Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grave Things Not Undone
...In the eyes of the world it is not our majority liberal government that sent overseas our armed representatives...
... Afghanistan. It seems that after every single casualty there is a media hullabaloo with some people wanting to "re-evaluate" meaning: pull out pronto. That's no way to run a business: If a project has choice points, stages, built in then you don't need to re-evaluate every single work day. For we Canadians, the most prominent choice point will be around the 2009 ending of our NATO mission mandate...

No, I won't decide about Afghanistan today although I realize, like you, that we need to think about our involvement in that dusty country. This essay is about the process of making our decisions, both our war ones (little slices) and others (the whole pie).

Last Saturday a fluke prairie rainstorm caught me. I was the only patron in that little triangular art gallery beside city hall. During the deluge the volunteer, Verna Mah, got out the tea and cookies. She asked me about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement regarding combat in Afghanistan. She wanted to know if he was "being sneaky or spin doctoring or something." A fair answer required more than a overly simplistic "No." You may recall he said Canadian troops would pull out unless the other Canadian political parties also agreed to stay.

...It rained, and Verna poured us another cup of green tea. To answer her regarding the prime minister, I reflected on how Verna is Chinese and on how the old Polish Combatants Association (Legion) hall on Kensington road has just been sold. Then I "assayed" (essayed/attempted) to answer...

Those Polish veterans, as idealistic young men, had fought alongside the Canadians against the evil Axis, fighting their way up Italy, hoping to one day enter a free Poland. Meanwhile the Free French army was also fighting, and they were the first of the Allies to enter Paris. As it happened, France stayed democratic and Poland went communist. And the Chinese, well, what can I say? A few years after the war, they put the "E" in Escape. Instead of just the inner cabinet and a few palace guards escaping, or instead of just a big army escaping, a tsunami of refugees managed to escape the communists. Those people life changed their lives forever.

The closest refugee equivalent, here in Calgary, is how the people who escaped the communist take over of the Republic of South Vietnam still refuse to call any of their laundry mats or cafes after Ho Chi Minh City, the communist name for Saigon. A few years ago, during an all-heritage civic day march, city hall provided free national flags but no Vietnamese wanted to carry the communist flag of Vietnam, and they resented the city hall's expectation that they do so..

(Olympic folly)

The communists of Red China, or Mainland China, flew the flag of the People's Republic, while the republicans who escaped to the island of Formosa, or Taiwan, claimed that they were the legitimate government, in exile, and they too flew a Republic of China flag. The situation may have frustrated the rest of the world, but it was too tragic to be funny. If you were a wife of a UN secretary, and you wanted to put on a state dinner, where would you seat the various Chinese? And if you wanted to host an Olympic games, complete with opening ceremonies, you could be sure that both sides would want to show up to march, complete with flags. What do you do? As it happened, Taiwan would refuse to participate if Red China was involved. And so Mainland China would not be invited.

(...The U.S. did not recognize China until during the Nixon administration. I remember going out with a boy fresh from Hong Kong, Wallace Chan, to see a Hollywood satire of that state recognition, using nuns, called Nasty Habits. The Kissinger nun smoked...)

This state of affairs continued for two or three decades until one year, 1976, the summer Olympics were hosted here in Canada. Our prime minister for that year, Pierre Trudeau, was not a red but he was, I would say, a pinko. When Trudeau died one of his pallbearers would be a communist barred from the U.S: Fidel Castro. Trudeau reminded the Taiwanese that we "recognized" China as being a legitimate country with a legitimate government. That was the last year of Taiwan's Olympic posturing.

(...footnote: A decade and a half later, in 1991, Taiwan formally renounced any ambition to conquer mainland China by military means. Their armed forces are strictly for self-defense...The communists have yet to reciprocate)

So then what? What of the horrified capitalist businessmen, the horrified idealistic students, or the opposition parties? I wasn't very upset myself, but I wasn't impressed, either. As a boy I had played around the air raid tower at my elementary school pretending it was a spaceship. I had listened to it wailing like a banshee out of Irish legend, a creature who wailed to predict our deaths by communist inter-continental missiles. And now we were recognizing a communist state that was established by violence.

Did the opposition parties in parliament, and the rest of us, demand the very next year to RE-evaluate whether or not we recognized China? No... It depends: A local by-law is something you can relax about, because you can change it every year. A matter of grave national interest? No, you can't, you have to get it right the first time.

When a serious change is coming down the road, when politicians are arguing in parliament while Canadians are debating in beer parlors across the land, then, as everyone is discussing, everyone must know, in the backs of their minds, that once the grave thing is finally done it may not be undone.

(Talking of change)

One day I was out west, in Vancouver, on Granville pedestrian mall, in a tourist store, looking at an album cover. The clerk was nice enough to remind me there would be a sales tax. "Thank you," I said "I had forgotten." He said he often reminds customers from neighboring Alberta and the Yukon Territory.

It was a year later that the progressive conservatives (PC) who had the majority of seats in parliament, brought in a federal nation-wide compulsory sales tax, the infamous GST. (Goods and Services Tax) Every time I had to count on my fingers and dig for change I said, "Goddamn Stupid Tories." The old liberal members of parliament promised to scrap the GST; one of them promised to resign if they did not scrap it. In the next election...—pow!—The PC prime minister lost her seat, as did every tory except for two. And those two liberal promises?

That liberal MP stayed in office; the GST was not scrapped. I wasn't surprised. We all should have known in advance that grave things are not to be undone. This the liberals had surely known: they were just being "ethically challenged" all along.

The plan is to keep the liberals honest this time. Harper, with a minority government, has proclaimed that Canada will not stay in Afghanistan, not past Canada's self proclaimed 2009 mandate, not unless the majority of parliament agrees, meaning: the liberals must agree. Harper is not bluffing. Those old men can't have back seat driver privileges, not for this, not when the lives of our idealistic, innocent too-young-to-vote soldiers are at stake.

In the eyes of the world it is not the liberal majority government that sent overseas our armed representatives... It is not our conservative (C) minority government that keeps us there. It is Canada.

Just as with capital punishment, even if I personally voted socialist, the fact remains: My hand, and the hand of you, and of all my neighbors, is on that fearfull gun switch. There is a reason why kids are sheltered from voting. This burden of aggressing against the Taliban is not one I can shrug off onto a Chairman Mao or a Muslim Ayatollah. This is a democracy and you and I are the adults... May God help Stephen Harper.

Sean Crawford 
(August .22)
out on the lonely prairie
summer 2007

Footnote regarding China:
China claimed that Taiwan is "an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China" at the time of Trudeau. According to  former foreign service officer Jahn M. Fraser of Ottawa, writing in the letters section of the Globe and Mail: "Mitchell Sharp, secretary of state fro external affairs, told the House of Commons "takes note" (what Canada officially wrote as part of establishing relations) meant we "neither challenge nor endorse" China's position."

As I see it, if black children of "guest workers" can love South Africa more than their ancestral home, then the children of refugees can love the Republic of Taiwan more than China. Just as a Canadian of Chinese ancestry, even if he believes in communism, is still Canadian. 

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