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ANDERSON: Peace keeping on Vimy Ridge, Part Four

Image Credit: Contributed by author
April 26, 2016 - 7:16 AM


Peace keeping, despite its enticing name and harmonious connotations, was a hard-headed, realist method of de-escalating situations that might have spun out of control during the Cold War. But it wasn't really keeping the peace, per se, so much as standing along a border between forces that had already agreed not to fight and attempting to maintain if not peace, then at least an absence of war. More than that - much more than that - in most cases during the cold war, the naked power of the USSR and the U.S. were looming behind the ceasefire, lending their full weight to the negotiations to ensure the peace that peace keeping was supposed to keep.

It only really worked as long as the combatants were willing to keep apart, as in Cyprus, where we have been engaged in a "peace keeping mission" for so long that anyone who still remembers actual combat is in their dotage, and where we now remain mainly to maintain a vacation resort for our decompressing troops. In cases where the two sides decided they didn't want peace after all, there wasn't much peace keepers could do. For example, in the 1981 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, peace keeping forces stayed in their huts while Israeli troops rolled right over the gates supposedly guarded by them. 

From the point of view of the contributors to peace keeping, Canada prime among them, peace keeping was an ideal way to engage internationally on the cheap while staying in the good graces of everyone. A minimum of spilled blood, little cost in treasure, and all the glory of the blue beret was ideal from 1956, when peace keeping formally began, to 1991 when the Cold War ended. Successive Liberal governments gloried in the much publicized and largely fictional notion that Canada was a "peace keeping nation."

But then the Cold War ended, and with it the golden age of peace keeping. Henceforth, despite the hope that there would be a "peace dividend," within a few years there was very little peace to keep. It's not so much that the number of conflicts escalated, although they certainly did in the former Soviet empire and along the fault lines of the former east-west divide, but that conflicts once held under restraint during the Cold War by either the carrot of aid or the stick of sanctions by one or the other of the superpowers now had no particular restraints on them, and UN resolutions were no replacement for hard power.

Canada still clung to its outmoded image of a "peace keeping" nation. When the first Gulf war arrived, our government couldn't bring itself to the realization that the world was a different place and so, for the most part, except for some air to surface combat with outdated planes, we kept our contribution limited to a field hospital and security details even though the war was fought under UN auspices.

The nature of the game had changed, but not the rules. Combat troops - units that were bred for combat, like the Canadian Airborne Regiment - were sent into hot war zones like Somalia with rules of engagement (ROI) more appropriate to observers in a ceasefire, or into places like Rwanda where they had no choice but to stand by amidst genocidal slaughter because they weren't allowed to engage. Not surprisingly, this toothless presence didn't achieve anything except disillusionment, and after Rwanda no Canadian soldier wanted anything to do with the Blue Beret or any type of action under the UN flag. Just ask a veteran if you don't think that's true.

With the breakup of Yugoslavia, the UN faded into the background as ineffective and largely irrelevant and NATO, a U.S. dominated alliance ostensibly formed to counter Soviet aggression back in the early postwar period, began to operate on its own. If the UN wanted to support it, so much the better, but if it didn't, that was all right too. To maintain a sort of legitimacy-through-association, the term "peace keeping" became "peace making." Peace making is what went on in Kosovo, where our planes flew into hot combat zones to make peace by dropping bombs on people who refused to be peaceful. Peace making was an interesting term for war making, but the two are synonymous. 

Then came 911 and the world changed again. Peace keeping, except in the odd forgotten pocket of the world where two sides could actually agree to stop shooting by themselves, was dead. Now the imperative was Article 51 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and naked force was the order of the day. Our troops in Afghanistan weren't there as peacekeepers, and they weren't there under the UN flag. The notion of "peace making" had been dropped as the fiction it always was... we were there, in Helmand Province, one of the most dangerous and active war zones in the country, as combat troops conducted combat operations with extreme prejudice. 

Now, with the Islamic State and Islamofascist organizations around the globe, we face an enemy who wants no part of peace. In fact wherever there is peace, it does everything it can to bring war... its very conception of a peace that isn't under Islamic domination is "ar al-Harb" or "House of War." It will not, it cannot by its very nature, arrive at a state of peace until it is either entirely victorious or entirely erased. There is no peace to keep and there will be none with this gang of proto-religious thugs, and all the "negotiations" in the world won't change that fact. 

The world is not the way we want it to be... a lesson intuitively understood by most of us but not, apparently, by our sunny-faced, empty-headed Prime Minister. By all indications he wants to follow the path cut in a different time and place when the world was in a different way, by trying to pretend it's 1968 and the Islamic State is Cyprus. Until schooled by the United States as to the realities of the world, he wanted to replace bombs with blankets; now he has pulled our planes and replaced them with instructors, in a stubborn belief that if we pretend we're not really fighting a war it means there isn't really a war to fight, and all Canada is really doing is peace keeping. 

Canadian troops didn't fight their way up Vimy Ridge to keep the peace. They fought and died because they were combatants in a war and the sooner it was over the sooner they could go home to peace. They may have wanted peace, and if there had been peace they would have no doubt been happy to keep it, but the world was not the way they wanted on those few cold clammy days in northern France.

The barbarous murder of John Ridsdel in the Philippines is but the latest in a long string of reminders that there is a time for war and a time for peace, and now is a time for war. Our allies are fighting to eradicate an existential global threat not only in the Middle East but around the world while our Prime Minister does as little as possible to help. It's like trying to keep the peace on Vimy Ridge while the enemy rains bombs on us. There is no peace to keep.

— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer, and a bunch of other stuff. His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.

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