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War as an Institution

Given at the “War as an Institution” Forum with Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy at Innis Town Hall, Friday July 16, 2004. Co-sponsored by Family of the Heart. This forum included the Canadian premiere of Dr. Hoodbhoy’s new film “Crossing the Lines: Kashmir, Pakistan and India”


I have only a few minutes to mention a few issues, the theme for this evening being “War as an Institution.” For the next few moments, I wish to focus on this theme in the context of the Canadian situation. Here I would like to develop the notion that promotion and execution of violence or war is, in fact, embedded (to use a popular media term) in the very structure of our society. This structure has the quality of negating democracy in the country. Furthermore, this structure is designed so that promotion of war and waging of war around the world provides direct benefit to every single person in this country.

The conduct of modern warfare is clearly a technological issue which is appropriate tonight as we have this forum on the campus of the University of Toronto. It is here in the classrooms of the departments of physics, chemistry, engineering etc. that the “Minds that Matter” in this country are trained so that they can contribute in research, development and manufacturing activities in business corporations such as General Dynamics Canada, Lockheed Canada, CAE Electronics, Bombardier, and General Motors. These entities are the top of a very large list of military contractors which develop and supply the vast array of weapons and weapons components to the Canadian military establishment and, in a massive way, to the US military.

Indeed, as many of you know, Canada is listed as 46th largest military contractor for the US through these entities. These contracts are all chanelled through a Federal agency, which you and I support, called the Canadian Commercial Corporation. This agency has as its mandate the task of streamlining access to foreign contracts. Sixty per cent of those contracts happen to be military contracts. If you go to the CCC web site you will see a rather significant icon which shows one how to benefit from the military expertise in this agency. Thus, the Canadian Government, which is supposedly “us” in a democratic society, actively promotes these war industries around the world. In addition, the high risk research and development side of some of these war industries are further financed through a Canadian Federal program called Technology Partnerships Canada, which had the previous name of the Defence Industry Productivity Program. This latter program has, among its features, the interesting quality of having the Canadian population take the risk for research and development activities while directing the profits to the private corporations, a phenomenon known as “Socialism for the Rich.”

However, the creation of these Federal programs has another important purpose in that it negates the democratic system which some believe exists in this country. Take the case of the latest invasion of Iraq, for example. The semi-honourable former Prime Minister Jean Chretien stated that Canada would not join the coalition of the willing; that we would not stand bravely shoulder-to-shoulder with such military giants as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Tonga, Palau, Micronesia and Mongolia. However, as many of you know, Canadian military personnel were in fact with US forces in Iraq, were involved in the planning of the war at McDill Air Force Base in Florida, provided military transport planes for use by the US, coordinated air battles in aircraft known as AWACS, and had three Canadian war ships in the gulf region as part of a battle fleet that was launching attacks against the people of Iraq. However, through our wonderful Federal agencies, we played a much larger role in that Canadian enterprises were the largest foreign suppliers of military equipment to the US for its war against the Iraqi people, a detail that the US Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci had to point out since the press in this country couldn’t seem to find the time or space to report the information before Mr. Cellucci brought it up.

So, the official illusion exists that we were somehow uninvolved in this illegal assault when in fact we played a fundamental role in its planning and execution. This has the effect of negating any democracy that might exist in this country. Specifically, despite the objection of the majority of people in this country to the illegal war on Iraq, we have structured our society such that any democratic decision to act peacefully is completely overridden through public and private institutions which we continue to fund and support and that make massive profits in the preparation and waging of war.

It is not surpising that this situation exists since the Canadian population also benefits directly from any of the activities used to plan and wage war. Specifically, as pointed out recently by Richard Sanders of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, the Canadian population has a significant stake in the success of and profits generated by the military-academicindustrial complex. Here, I refer specifically to the Canadian Pension Plan, which is the principal old age pension for most Canadians. This huge fund has 683 million dollars invested in 120 foreign military industries-88 per cent of those in the US including Ratheyon, Lockheed (the largest military contractor in the world), Boeing, and General Dynamics. When one also considers military investments in Canadian military corporations, this amounts to 2.5 billion dollars in these war-making companies. Indeed, of the top 20 military contractors in the world, Pension Plan invests in 15 of them.

Thus, every time there is a war, we have structured this country so that we all benefit. Regardless of whether the Canadian population articulates its opposition to war and in spite of the illusion that we are somehow a peace-keeping nation, we have a long term stake in the profitable business of war. Indeed, we live with the fundamental contradiction that we have constructed a system in which “security” in our old age depends on us waging more and more wars on a planet packed with weapons sufficient to annihilate all of us at any time.

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