Heroism in Doubt: Canadian War Mythology Takes a Hit from Wikileaks

The Toronto Sun, a notoriously right wing tabloid, said of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that it had become “unhinged,” that the CBC has “truly lost its collective mind over the WikiLeaks release of the Afghan war logs.” Another piece in the Sun concluded, “leave it to the CBC to smear our troops.” What egregious act had the CBC committed? It quoted a record found among those released by Wikileaks, that stated that four Canadian soldiers had in fact been killed by a U.S. bomb, and not by the Taleban. Given that the record was written by one of “the troops,” it’s interesting how quoting one military source, to question another military source, becomes an act of “smearing the troops.” But then that doesn’t really count as a military source, says the Sun, with a long history of its own smears and hyperbole–no, you see, what the CBC was also guilty of doing was using “a piece of raw data, collected illegally and posted on a website committed to ending the war.” If the Sun wants us to start shooting messengers, its staff should start practicing duck and cover. What the Sun refuses to admit is that nothing it says above actually does anything to challenge the validity of the data, especially not by substituting hysterical howling for reasoned analysis. The other “problem” for the right wing is that the CBC is “state owned” (which in their minds means only one thing: den of communists)…forgetting that the very day after the release of the documents, it was the conservative and privately owned CTV that published this: “Leaked file suggests 4 Canadians killed by friendly fire.”

But if everything so far sounds utterly demented, it is only an opening act. Christie Blatchford at The Globe and Mail, decided that the “friendly fire assertion” was not just “offensive to the families” but that quoting a record written by the American military is actually the equivalent of holocaust denial:

“This is akin to saying, well sure, there is plenty of evidence the Holocaust occurred, and testimony from survivors, but the mere existence of Holocaust deniers raises doubts.”

Holocaust denial, on top of smearing the troops, and offending families–way to hit all the right emotional buttons, and to link a study of archival materials to a form of hate speech. Blatchford misses the irony that she herself is serving in the position of “holocaust denier,” by denying a report written from within military ranks, one that not only was never withdrawn or amended by the U.S., the very same record was in fact updated a year later. The Canadian military refused to even ask its American counterparts for an explanation of the discrepancy between American records, and what is now very clearly the preferred official Canadian view of the events.

Then, of course, there is the fact that the CBC quoted U.S. Army Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski. Both the Sun and the Globe and Mail devoted paragraphs to slamming her record as an officer–not that it isn’t prone to slamming. They could have gone further–they could have called Karpinski an alcoholic, a meth addict, someone given to performing public striptease on solemn occasions, and a part time clown at Chuck E. Cheese. They could have, because it’s all irrelevant. None of it proves that Karpinski, herself a military insider of high rank, doesn’t know her stuff or that she is wrong. None of these people seem even vaguely familiar with the logical fallacy of ad hominem arguments–or they are, but hope their readers are too ignorant to know any better, are easily fooled, and their passions just as easily aroused. And what passions? Passion for a war that has been consistently opposed by the majority of Canadians from the outset?

How does Karpinski enter this story? She is placed as the counterweight to Rick Hillier, retired Canadian General, former Chief of Defence Staff of the Canadian Forces, in the following exchange produced by the CBC:

But Hillier said the U.S. military, like any bureaucracy, produces millions of documents, including “some written by people as first response who don’t know what they’re talking about and have the facts wrong.”

“When I was a commander on operations, we always had a rule — first reports are wrong, and the second reports are wrong and the third reports are wrong,” Hillier said.

“Only after that do you start to get the validity and the truth [to] come out.”

In response:

However, Janis Karpinski, a former U.S. brigadier general, countered that the initial incident log is more valid than subsequent reports.

“When it’s convenient, when it is politically correct … you’re not going to get the truth as the conversations develop,” she said.

“They’re going to be coaching you in the direction they want you to respond over time. That’s why those logs are so critically important. Because they do contain the truth. That’s the first response — the event as it’s being reported as it’s happening.”

Hillier, with his simplistic and formulaic response (a trademark of his many sad public utterances), is clearly vulnerable to a well targeted response from Karpinski. His statement is one that should invite even further controversy: this is a man who apparently throws out reports from intelligence people on the ground, and keeps throwing them out until people start saying what he wants to hear.

We should have had, then, an interesting debate about how to go about ascertaining the validity and legitimacy of the Wikileaks documents. In this exchange, Karpinski wins out, in my view, especially since Hillier never explains why he would dismiss all initial reports out of hand. From where does Hillier derive his sources of truth then?

However, instead of having this debate, we are treated to the delirium of war mongering gone berserk which, as we always knew, hides behind “heroism” and “supporting the troops.” Oddly enough, unlike the family of Pat Tillman, which was outraged at the pure bullshit cooked up by General Stanely McChrystal and other higher ups in the Pentagon, that their son’s memory was not to be used as a cheap political football, or as a cover for mistakes made, it seems that four Canadian families are far less complex in their thinking–they are “stick to the fucking story!” types whose only consolation, and only attempt at finding meaning in the bizarre and pointless loss of their sons, is to insist that they were heroes. Their deaths, apparently, achieve greater value if caused by the Taleban. Those are “good deaths.” Canadian pro-war commentators have lost the ability to make sense, if they ever possessed it; they certainly don’t want to also lose the ability to make myths and make them stick.


My latest article about Wikileaks, which is relevant to the post above, “Unhinged at the US State Department and Pentagon: A War on Wikileaks?” was published yesterday by CounterPunch. I am thankful for all of the great email messages I received from readers. A version translated into Portuguese will appear on another site.

I was also interviewed yesterday by Toronto’s NOW Magazine, for a story about the impact of the Wikileaks release in the Canadian media. That should come out anytime over the next month.

An earlier article of mine, dealing with Wikileaks, was translated into Arabic and appears on the Al Jazeera site:
نواقص في تسريبات ويكيليكس

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8 thoughts on “Heroism in Doubt: Canadian War Mythology Takes a Hit from Wikileaks

  1. CM

    People who gather evidence about an incident try to speak to witnesses as soon as possible after it happens. Each time we review a memory in our minds, we change it just a little bit. If we speak to others in the interval, they help to change it as well. I was horrified when I heard Hillier say that they do several revisions (very apt word) before a final report.

    Actually, anything Hillier says horrifies me, but that’s just me – and him.

    Another problem is the unreliability of eyewitness accounts. Two of the Canadian soldiers who were there had different versions of the death of one of the Canadians. One said he was walking when he was shot, another that he stuck his head out of a hatch and was fired upon. Was it gunfire or shrapnel from a “friendly fire” – they’ve got to get rid of that term – bomb strike. How can you tell where it’s coming from in a situation like that?

    Pat Tillman’s mother was suspicious because she was brave enough – dear heavens – to compare the autopsy report to the supposed circumstances of his death. He was decapitated by a burst of gunfire which suggests someone at close range (one of his own guys) rather than someone at a distance.

    As for the families, if the reports of their sons’ deaths were deliberately falsified, it’s not WikiLeaks and the newspapers who are at fault for their heartbreak. If there was a cover-up, it was to spare the military officials and Canadian government. I didn’t want them there. I certainly didn’t want them to die. When will they start getting angry at the people who sent them there and extended the “mission” twice for no reason that anybody can articulate?

    And I’d trust Janet Karpinski over Rick Hillier any day.

  2. Watchmen

    Jill: Do you support the war?
    Jack: No.
    Jill: Do you support Wikileaks?
    Jack: [Several long paragraphs confusing occupation’s “informers” with anthropological “informants”.]
    Jill: I lost track, was that a “yes” or “no”?
    Jack: It’s complicated.
    Jill: Do you support the end of the US war in Afghanistan?
    Jack: Yes.
    Jill: You have to choose sides. Wars are like that.
    Jack: Where is my double decaf skim milk latte?
    Jill: Look how frightened the Pentagon is of Wikileaks: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20100812/D9HI4QGO0.html the Pentagon is using people like you who don’t understand that exposing the Pentagon means exposing their collaborators too. Which side are you on, do you oppose the Pentagon or not?
    Jack: This latte tastes like they might have used 2% milk in it, I wonder if I should order another one?

  3. Maximilian Forte

    Jack: Jill, when did you start creating straw men?
    Jill: When I couldn’t deal with an argument and had to use fiction as a way out.
    Jack: Do you support Wikileaks too then?
    Jill: Yes, without questioning anything, because questions make you a tool of the CIA and Pentagon.
    Jack: So do you also oppose the war in Afghanistan?
    Jill: Yes.
    Jack: Without question?
    Jill: Of course.
    Jack: So it’s ok then when the other side says that makes you a tool of the Taleban and jihadists in Al Qaeda, because questions make you a tool of sinister forces.
    Jill: No, I didn’t say that.
    Jack: Who gives a fuck what you said, I am making this shit up as I go along. By the way, here is a link that supports nothing I said: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20100812/D9HI4QGO0.html
    Jill: Oh, you’re a smooth one.
    Jack: You get to be that way when you consume “latte,” even better when it’s caffè latte, because latte is just warm milk.
    Jill: Order me one too then, I am constipated and it might help.

  4. Maximilian Forte

    Moral of the story? Being against the war, and against foreign intervention in killing Afghan civilians, means just that. It doesn’t mean it’s OK when it’s another party of non-Afghans, sipping their teas in Copenhagen and Frankfurt, get themselves involved in the process of getting Afghan civilians killed.

    Here is where the straw man spontaneously explodes into flames: Wikileaks’ Julian Assange says it was Wikileaks intention NOT to reveal the names of civilian informants who could get hurt, which is why they kept back 15,000 files for redaction. The argument has been conceded, there is no more argument.

    People don’t change when they become “anthropological” informants, they are still people, who operate in complex situations that outsiders, spinners of Jack and Jill fairy tales, can’t possibly understand. Some deserve no sympathy, and others are caught between competing sides and face impossible pressures, and say anything, whatever, to anyone, just to get the heat off. Being simplistic and hunting down all those named…and then promising that if they cannot be found, then their families will be made to pay…yes, it’s harm that neither anthropologists nor any other foreigner should want to be a part of. They don’t need to be “anthropological informants” for one to care.

    Now why is that so fucking hard to comprehend?

    By the way, if I was in the Taleban…I would not be admitting that Wikileaks is giving me useful data to track down collaborators. It admits to weakness: “What, you mean you have such a weak social network and such poor integration in local communities that you didn’t already know who the collaborators were?” I may have still used the data, but publicly I would have said: “Shame on you Wikileaks…you missed quite a few we knew about already.”

    But forget it, just bring on the conspiracy theories: Chomsky is a tool of the IDF; 9/11 was an inside job; Max Forte works for the Pentagon; and on the other side of the aisle–Obama is hiding his birth certificate; the UN is trying to take over America; and the way to spell Communist Party is “Goldman Sachs.”

  5. Roni

    You have a good heart.
    I want to try to thank you for recognising the insult in labeling the truth as “offensive to the families”.

    My son is a soldier. I’m extremely proud of who he is – a kind man who will honour me and his country in all his interactions with Afghan people, an intelligent man who can see the value of support over violence, a brave man prepared to go in harm’s way simply because there’s a job he believes needs doing – and I’m extremely terrified he will come home dead, disabled, bereaved or with an indelible stain on his beautiful soul.
    He is a far finer human being than the warmongering morons safe at home pontificating about human tragedy as if it was of no more consequence than a football game. They ‘smear the troops’ and offend families every time they treat the death of a soldier as anything other than a devastating personal loss.

    I need to believe my son risks his life for a good reason, not for lies and Ra Ra. I need to know there are people seeking honest and intelligent consideration of the costs of war.
    I take great comfort from your blogs, from your challenges to Ra Ra and from your basic regard for humanity.
    Thank you.

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