsewhere, we read that a Marine was caught on video hurling a dog off a cliff while his mates egg him on and chuckle, that the chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (currently presiding over an obscenity case) has been caught posting hard-core pornography (including scenes of bestiality) on his family's Website, and that a California high-school has done Thomas Paine proud by banning its newspaper indefinitely after its editors ran a photo of a burning American flag.

Values? What "values"?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The "New Siftonism": Conspiracy Theorising on Bill C-50*

* This post is a slightly modified version of a comment I left at Dr. Dawg's, in the thread of his post deploring the craven Liberal capitulation before Harper's new immigration bill, C-50. I thought my own readership might enjoy reading it (given how much I enjoyed writing it!).

Just an historical note: Clifford Sifton was Wilfrid Laurier's Minister of the Interior and is famous for having spurred the waves of European immigration that populated the Canadian West in the early 1900's.

Suspicion of "Conservative" motives concerning Bill C-50 began with its introduction. The responsible minister, Diane Finley, must take credit for at least some of this suspicion, as her public justifications for the bill have underlined the desirability of reducing the immigration caseload (i.e. reducing immigration) and of giving the minister the unilateral power to deploy quotas and other preferential criteria in the selection process. Overall, the thrust of the bill seems designed to make immigration more functional in the purely econometric sense.

Frankly, such a move would be at least somewhat consistent with traditional Canadian immigration policy, which, at least since the days of Clifford Sifton's "hardy peasants in sheepskin coats", has treated immigration as an economic question, not a humanitarian one (which has conventionally been exclusively the province of our refugee policy).

Of course, slipping backwards into an avowedly racist immigration policy would likely be welcomed by some in the CPC, but I think the bill is motivated by considerations that are more politically selfish than they are racist. I would be willing to wager that the CPC is trying to give itself enough flexibility to enhance the inflow of emigrant groups from the former Soviet Block/Warsaw Pact while strangling or drastically reducing emigration from the more traditional sources.

"Conservative" operatives are clearly eager to destroy what they see as the Liberal Party's grip on the "immigrant vote" (an allegiance which is often sustained through two or more generations). Of course, the CPC could simply attempt to replace the LPC in the hearts of voters whom the Liberals have already cultivated, but importing a new, large and powerful immigrant class composed of people who are already responsive to the CPC's world-view would be a brilliant bit of lateral thinking (and the CPC is chock-full of strategically-oriented policy wonks, Stephen Harper not least among them).

Among the world's impoverished diaspora, Central and Eastern Europeans are the most naturally libertarian: they distrust all collectivities. Yes, Africans, Caribbeans, Chinese, and Arabs may be, as a rule, deeply distrustful of the state because of nightmarish experiences with state-sponsored violence and corruption, but their identities are often driven by other collective ties (e.g. of clan, tribe, ethnicity, or large extended family); this fact means that they are often willing and eager to offer allegiance to the state when it shows itself to be benign and that they do not always have the Randian individualist passion that the CPC values.

Central and Eastern Europeans, though, distrust all communities; communism destroyed not just faith in the state and its institutions but faith in the family and friendship also (in fact, it largely destroyed the very experience of family and friendship). The motto by which life is lived by Ukrainians, Romanians, Poles and Bulgarians is "Trust No One". My own experience with recently-arrived Central and Eastern Europeans (which is fairly extensive, as the University of Ottawa boasts a huge body of international students) suggests that they have a burning entrepreneurial drive, an aggressive individualism and an almost desperate need to achieve (on every plane--financial, intellectual, and cultural). Their vehement anti-socialism often shows itself as an enthusiastic pro-Americanism which, while not quite as uncritical as Harper's, is much closer to it than the Canadian average.

Ultimately, the Mitteleuropean diaspora represents an ideal target group for the CPC, and Harper would be insane not to do everything he could to enhance its currently modest Canadian presence. It would not change the electoral dynamics in the short term, but its long-term effect could be to institutionalise those CPC values which are yet far from being in the Canadian mainstream.

Monday, 9 June 2008

And Now, A Celebrity Endorsement...

Actor Rupert Everett has undoubtedly burned a few bridges by uttering them, but his views on the last two Masters of the Universe seem pinched from my last post (is reading "Dred Tory" a guilty pleasure among a certain Hollywood clique?).

He complains that "War-On-Terror" era Britons have gotten soft:

The whole point of being in the Army is wanting to get killed, wanting to test yourself to the limits. Now you have to fly 15,000 feet above the war zone to avoid getting hit.
He has even harsher words for the United States:

I'm totally off the States now. The reaction to 9/11 and then George Bush - really, they've got very blobby as a nation. Now they are whiny victims whose language is entirely taken from two TV shows - "Friends" and "Sex And The City" - and there's nothing sexy about them any more. And that kind of semi-blindness about the rest of the world, which was attractive when America was exciting, is really unattractive now.
That "Sex And the City" dig was quite apt. Why didn't I think of that...?

Friday, 6 June 2008

"Yes, We Hate Your Freedoms, But Please Don't Take It Personally"

Recent proceedings on other blogs (as well as my own flippant bon mot in the last post) led me to undertake a probing meditation upon the meme that has become the classic formulation of passive-aggressive post-9/11 American exceptionalism: "They hate us for our freedoms".

It strikes me that this cry of wounded narcissism is not as facile as it sounds. In fact, the proposition is largely true, but not in the way its proposers intend. The authentic meaning of the truism can be easily discerned if one shines it through the prism of America's refusal to pay the price of empire, or to even acknowledge that it is an empire.

Empires have always self-mythologised as being the embodiments of transcendent Good. An empire will always interpret an attack as an attack against the Goodness it claims to crystallise rather than against the violent means it employs to secure its power. The fundamental fallacy here is to assume that an empire's domestic good is consistent with everybody else's good--that an empire's "freedoms" are guarantors of the freedoms of its subject peoples. Emperors (as all citizens of democratic empires must be called) too often fail to understand that one can hate the nature of imperial "freedom" without hating freedom as such.

Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and the rest of the mercantile and slave-owning elite who fomented and led the American Revolution were hard pressed to answer the Tory critique that they simply hated British freedom. That ornery conservative Samuel Johnson famously painted them as enemies of British liberty, saying, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?".

Colonial intellectuals maintained that they were fighting on behalf of the same freedom the British claimed to represent, that much of the freedom and prosperity Britons enjoyed was extracted from violence and injustice perpetrated on a colonial people who insisted on enjoying a freedom that was fully their own, liberated from the arbitrary administrative decisions of an arrogant, remote, irresponsible power. Their argument was simple: they loved freedom; they hated British freedom.

I am sure that many anti-Americans in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere hate freedom as such (as do many Americans, by the way), but hating specifically American freedom is far easier; in fact, it is a natural, perhaps inevitable, consequence of the way America has husbanded its security and prosperity over the last five decades.

What should we call someone who hates America's routine assassination of democrats and subsequent installation of despots? Does he hate freedom if he hates that particular American execution of freedom? What about someone who hates that America happily and proudly propped up thugs like Batista, Duvalier, and Somoza? What about someone who refuses to jubilate over American subsidization of such wretched, oppressive sinkholes as Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? What do we say of someone who sees no reason to break out in dithyrambic joy over America's shabby pacts of convenience with Islamic jihadists and Mesopotamian sociopaths? Does he hate freedom, or does he hate America's bastardization of it?

America will have done itself immeasurable good if it should ever advance far enough past its defensive woundedness to understand that even freedom-loving people can hate America's freedoms, for reasons that have nothing to do with America per se and everything to do with an elementary truth (one which Americans once held close to their hearts): imperialism is never a victimless crime.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

From the "Couldn't Make This Stuff Up, And Wouldn't Want To" File

What do you think would happen if some marginal American crank (say, Nixonite and former Republican storm-trooper Pat Buchanan) objected to an advertisement featuring someone wearing a yarmulke, arguing that the headwear was symbolic of the "terrorism" being carried out by Israelis in the Occupied Territories? Doubtless, the fool would be ignored and left to stew without being given even the satisfaction of a significant public rebuke; certainly, he could not hope for the slightest gesture in acquiescence to his delusions.

Now, what would happen if a marginal American right-wing bobble-headed "pundit" objected to an ad featuring an actress wearing something that could be taken for a kaffiyeh, a traditional Arab scarf, in the belief that the ad promotes "murderous Palestinian jihad"? I thought I knew the answer to that question. Sadly, I did not--which should come to me as no surprise by now.

Indeed, neo-con gargoyle Michelle Malkin seems to have single-handedly frightened Dunkin' Donuts into pulling an ad that showed a woman wearing the offending headgear around her neck (thus criminally wasting an opportunity to ask the cloth why it hates America's freedoms). The corporation later released a statement insisting that "absolutely no symbolism was intended" and lamenting that "the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention, to promote our iced coffee"--a fascinating response, as Dunkin' Donuts implicitly acknowledges the legitimacy of Malkin's interpretation and simply denies responsibility for it (i.e. "we understand how people could immediately and instinctively associate Arabs with terrorism, and we certainly did not intend to trigger that association. Our bad. We just wanted to unload some bloody coffee!").

What's astonishing, of course, is that the kaffiyeh is symbolic only of Arabism; its terrorist aura is an hysterical red herring projected onto it by nativist paranoia. Thus, from the relative lack of critical public response to this lamentable event, we must conclude that Americans find reasonable the notion that Arabs are reprehensible in themselves and as such and that their relegation to pariah status and their total erasure from American public spaces are desirable initiatives. These attitudes are crucial prerequisites for strategies of cultural "cleansing", not only for small ones like Malkin's petty philistinism, but for large, systematic ones, such as Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws. While very different in scope and texture, both kinds are odious.

Incidentally, one must be surprised to see an advertisement come under ideological attack. Americans have always applied rather loose ethical standards to marketing, one of the few Western professions to which we grant the right of ritualised perjury. Americans have always believed that, in the sacred project of selling stuff, all must be permitted; the American marketer is the Nietzschean Overman, through whose aloof disregard for the inner restraints that domesticate the quotidian lives of Mass Man America fulfills her core, pelf-making mission. That ads are now being dragged from the giddy heights of moral transcendence and made to satisfy the same xenophobic criteria Americans apply to the more obviously discursive elements of their pop culture speaks to the deepening virulence of America's Islamophobic contagion.

It is one thing for small, vulnerable entities to betray their consciences and allow themselves to be intimidated into shameful acts by something more powerful, something fully capable of devastating retaliation. Though such compromises are psychologically understandable, it pleases many of us to describe as "cowardice" the many acts of shabby enabling and collaboration that defaced Germany and its occupied satellites in the face of a brutal fascist ascendancy during the '30's and '40's.

It is quite another thing for a massive, wealthy corporation to stoop to nativist cretinism at the behest of a single carping charlatan who hasn't the wherewithal to do one iota of significant damage to its profitability. Such an immediate and craven moral collapse suggests that Dunkin' Donuts did not need to be threatened but was, in fact, quite happy to oblige. It's a special kind of cowardice that folds before a credible threat is uttered.

To measure accurately America's current cultural temperature, we need to understand that, while they consider it outrageous to display something Arabic, it is perfectly acceptable to display the Confederate flag (it is, in fact, necessary in those southern states which retain it as part of their official state emblems). In today's U.S.A., it is less offensive to honour a legacy of human bondage and savage racial oppression than to profess the plain fact that Arabs are not necessarily unspeakable vermin. This is the kind of "generous, liberal internationalism" our libertarian-continentalist carnies are barking about whenever they contrast America's alleged broad-mindedness to our "petty, nationalist parochialism". When I hear of a woman being drummed off Canadian airwaves for daring to look like someone whose ancestors were not among the crew of Jacques Cartier's Grande Ermine, I'll start to listen to pro-American special pleading with somewhat abated contempt.

In other news, some American grunts in Iraq seem to be doing a little missionary work on the side, using coins to spread to Gospel message (in further confirmation that Americans simply cannot separate religion from money).

Now, I can understand how the GI's might be getting a tad overconfident and bored--having bribed many Sunni tribes into a loyalty of convenience and enjoyed more than six months' worth of a Shiite cease-fire--but, really, must they behave like the "crusaders" Bin Laden says they are?

As violence in Iraq declines, the U.S. military is finally making the first tentative steps towards living up to their own propaganda. Let's hope they soon stop living up to Al-Qaeda's.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Clusters' Last Stand

As eager as ever to deepen the irony of its self-ratified claim to a global monopoly of moral authority, the United States has refused to sign a U.N. treaty banning the use of cluster bombs, joining a wretched rogues' gallery of co-refuseniks (including Russia, China, and Pakistan) in the process.

Cluster bombs are particularly nasty pieces of ordnance, as each bomb releases a host of smaller bomblets designed to spread over a wide area and thus maximise anti-personnel casualties. Many of those bomblets fail to explode on impact and thus become disasters waiting to happen: civilians routinely fall victim to these lethal objects, and children have been known to pick up the brightly painted orbs and play with them until they detonate. It is hard to discern a value to these bombs (in the strictly tactical sense) that could redeem the unacceptable threat they pose to non-combatants. Disgracefully, American officials have apparently found a way to dismiss the well-documented occurrences of bomb-related child deaths as negligible "collateral damage".

As a laughable aside, we're told not to fret, as the U.S. is hard at work formulating a purely voluntary, non-binding "best-practice" accord with its fellow cluster-bomb enthusiasts, as the rest of the world wonders whether anything could be more grotesquely risible than the spectacle of a network composed mostly of brutal dictatorships and failed states ranking among the world's most avid users and manufacturers of cluster-bombs arrogating to itself the sole right to regulate their employment.

America's failure of nerve is the latest of a long series of anti-multilateral retreats. Most notoriously, the U.S. ignored the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines (along with China and Russia, as always), perhaps feeling that a Canuck "pinko" like Lloyd Axworthy simply didn't know how to recognise a nifty little anti-personnel device when he saw one. In fact, landmines are an appalling scourge upon civilians in times of war and of peace, blowing limbs and innocent lives away even years after the end of hostilities; in Vietnam, undetected mines and other ordnance have taken 40,000 lives since 1975 and remain a serious threat throughout the countryside.

Anti-personnel landmines, like flamethrowers, are grotesque anachronisms, and their disappearance would require few changes (if any) to the way infantry field-craft is practiced in today's low-intensity conflicts. Landmines are big business, though, especially for the United States, one of the world's largest landmine and cluster-bomb manufacturers.

American refusal to participate in these bans has nothing to do with concerns over U.S. "sovereignty" or the integrity of its tactical and strategic arsenal. It has everything to do with wanting to keep a cash cow at the feeding trough, even at the cost of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of pointless deaths and maimings. As always, the U.S. calibrates the worth of a humanitarian initiative according to its impact on the bottom line: "sure, some brown and yellow people may be disembowlled and blown apart needlessly, but there are plenty more where they came from; moreover, if they didn't blow up, they would probably starve or die of disease anyway; one simply cannot allow sentimental "do-gooder" interventionism to get in the way of the proper functioning of the world's engine of prosperity; weapons of mass destruction are our prime concern (especially their fictional, Iraqi embodiments); we just haven't the resources to deal with weapons that are actually killing people and their children".

We are in the habit, in this vapid "GWOT" era, of applying the term "cowardice" only to acts of flagrant terrorism committed by people with funny names. According to this acceptation, the 9/11 hijackers were cowards, as are suicide bombers and others who target civilians in the belief that no human creature deserves absolute protection from political violence.

If it be cowardice to kill civilians while also putting oneself at immediate and certain risk of death, what should we call the act of fattening one's investment portfolio through the production and sale of child-killing ordnance whose habit of indiscriminately shredding civilian bodies, though fully known to you, is the last thing you worry about during your exertions on the squash court or your stroke on the par-five?

I think "cowardice" would serve quite well, preceded by the appropriate adjectives--like "unutterable" and "vile".