Canada’s War Problem
By David Swanson,
Why shouldn’t Canada buy F-35s?
The F-35 is not a tool of peace or even of military defense. It is a stealth, offensive, nuclear-weapons-capable airplane designed for surprise attacks with the potential to intentionally or accidentally launch or escalate wars, including nuclear war. It is for attacking cities, not just other airplanes.
The F-35 is one of the weapons with the worst record of failing to perform as intended and requiring unbelievably expensive repairs. It crashes a lot, with horrible consequences to those living in the area. Whereas older jets were made of aluminum, the F-35 is made of military composite materials with a stealth coating that emits highly toxic chemicals, particles, and fibers when set on fire. The chemicals used to put out and to practice putting out the fires poison the local water.
Even when it doesn’t crash, the F-35 produces noise that causes negative health impacts and cognitive impairment (brain damage) in children living near the bases where pilots train to fly it. It renders housing near airports unsuitable for residential use. Its emissions are a major environmental polluter.
Buying such an awful product in obedience to U.S. pressure makes Canada subservient to the war-mad U.S. government. The F-35 requires U.S. satellite communications, and U.S./Lockheed-Martin repairs, upgrades, and maintenance. Canada will fight the aggressive foreign wars that the U.S. wants it to, or no wars at all. Were the U.S. to briefly halt the supply of jet tires to Saudi Arabia, the war on Yemen would effectively be ended, but Saudi Arabia keeps buying weapons, even paying for a U.S. office of weapons salespeople permanently operating in Saudi Arabia to sell it more weapons. And the U.S. keeps the tires coming while talking about peace. Is that the relationship Canada wants?
The $19 billion to buy 88 F-35s jumps to $77 billion over a period of years just by adding in the cost of operating, maintaining, and eventually disposing of the monstrosities, but yet additional costs can be counted on.
Why shouldn’t Canada buy any fighter jets?
The purpose of fighter jets (of whatever brand) is to drop bombs and kill people (and only secondarily to star in Hollywood recruitment movies). Canada’s current stock of CF-18 fighter jets has spent the last few decades bombing Iraq (1991), Serbia (1999), Libya (2011), Syria and Iraq (2014-2016), and flying provocative flights along Russia’s border (2014-2021). These operations have killed, injured, traumatized, rendered homeless, and made enemies of large numbers of people. None of these operations has benefitted those near it, those living in Canada, or humanity, or the Earth.
Tom Cruise said this 32 years ago in a world with 32 fewer years of normalized militarism: “OK, some people felt that Top Gun was a right-wing film to promote the Navy. And a lot of kids loved it. But I want the kids to know that that’s not the way war is—that Top Gun was just an amusement park ride, a fun film with a PG-13 rating that was not supposed to be reality. That’s why I didn’t go on and make Top Gun II and III and IV and V. That would have been irresponsible.”
The F-35 (much like any other fighter jet) burns 5,600 liters of fuel an hour and may die after 2,100 hours but is supposed to fly 8,000 hours which would mean burning 44,800,000 liters of jet fuel. Jet fuel is worse for the climate than what an automobile burns, but for what it’s worth, in 2020, 1,081 liters of gasoline were sold in Canada per registered vehicle, meaning that you could take 41,443 vehicles off the road for a year or give back one F-35 with equal benefit to the Earth, or give back all 88 F-35s which would equal taking 3,646,993 vehicles off the roads of Canada for a year — which is over 10% of the vehicles registered in Canada.
For $11 billion a year you could provide the world with clean drinking water. For $30 billion a year you could end starvation on Earth. So, spending $19 billion on killing machines kills first and foremost by not spending it where it’s needed. For $19 billion, Canada could also have 575 elementary schools or 380,000 solar panels, or many other valuable and useful things. And the economic impact is worse, because military spending (even if the money stayed in Canada rather than going to Maryland) drains an economy and reduces jobs rather than boosting an economy and adding jobs as other kinds of spending do.
Buying jets takes money away from addressing the crises of environmental collapse, nuclear disaster risk, disease pandemics, homelessness, and poverty, and puts that money into something that is no defense at all against any of these things or even against war. An F-35 can provoke terrorist bombings or missile attacks but not do anything to stop them.
Why shouldn’t Canada buy any weapons?
Former Deputy Minister of National so-called Defence Charles Nixon has argued that Canada does not need any fighter jets because it doesn’t face a credible threat and jets are not necessary to defend the country. This is true, but it’s also true of Canada’s U.S.-imitating bases in Jamaica, Senegal, Germany, and Kuwait, and it’s also true of much of Canada’s military even on its own terms.
But when we learn the history of warfare and of nonviolent activism, we discover that even if Canada did face some credible threat, a military would not be the best tool to address it — in fact, a military risks creating a credible threat where there is none. If Canada wants to generate global hostility in the way the U.S. military has done, it need only continue imitating its southern neighbor.
It’s important to overcome any illusion that militarized global policing and knight-in-shining-armor rescuing through humanitarian bombing or armed so-called peacekeeping is appreciated or democratic. Unarmed peacekeeping has not only proven more effective than the armed version (watch a film called Soldiers Without Guns for an introduction to unarmed peacekeeping), but is also appreciated by the people where it’s done rather than only by the distant people in whose name it’s done. I don’t know about polling in Canada, but in the U.S. a lot of people imagine the places the U.S. bombs and invades to be grateful for it, while polls in those places predictably suggest just the opposite.
This image of part of the worldbeyondwar.org website. Those buttons link to explanations of why wars are not justifiable and why warfare should be ended. Some of them draw on research that has shown that nonviolent actions, including against invasions and occupations and coups, has proven much more successful, with those successes usually far longer lasting, than what has been accomplished by violence.
The whole field of study — of nonviolent activism, diplomacy, international cooperation and law, disarmament, and unarmed civilian protection — is generally excluded from school text books and corporate news reports. We’re supposed to know that Russia has not attacked Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia because they are members of NATO, but not to know that those countries kicked out the Soviet military using less weaponry that your average American brings on a shopping trip — in fact no weaponry at all, by nonviolently surrounding tanks and singing. Why isn’t something that weird and dramatic known? It’s a choice that’s been made for us. The trick is to make our own choices about what not to know, which depends on finding out what is out there learn about and tell others.
Why shouldn’t Canada sell any weapons?
Weapons dealing is a funny racket. With the exceptions of Russia and Ukraine, almost never are any nations at war also nations that manufacture weapons. In fact, most weapons come from a very, very small number of countries. Canada is not one of them, but it’s moving close to entering their ranks. Canada is the 16th biggest weapons exporter in the world. Of the 15 bigger ones, 13 are allies of Canada and the U.S. Some of the oppressive governments and likely future enemies that Canada has sold weapons to in recent years are: Afghanistan, Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Aping the United States on a much smaller scale, Canada is doing its bit in the fight for democracy by making sure its enemies have plenty of deadly weapons. The Saudi Arabian led war on Yemen has at this point over 10 times the casualties as the war in Ukraine, even if well below 10 percent the media coverage.
Canada is itself the 13th biggest spender on militarism in the world, and 10 of the 12 bigger ones are allies. In military spending per capita Canada is 22nd, and all 21 of the 21 higher ones are allies. Canada is also the 21st biggest importer of U.S. weapons, and all 20 of the 20 bigger ones are allies. But sadly Canada is only the 131st biggest recipient of U.S. military “aid”. This seems like a bad relationship. Perhaps an international divorce lawyer can be found.
Is Canada a Puppet?
Canada participates in numerous U.S.-led wars and coups. Usually Canada’s role is so minor that one cannot imagine its removal making much of a difference, except that the principle impact is in fact one of propaganda. The United States is a bit less of a rogue for every co-conspiring junior partner it drags along. Canada is a fairly reliable participant, and one that boosts the use of both NATO and the United Nations as cover for crime.
In the United States, traditional barbaric justifications for war are overwhelmingly dominant in motivating the largest portion of the population that supports any war, with humanitarian fantasies playing a minor role. In Canada, the humanitarian claims seem to be required by a slightly larger percentage of the population, and Canada has developed those claims accordingly, making itself a leading promoter of “peace keeping” as a euphemism for war making, and of R2P (the responsibility to protect) as an excuse to destroy places like Libya.
Canada participated in the war on Afghanistan for 13 years, but got out before many other countries did, and in the war on Iraq, albeit on a tiny scale. Canada has been a leader on some treaties like that on landmines, but a holdout on others, such as that on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. It’s not a member of any nuclear free zone, but it is a member of the International Criminal Court.
Canada is up against U.S. influence, financial corruption of many sorts, labor unions lobbying for weapons jobs, and the typical problems of corporate media. Canada oddly uses nationalism to generate support for participation in U.S.-led killing sprees. Perhaps it’s the tradition of having participated in so many British wars that makes this seem normal.
Some of us admire Canada for having not fought a bloody revolution against Britain, but we’re still waiting for it to develop a nonviolent movement for independence.
What should Canada do?
Robin Williams called Canada a nice apartment over a meth lab. The fumes are rising and winning. Canada can’t move, but it can open some windows. It can have some serious talks with its downstairs neighbor about how it’s hurting itself.
Some of us like to remember what a good neighbor Canada has been in the past, and what a bad one the U.S. has been. Six years after the British got here to Virginia, they hired mercenaries to attack the French in Acadia, the future U.S. attacking the future Canada again in 1690, 1711, 1755, 1758, 1775, and 1812, and never ceasing to abuse Canada, while Canada has offered refuge to the enslaved and to those drafted into the U.S. military (albeit less so in recent years).
But a good neighbor doesn’t obey an out of control addict. A good neighbor recommends a different course and teaches by example. We’re in desperate need of global cooperation and investment in the environment, disarmament, refugee aid, and poverty reduction. Military spending and war are the main impediments to cooperation, to the rule of law, to the elimination of bigotry and hatred, to the ending of government secrecy and surveillance, to the reduction and elimination of the risk of nuclear apocalypse, and to the shifting of resources to where they are needed.
If a justifiable war were imaginable, it would still be impossible to justify the damage done by keeping around the institution of war, the business of war, year in and year out. Canada should not annually host the biggest weapons fair in North America. Canada should host the biggest nonviolent unarmed peacemaking conference on making peace, not through war, but through making peace.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host.