Thursday, February 14, 2013

Drones, Culture and Citizens


“…When Canada extends a welcome to a newcomer… it is with the understanding that our embrace of this new citizen includes the expectation that our laws and our democratic way of life will be in turn respected and honoured. To do otherwise is a betrayal—and no betrayal is worse than that of a naturalized citizen turning to terrorism and besmirching Canada abroad. …—he or she does not value the precious gift of Canadian citizenship, does not love Canada and has not sought to be Canadian in mind, heart and soul.”
Calgary Herald editorial, Saturday February 9, 2013

This week our immigration minister has proposed to strip Canadian citizenship from dual nationals who commit acts of terror or war. While the details still need to be worked out, the policy is sound, a “no-brainer.” From what I’ve seen, the only folks who see the policy as being “controversial” tend to be opposition politicians and people whom Lenin would call “useful idiots”: The guys who see the “establishment” and the “government” as a resented occupying power.

This week, too, US drones are in the news, with testimony before the US senate. On CBC radio Rex Murphy held a lengthy call-in show. One “useful” idiot defined terrorism as “violence,” allowing him to slime the “establishment” state of Israel. I have no opinion on civil war terror, but as regards “global reach” terror it seems to me the definition is obvious: “lack of accountability.” After 9/11 we did not call the Saudi ambassador on the carpet to give him heck, nor ask our navy to blockade the Saudis as part of a policy of punishing sanctions. Of course not: The terrorists were not supported by, nor embedded in, the innocent Saudi people; the terrorists had no wise old board of governors, and they were not accountable to any Saudi public or senate. 


Also this week the CBC aired a lengthy radio show about drones, interviewing experts who knew the legal history of war, but I was too distracted to listen: I kept waiting for mention of US culture.

Culture matters, and cultures can change. When my father was young he was warped by the Great Depression. No wonder “jobs” have become a national sacred dream, distracting us when we discuss, say, a pipeline project. Well, better a national dream of “jobs” than a grandiose dream of glory. When I was young we made jokes about the occasional airplane hijackers. Who would have imagined that one day we’d be willing to stand in stocking feet, beltless, being fondled in front of our wives? US culture has changed to “zero hijacks.”

When my grandfather was young it was expected that US marines would, say, land on the Barbary Coast to clear out a nest of pirates. It was expected the pirates would lose, and some marines would be wounded or killed. Today, in stark contrast, US culture has changed to “zero casualties.”

To someone in Europe or Asia “zero casualties” might seem like a crazy dream, behind wavering opium smoke. But every culture is entitled to its own form of craziness, n’est pas? The American people truly do not want to see a wounded marine on the front page, not even to clear out pirates, not even to feed the starving children of Mogadishu. (Blackhawk Down) It’s crazy for us to ignore this new American culture, especially when we discuss why Americans are so determined to use their drones in place of their soldiers.

As Lord Conrad Black put it, the Americans think some things are worth killing for, but not worth dying for.

I have mentioned three generations: me, my dad and grandpa. Today our culture is changing so fast the experts will sometimes talk of “cohorts” within a generation. For example, folks who grew up playing Daniel Boone and watching black and white TV will be in a different cohort than those of ten years later who grew up on color TV. The latter will have gazed out through a cathode window during a time when an intense preference for long hair meant very few historical TV shows from any short haired era, such as the frontier or the early 1900’s. This may explain the historical unawareness of a girl in my high school. Ironically, she had an older brother in the reserves, serving in the Royal Westminster Regiment. One day the girl put up her hand to say: “Please don’t keep me in suspense—Who wins the First World War?” … I suppose different cohorts might each see drones through a different lens. Nevertheless it is practical to talk of US Americans as a single people, as I do below.

Obama Killing Americans

There’s a war going on. 

I would remind my overseas friends the Americans are not taking action against Britain’s IRA or Canada’s FLQ, not unless such terrorists cross the border south going into the republic of Ireland or the US of A. No, the Yankees have not declared war on conventional (civil war) terror but on cross-border terror, what former President Bush calls “global reach.” If the US did not overtly intervene when Pakistani terrorists crossed over and shot up the Indian financial district of Mumbai (Bombay) it is only because the US was too overstretched in that corner of the world. That can happen when you fight a war on multiple fronts. And now Yanks are killing Yanks.

My European friends, along with some US citizens, must be wondering how President Barak Obama could sign a Death Warrant, as in a “kill or capture list,” against a US citizen in Yemen. The government of the people and by the people sent a drone to strike one of the people. (September 30 2011) Granted, Anwar Awlaki was a terrorist, but he was also a civilian and a citizen. Certainly the US constitution does not cover such things. On this topic, concerned experts are surely addressing the various issues involved and making clear the various perspectives, so that, in the end, an answer may emerge. I'm no expert, still, I could offer one more perspective.

Over here, instead of a totalitarian government, like in Islamic Iran, demanding total devotion to only one thing, we allow a plurality of loyalties. My dad is a loyal lodge member, and a legionnaire, and formerly British. If you saw the Oscar winning movie Fargo, then you may recall how people in North Dakota talked like Scandinavians, “yah?” while also loyal to America. A Roman Catholic president, John Kennedy, said publicly that he would put the US constitution above (Italy and) the pope...Because he swore to God to uphold it.

The American ever expanding economy has ever depended on new immigrants who, forsaking all others, make an expensive one-way trip to a new land. (For Old Lang Syne) This new-fangled 20th century practice of dual citizenship is something that has really only ramped up after cheaper two-way travel, in the decades since my father’s youth.

I would ask you to imagine a man from, say, “Yalta,” a man named Joe. In America, as a teenager, Joe might say he will get dual citizenship when he turns 18, if Yalta allows it. (In Japan, for example,  on your birthday you are supposed to choose which nation) He might say he will be of Yalta and America. Joe might say that since he has dual citizenship, he will have loyalty to the United States, but only if the USA does not declare economic sanctions against Yalta.

As for all the other US Americans, I know them well: Part of their culture is their heritage of immigration. Call them warmly idealistic, or naive, or call them coldly practical: They expect every dual citizen to be American, with no if’s, and’s or but’s.


I saw their culture reflected in an army legend during the brief years of the Republic of South Vietnam. The G.I.’s told stories of a blond man seen fighting against the US, fighting alongside the black pajama boys. According to legend, this guy wore a US style cowboy hat, but he was not American, he was French... It's possible. There may well have been young French plantation owners who hated Yankee imperialists, who had grown up playing with Vietnamese boys, and who had been to Paris and there soaked up communism. To me the significance of this legend, which I believe is not literally true, is this: The American boys told it to each other. Consider: When Vietnam had been French Indochina, would the French soldats and Foreign Legionnaires have told that story? Would the British Tommys, fighting the communists among the jungles and rubber plantations of Malaya, have that legend? No, this story reflects something in the American culture. That cowboy hat is a powerful symbol.

The Americans, as Wiki-leaks has shown, are a na├»ve people who believe in fairness. And yet a mainstream US publication like Reader’s Digest saw nothing wrong with running an article back in the 1960’s called Get Yamamoto! You may recall that Yamamoto was a key Japanese leader in WWII. The allies having broken the Japanese cipher, a US squadron of uniformed pilots raced through the sky and met the uniformed Yamamoto and shot him down. Things that are both cruel and unusual during peacetime are normal in wartime. American readers saw this air strike as quite fair. So do I.

What if the squadron leader had been a farm boy from North Dakota, and what if one day he was on a combat patrol, planning to intercept a nameless routine Japanese flight? Suppose he had already heard that one of the English speaking US islands, such as Guam, had a little group of traitors in cowboy hats? Imagine if during the flight his radio crackles to tell him of hard intelligence of such a clear target, right now, out in a huge open field. “...What’s your position and fuel, alpha leader? You must be getting close to the Japanese. Would you divert to the island? It’s your call.”

“Hello H.Q. I hate the enemy, but I will turn away from them to kill renegades!” And he banks his plane and leads his squadron off course.

European friends take note: Although, like my parents, you may accidentally snarl as you say "Hitler," for many of you that name has barely the heat of a Scandinavian winter sun on the horizon: a weak pale thing. Just so are many Americans cold to the word "renegade." But mark my words: In North America, even as we strive to bring up our children on innocent tales of Hobbits and Jedi knights, for some of us the word renegade is soaked in anger and horror, a word as hot as the blood of a young blond pretty woman, freshly scalped. For us, a cowboy turned renegade is a monster, a nightmare.

I can assure you that while Americans may have dimly hated those enemy terrorists in Mumbai, they  less dimly hated Anwar the renegade as much as all those enemy Pakistanis put together.

Before you get judgemental and stern about President Obama and my US cousins, I would ask that first your vocabulary include that awful word.

Sean Crawford
on the great plains,
February 2013.14
~Regarding Canada's most famous terrorist, a 15 year old at time of capture, see my essay Khadr the kid meets the Code of the West, archived April 2013

~You may have heard the US legend, unverifiable but often told: When Abraham Lincoln, during the civil war, met Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, he said, "So you're the little lady whose book started this big war." I like how Americans still believe in the power of words and ideals.

~In my two-semester History of Drama classs, we actors once read aloud the play Uncle Tom's Cabin. I would guess Harriet named her villain, Simon Legree, after the renegade Simon Girty, "perhaps the most hated man on the American frontier" whose name would have still been echoing in public ears. I remember reading Girty as a scary villain in a  Zane Grey book, The Spirit of the Border, from Whitman, for young readers.

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