Sunday, February 03, 2008


Jack Granatstein is a much admired historian, holds a multitude of degrees and honors, and has authored or co-authored more than sixty books. His writings have earned him a host of medals and prizes. He is a Professor of History and a true intellectual heavyweight. He has served his country in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has been an ardent believer in One Canada with a strong central government.

His specialty is Canadian military history. He has some very strong views on the subject, which he airs passionately, and frequently in speeches, television appearances and publications of all kinds. He beats the drum for a stronger Canadian military capability.

He believes that for the past forty years Canada has been derelict in its duty to properly arm itself or fully and honorably participate in its defence alliances. Thus, he has been highly critical of what he considers as weak-kneed Canadian Federal Governments of recent years. Recently, he has become a loud cheerleader for Stephen Harper, rightly recognizing that Harper's blood-thirsty streak is consistent with Granatstein’s own macho defence policy positions.

But despite the bloody nature of his subject and his passionate support for tanks, grenades, automatic rifles and other instruments of death, Granatstein has the demeanor and delivery of an unthreatening, avuncular uncle. Listening to Granatstein speak for me is like listening to a kindly grandpa reading Hans Christian Andersen to the little ones as he lulls them to sleep.

Be that as it may, Uncle Jack can get it wrong. Very wrong, as he did in his National Post column of February 2nd, 'Mike Pearson's true heir: Stephen Harper':

Granatstein’s subject was his high opinion of the Manley report on Afghanistan. Manley, he said with enthusiastic approval, made it clear that Canada’s mission in Kandahar upheld the UN Charter. It was Pearson’s Charter, he said, and it represented liberal and Liberal values.

Granatstein reminded us of the brilliant career of former Liberal Prime Minister Lester 'Mike' Pearson. For a Grit like myself who had great admiration for Pearson and was lucky enough to have met him several times, I enjoyed the brief biographical review. Granatstein reminded us of Pearson’s Great War experience, his sparkling career as a Canadian diplomat dealing with our allies during the Second World War, and his support and promotion of Collective Security as advanced in the formation of the UN, and later NATO and NORAD.

He spoke with approval of Canada’s post-war contribution to the collective security of post-war Europe and our generous financial contribution at the time (7% of the GNP) to defence spending. Granatstein also praised Canada’s military contribution to the UN forces in the Korean War and Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize efforts in bringing the Suez Crisis to an end.

After trashing Bob Rae and Stephane Dion as namby-pambies for their support of a Canadian role in peacekeeping in Afghanistan, he argued that the true heir to Pearson’s foreign and defence policy was Harper. Because it was Harper who was “trying to give the Afghan people the human security they want and being prepared to fight alongside our friends against a fundamentalist, totalitarian army.”

Granatstein forgets that Pearson was a realist. Surely the good Professor remembers Viet Nam. Pearson never came close to helping LBJ out of his debacle in Viet Nam. It was a useless exercise as far as Mike Pearson was concerned. LBJ was on his own. Collective Security be damned. He even made a speech at Temple University in Philadelphia urging the President in his own backyard to stop the bombing of North Vietnamese cities (On their next meeting at the LBJ ranch, the hulking President apparently grabbed Mike by the lapels, shook him, and warned him never again to defecate in his nest. Pearson was surprised but undaunted).

Even with the issue of the Suez crisis that made Pearson a star, he was not going to get involved in the folly of the invasion of Egypt by our great ally Great Britain. No siree. Pearson sat down, figured things out and organized a peace-keeping force to end the hostilities. This brought Pearson the Nobel Peace Prize, the leadership of the Liberal Party, and ultimately the Prime Minister's Office.

Really, what would Mike Pearson have done in Afghanistan - with his allies providing a measly 35,000 troops and refusing to put their troops in harm's way, and the troops themselves having to look the other way while the poppy farmers supplied the world with 95% of its heroin supply?

Would he have continued to prop up a corrupt and brutal regime whose claim to be a democracy hangs by a thread, if that? Would Mike have ignored the fact that our sacrifice in lives was far greater on a proportionate basis than American military deaths in Iraq? Would he have asked for an extra thousand troops and some helicopters and dug in? While the government he was defending used torture as state policy, and even provided for the death penalty for anyone converting from Islam to Christianity?

And would Mike have hung in to fight a hopeless and endless war because not doing so would affect Canada’s reputation in the world and our influence in international affairs, as Uncle Jack would have us believe?

Would Mike have hung in, in all of those awful bloody circumstances? Not bloody likely. Mike Pearson was a realist.

What Granatstein does not appreciate is a civilian perspective of war. People are prepared to sacrifice their lives and their children’s lives in a war if the cause is noble and just or if our country’s security is at stake. They are not prepared to do so merely for the sake of our international reputation or to have influence in international affairs. Those issues may drive Granatstein but they do not drive the people. For proof, look to the people of the United States and their vastly unpopular wars in Viet Nam and Iraq.

If Granatstein or Harper for that matter, think that its important that Canada has “a seat at the table” and lives should be sacrificed for that goal, then by all means, let them be our guests. Let them go into the filthy streets in Kandahar and fight an impossible war.