Tag Archives: propaganda

Here comes the Mali mission media manipulation

For the military, shaping media coverage of deployments is what roasting a marshmallow is to a summer camper’s S’mores; there isn’t one without the other.

Even before beginning a small “peacekeeping” mission, the Canadian forces have an elaborate media strategy.

At the end of June, Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance brought journalists with him on a visit to Mali. They toured the facilities in Gao where an advance team was preparing for Canada’s UN deployment to the African nation. An Ottawa Citizenheadline described Vance’s trip as part of an effort at “selling the public on the Mali mission.”

The tour for journalists was followed by a “technical briefing” on the deployment for media in Ottawa. “No photography, video or audio recording for broadcast purposes” was allowed at last week’s press event, according to the advisory. Reporters were to attribute information to “a senior government” official. But, the rules were different at a concurrent departure ceremony in Trenton. “Canadian Armed Forces personnel deploying to Mali are permitted to give interviews and have their faces shown in imagery,” noted the military’s release.

None of these decisions are haphazard. With the largest PR machine in the country, the military has hundreds of public affairs officers that work on its media strategy. “The Canadian Forces (CF) studies the news media, writes about them in its refereed journals — the Canadian Army Journal and the Canadian Military Journal — learns from them, develops policies for them and trains for them in a systematic way,” explains Bob Bergen, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.”Canadian journalists simply do not access the Canadian Forces in the scholarly fashion that the military studies them. There are no peer-reviewed journals to which they contribute reflections on their success or failure as an industry to cover the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the 1999 Kosovo Air War.”

While the tactics have varied based on technologies, balance of power and type of conflict, the government has pursued extensive information control during international deployments, which are invariably presented as humanitarian even when motivated by geostrategic and corporate interests. There was formal censorship during the First World War, Second World War and the Korean War. In recent air wars the military largely shut the media out while in Afghanistan they brought reporters close.

Air wars lend themselves to censorship since journalists cannot accompany pilots during their missions or easily see what’s happening from afar. “As a result,” Bergen writes, “crews can only be interviewed before or after their missions, and journalists’ reports can be supplemented by cockpit footage of bombings.”

During the bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999 the CF blocked journalists from filming or accessing Canadian pilots flying out of Aviano, Italy. They also refused to provide footage of their operations. While they tightly controlled information on the ground, the CF sought to project an air of openness in the aftermath of the Somalia scandal. For 79 days in a row a top general gave a press conference in Ottawa detailing developments in Yugoslavia. But, the generals often misled the public. Asked “whether the Canadians had been targeted, whether they were fired upon and whether they fired in return” during a March 24 sortie in which a Yugoslavian MiG-29 was downed, Ray Henault denied any involvement. The deputy chief of Defence Staff said: “They were not involved in that operation.” But, Canadians actually led the mission and a Canadian barely evaded a Serbian surface-to-air missile.While a Dutch aircraft downed the Yugoslavian MiG-29, a Canadian pilot missed his bombing target, which ought to have raised questions about civilian casualties.

One reason the military cited for restricting information during the bombing campaign was that it could compromise the security of the Armed Forces and their families. Henault said the media couldn’t interview pilots bombing Serbia because “we don’t want any risk of family harassment or something of that nature, which, again, is part of that domestic risk we face.”

During the bombing of Libya in 2011 and Iraq-Syria in 2014-16 reporters who travelled to where Canadian jets flew from were also blocked from interviewing the pilots. Once again, the reason given for restricting media access was protecting pilots and their families.

Since the first Gulf War the military has repeatedly invoked this rationale to restrict information during air wars. But, as Bergen reveals in Balkan Rats and Balkan Bats: The art of managing Canada’s news media during the Kosovo air war, it was based on a rumour that antiwar protesters put body bags on the lawn of a Canadian pilot during the 1991 Gulf War. It likely never happened and, revealingly, the military didn’t invoke fear of domestic retribution to curtail interviews during the more contentious ground war in Afghanistan.

During that war the CF took a completely different tack. The CF embedding (or in-bedding) program brought reporters into the military’s orbit by allowing them to accompany soldiers on patrol and stay on base. When they arrived on base, senior officers were often on hand to meet journalists. Top officers also built a rapport with reporters during meals and other informal settings. Throughout their stay on base, Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) were in constant contact, helping reporters with their work. After a six-month tour in Afghanistan PAO Major Jay Janzen wrote: “By pushing information to the media, the Battalion was also able to exercise some influence over what journalists decided to cover. When an opportunity to cover a mission or event was proactively presented to a reporter, it almost always received coverage.”

In addition to covering stories put forward by the military, “embeds” tended to frame the conflict from the perspective of the troops they accompanied. By eating and sleeping with Canadian soldiers, reporters often developed a psychological attachment, writes Sherry Wasilow, in Hidden Ties that Bind: The Psychological Bonds of Embedding Have Changed the Very Nature of War Reporting.

Embedded journalists’ sympathy towards Canadian soldiers was reinforced by the Afghans they interviewed. Afghans critical of Canadian policy were unlikely to express themselves openly with soldiers nearby. Scott Taylor asked, “what would you say if the Romanian military occupied your town and a Romanian tank and journalist showed up at your door? You love the government they have installed and want these guys to stay! Of course the locals are smiling when a reporter shows up with an armoured vehicle and an armed patrol.”

The military goes to great lengths to shape coverage of its affairs and one should expect stories about Canada’s mission in Mali to be influenced by the armed forces. So, take heed: Consume what they give you carefully, like you would a melted chocolate and marshmallow-coated graham wafer.

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Art and history paid for to shape opinions about military

Would it surprise you to learn the Canadian military spends millions on art and history?

Until April the Canadian War Museum is hosting an exhibition of war art from the Ukraine created through the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP). In 2014–15 eight artists were sent to observe Operation UNIFIER, Canada’s “training” mission to support Ukraine’s armed forces.

Until April the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP) is hosting an exhibition of war art from the Ukraine created through the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP). In 2014–15 eight artists were sent to observe Operation UNIFIER, Canada’s “training” mission to support Ukraine’s armed forces.

The purpose of CFAP is to “encourage artists to learn more about our men and women in uniform and to create works of art that document and explore Canada’s military history and experience.” The program pays for artists to spend 7-10 days in the field with troops to document their activities.

While CFAP began in 2001, there have been various iterations of the program over the past century. During World War I, for instance, Canada’s official war art program created almost 1,000 works of art. During WWII the head of the Army’s historical section, Colonel A. F. Duguid, initiated a war art program and over the years the Canadian forces have commissioned sketches of the Korean War, NATO missions, UN operations and the first Gulf War.

Today CFAP is run by the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of History and Heritage. With a 50-person staff, the Directorate also supports the Organization of Military Museums of Canada. The half-century old organization seeks “to preserve the military heritage of Canada by encouraging the establishment and operation of military museums.” Along with more than 60 Canadian Forces’ museums, the Directorate supports the Canadian War Museum.

DND’s Directorate of History and Heritage is “mandated to preserve and communicate Canada’s military history and foster pride in a Canadian military heritage.” They answer “1,000 questions of an historical nature” annually, helping high school students with assignments and academics navigate archival inquiries. The Directorate also works with the media. In the early 1990s, for instance, senior military historian Brereton Greenhous was a special advisor during production of the CBC film Dieppe 1942. Similarly, director of the historical section Charles Stacey vetted Canada At War, the first television miniseries to document Canada’s part in the Second World War, before the National Film Board produced program played on CBC.

The Directorate’s historians also help veterans exert political pressure. After a backlash to a Canadian War Museum exhibit that mentioned the WWII Allied Bomber Command targeting civilians, senior DND historian Serge Bernier was asked to write a report. Bernier concluded the exhibit was hurtful to the veterans.

The Directorate’s roots date back to the end of World War I when the Department of Militia and Defence established a historical section. In Clio’s Warriors: Canadian Historians and the Writing of the World Wars Tim Cook writes, “it has been the official historians of the Department of National Defence who, for much of the 20th century, have controlled the academic writing on the two world wars.” But, official historians’ influence has extended far beyond the “Great Wars”. In 1919 the historical section published the first in a three-volume series titled “A history of the organization, development and services of the military and naval forces of Canada from the peace of Paris in 1763, to the present time.” Immediately after the Korean War official historians wrote two books on the subject and published another in 1966. (Academics all but failed to revisit Canada’s role in Korea until the late 1990s.)

The minister approves publication of Directorate books. On several occasions cabinet has discussed and recommended changes to their histories.

Official historians published a large share of the early books on Canadian militarism and greatly influenced academia. The Directorate was the “graduate school in military history”, notes DND historian William A. Douglas, until “university departments started producing postgraduates.” In the two decades after World War II individuals who worked in the military’s historical sections filled many academic posts in military history and associated fields. And they were often influential in their field. Head of the War Artist Program and deputy-director of the Historical Section at Canadian Army Headquarters in London, George Stanley led the history department at the Royal Military College after World War II. During his career Stanley was president of the Canadian Historical Association, a member of the Massey Commission Committee on Historic Sites and Monuments and chairman of the federal government’s Centennial Publications Committee.

At the military-run Royal Military College Stanley taught Jack Granatstein and Desmond Morton. These two individuals, who both worked in DND’s historical section, have published hundreds of books and articles on Canadian military history and foreign policy.

A military historian for two decades, Colonel Charles Stacey has had “more influence on how Canadians view their nation’s military history” than any other individual. Director of the army’s historical section for 14 years after WWII, he published a dozen books and in 2000 Granatstein wrote that Stacey’s “books continue to be read and to have great influence on military and foreign policy historians.”

Turns out the military wants to control what you think about them and are willing to spend your tax dollars to do it.

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Celebrating war rather than peace reflects a sick society

Why do we build monuments to war rather than to its absence?

I wondered about this when reading about a recent tussle in the nation’s capital over the location for yet another celebration of people killing each other.

Last month the Canadian War Museum (CWM) complained to the National Capital Commission about the planned site of the National Memorial to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan. The government wants to put the Afghan Memorial between Vimy Place Road and the museum to the west of Parliament Hill. But the CWM believes the Afghan monument will “detract from the architectural vision” of the museum. They are also concerned people might think the memorial is part of their institution, which could undermine CWM’s goal of being seen as a “centre of scholarly excellence” rather than simply a hub of militarist propaganda.

Whoa, Nelly! Those horses left the barn long ago. The scope of pro-war propaganda in this country is huge, and CWM has long been part of it.

Each year, tens of millions of dollars in public money is spent on war memorials. The Afghan Memorial is just the latest addition to Ottawa’s long list of war shrines, which includes the Korean War Monument, National War Memorial, National Victoria Cross Memorial, Veterans Memorial Highway, National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, Boer War Memorial, etc. The federal government spends tens of millions of dollars on these and the more than 7,500 memorials registered with Veterans Affairs’ National Inventory of Military Memorials across the country.

These odes to militarism are generally silent about the Libyans, Afghans, Serbians, Iraqis, Koreans, Germans, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed by Canadian Forces. They focus almost exclusively on “our” side, which reinforces a sense that Canada’s cause is righteous. But Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: the Second World War.

Part war memorial and part veteran commemoration, the War Museum re-opened in 2005. The $136-million institution includes the Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour and is designed for light to shine on the headstone of the Unknown Soldier at 11 am on Remembrance Day. In Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson writes: “tombs of Unknown Soldiers… saturated with ghostly national imaginings.”

With $65 million a year in mostly public funds, CWM says it “helps tell the story of Canada’s military history to Canadians through its collections, its research, its exhibitions, and its public and education programs.” Its re-launch was highly successful and 500,000 visitors a year have passed through the new museum, which dates to 1880 when the Canadian militia began displaying military artefacts and archival materials. A 55,000-square-foot building, CWM houses a large collection of war art and Canadian Forces Artists Program works. The museum also has an arrangement with the Department of National Defence to showcase obsolete military equipment and CWM supports the Legion’s Lest We Forget Project, which introduces students to archives from the First and Second World Wars. Top weapons makers have also co-sponsored exhibits and speakers series at the museum.

CWM regularly partners with the more than 60 Canadian Forces museums across the country. According to a Canadian Forces Administrative Order, “the role of CF Museums is to preserve and interpret Canadian military heritage in order to increase the sense of identity and esprit de corps within the CF and to support the goals of the Department of National Defence.”

While it presents itself as scholarly, CWM has caved to military extremists. After shaping its development, the some veteran groups objected to a small part of a multifaceted Second World War exhibit, which questioned “the efficacy and the morality of the … massive bombing of Germany’s industrial and civilian targets.” The campaign led to a new display that glossed over a bombing campaign explicitly designed to destroy German cities.

The war shrines’ battle over space in Ottawa offers a glimpse into the ever-growing world of militarist memorials. But these monuments and museums are only a small part of a vast military propaganda system.

With the largest PR machine in the country, the Canadian Forces promotes its worldview through a history department, university, journals, book publishers, think tanks, academic programs and hundreds of public relations officers. Every year hundreds of millions of dollars in public money is spent promoting the Canadian Forces and militarism.

Maybe it is time for a Ministry of Peace with a budget big enough to properly celebrate those glorious times in human history when we lived together in harmony.

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How Canadian military tries to control what soldiers think

The Canadian Forces spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to shape popular discussion of military affairs. But, did you know that commanding officers also aim to control the flow of information to rank and file soldiers?

Recently, the newspaper at the Esquimalt, British Columbia, naval base rejected an ad from a law firm seeking to represent CF members who had been sexually harassed/assaulted. Quoting a comment by Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance on the impact of sexual assault in the military, Acheson, Sweeney, Foley and Sahota sought to advertise a “safe and supportive environment to tell your story.”

Esquimalt’s Lookout is among dozens of military run newspapers, journals and websites aimed at armed forces personnel. CF public relations officials generally decide what is published in them. The top brass has also sought to control independently owned media targeted at soldiers, notably Esprit de Corps, which aims “to contribute to the esprit de corps that has made the Canadian military one of the finest professional armed forces in the world.”

To gain access to Air Canada military charters in the late 1980s, the magazine was supposed to obtain DND “approval for all editorial content prior to publication.” But, in 1991 Esprit de Corps criticized the appointment of Marcel Masse as defence minister and interviewed Vice Admiral Chuck Thomas after he resigned as vice chief of defence. In response DND directed Air Canada to stop carrying Esprit de Corps. According to founding editor Scott Taylor in Unembedded: Two Decades of Maverick War Reporting, the airline sent the magazine a note saying, “due to concerns over editorial content, the Department of National Defence has ordered Air Canada to cease distribution of Esprit de Corps aboard military charter flights.”

Almost entirely distributed in-flight at the time, DND’s move would have crippled the magazine. The CF only backed down after Esprit de Corps went public and then privately threatened to reveal a possible conflict of interest between Chief of Defence Staff John de Chastelain and Canadian Defence Quarterly.

When Esprit de Corps helped expose the military’s attempt to cover up the 1993 Somalia Affair killings, the CF again targeted the magazine. Taylor writes, “memos were sent to the CANEX military retail stores, ordering them to cease the sale of our publication; the copies we had donated through the Royal Canadian Legion were to be burned, according to the official directive from National Defence Headquarters.” Even more debilitating for the magazine, DND asked Esprit de Corps defence clients to “cancel their advertising contracts.”

The military seeks to control what active soldiers can say publicly or post online. Under the Defence Administrative Orders and Directives and Queens Regulations and Orders, soldiers are not allowed to discredit the CF or discourage other troops from their duties.

With the rise of social media the Chief of Defence Staff ordered CF members to obtain authorization before posting information on Facebook or other online outlets. In 2006 Rick Hillier wrote, “[CF] members are to consult with their chain of command before publishing [CF]-related information and imagery to the internet, regardless of how innocuous the information may seem.”

In a reiteration of standing policy, in 2013 the CF required soldiers wounded in Afghanistan to sign a form saying they wouldn’t criticize senior officers on Facebook or other social media. Given to injured personnel transferred to the Joint Personnel Support Unit, the form stated “it must be clearly understood that the inappropriate use of social media can have serious ramifications for the CAF; it can erode public trust, cause serious breeches of security and destroy team cohesion.”

Alongside overt information control, DND operates numerous educational institutions. With two television studios, two radio studios, editing suites, a control room and 25 staff, the Defence Public Affairs Learning Centre trains soldiers in public relations. The Canadian Special Operations Training Centre trains Joint Task Force 2 and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment. Canadian Defence Academy includes the Toronto-based Canadian Forces College, Royal Military College Saint-Jean and Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston. With over 150 faculty the RMC is the only federally run degree-granting university. DND provides about $70 million annually to RMC and the defence minister is chancellor of a university with 2,500 students.

The federal government spends heavily on shaping soldiers attitudes. With 120,000 active soldiers, reservists and DND employees the military’s internal ideological capacity has a wide reach.

In a mainstream media story about one of Canada’s “enemies,” this sort of activity would be called brainwashing.

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Snowbirds so much more than just pilots and planes

Canada’s massive military cultural outreach effort suffered a blow last week. The Snowbirds aerobatic team was forced to cancel a half-dozen scheduled appearances because they require “additional practice and training.”

Each year the famed Snowbirds participate in some 60 air shows across North America. Over the years they’ve flown more than 2500 shows and cultural events such as Canada Day celebrations. As many as six million people watchSnowbird planes fly annually. Additionally, the military’s demonstration team has been celebrated in books and on Canada Post stamps.

Eighty Canadian Force’s (CF) personnel work full-time with the squadron and the military spends $4.3 million annually on flying costs for the Snowbirds. The CF plans to spend $755-million on a new fleet of aircraft for the aerobatics team.

But, the Snowbirds do not contribute to the CF’s combat capabilities. They are simply, according to the Department of National Defence, an “important public relations and recruiting tool.” Recruitment and community outreach are closely intertwined. DND spends $10-$20 million annually on recruitment. The CF advertises on Xbox video games and Twitter, as well as bus shelters and Stanley Cup playoff broadcasts. Describing it as “one of the primary windows through which Canadians view their military”, Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Goodspeed calls “recruiting advertising … the most powerful form of PR available to the CF.” Its “Fight Distress, Fight Fear, Fight Chaos—Fight with the Canadian Forces” recruiting campaign won a series of marketing awards in the late 2000s.

At the height of the war in Afghanistan the CF launched Operation Connection to mobilize the whole armed forces to “make contact and attract recruits.” A message sent to soldiers in 2006 explained:

As a member of the Canadian Forces, we count on your presence at the hundreds of activities we will participate in over the next year … festivals, ship visits, visits to schools, car shows, job fairs, air shows, sports events … Telephone your children’s schools or your grandmother’s seniors’ residence and ask if you and/or your unit could be of help planning a Canadian Forces Day event or setting up a Remembrance Day program.

Operation Connection showcased the CF at Canada Day festivities, Santa Claus parades, NHL games etc. CBC Our World host Brian Stewart describedthe “information machine” responsible for Op Connection as “a public affairs unit that dwarfs all other government promotion offices.”

In 2010-11 the CF admitted to spending $354 million on public relations and related military commemorations. Six hundred and sixty-one staff members worked on this effort. According to another 2011 report, the Department of National Defence’s Public Affairs department had 286 staff. Public Affairs Officers’ write press releases, organize press conferences, monitor the news, brief journalists, befriend reporters and editors, or perform various other media-related activities. A large proportion of the news stories about the military are based on CF statements and events.

Ottawa also celebrates specific wars and battles. Recently, the government spent millions of dollars to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. In 2012 the federal government launched a $28 million initiative to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

Commemorating “glorious” wars can boost the CF’s standing. Bruised by the long and unpopular war in Afghanistan, the CF sought “several positive, proactive communication opportunities” to shore up its image. According to an internal file Canadian Press uncovered, the military had “plans for commemorative activities, including a series of World War I events”, which were to receive millions of dollars of CF money through 2020.

Alongside specific war commemorations, the federal government spends tens of millions of dollars on war monuments. Ottawa is home to a National War Memorial, Korean War Monument, National Victoria Cross Memorial, Veterans Memorial Highway, National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, Boer War Memorial etc. There are more than 7,500 memorials registered with Veterans Affairs’ National Inventory of Military Memorials.

Veterans Affairs allocates tens of millions of dollars annually to war memorials and related “awareness” activities. Between 2006 and 2014 the department’s Community Engagement Partnership Fund dished out $13 million for hundreds of small projects recognizing veterans such as $5,000 for a Remembrance Day service at the University of British Columbia. During 2010-11 fiscal year $41 million was spent on Canada Remembers, which included“awareness and participation of Canadians in remembrance activities” and “maintenance and improvements of memorials, cemeteries and grave markers.”

The Snowbirds’ recent troubles are a small setback to the government’s massive cultural outreach. It’s time, however, for a concerted challenge to this unbridled militarism.

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Victims of Canadian colonialism celebrated for joining imperialist war

Amidst an orgy of martial patriotism that is finally over, there was a sad irony.

In recent days the Canadian Forces, banks, politicians, sports TV networks, private foundations, the news media, etc. have all promoted the idea that the centennial of Canadian troops capturing some high ground in France during a minor Word War 1 battle somehow represented the “birth” of Canada. The notion that the battle of Vimy Ridge “created our country” is bizarre enough but the celebration of First Nations’ participation in this episode of Canadian imperialism pushed the exercise into the realm of the absurd.

One hundred years ago in northern France 10,000 Canadians and 20,000 Germans were hurt or killed during four days of fighting to capture Vimy Ridge. Despite the claim it represented the “birth” of Canada, the soldiers were under British command and the battle had little impact on the war. The young men fell in a war spurred by intra-imperialist competition in Africa and elsewhere.

Strangely, the recent Vimy commemorations included an indigenous component. The prime minister’s office put out a number of press releases that mentioned the “Indigenous organizations” part of his official delegation to France. APTN did a story titled “Métis man with special connection to Vimy Ridge battle will see history up close” while a CKOM headline noted, “Indigenous veteran reflects on personal ties to Vimy Ridge”. A Two Row Times article was titled “’Indian’ warriors of Vimy Ridge” and on CBC’s Unreserved former Native Women’s Association of Canada president Marilyn Buffalo discussed her grandfather, Henry Norwest, who died at Vimy.

Historically the racist, colonialist narrative erased the contribution of First Nations to Canadian warfare. But, the recent “truth and reconciliation” process has included significant attention devoted to indigenous members of the Canadian armed forces. The Canadian Forces, government commissions and indigenous veterans associations, often backed by Veteran Affairs, have produced much of the laudatory literature on aboriginal war veterans.

A dozen books and theses, as well as hundreds of articles, detailing first nations’ contribution to Canadian/British wars mostly echo the military’s perspective of those conflicts. In The Awakening Has Come: Canadian First Nations in the Great War Era, 1914-1932, Eric Story depicts WWI as a noble affair. “The Great War had put First Nations shoulder to shoulder with Euro-Canadians in a fight for human rights and dignity”, writes Story in Canadian Military History Journal. The editor of We Were There said the aim of the Saskatchewan Indian Veterans Association book is to convince kids they fought for “freedom”. “I wanted to publish… to let Indian children know that their fathers and grandfathers fought for the freedom we now cherish.” (In truth Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II.)

The Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association (alongside other indigenous veterans’ groups) have been pressing the federal government to proclaim November 8 National Aboriginal Veterans Day. In 2016 Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr attended an Ottawa celebration while Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett participated in a Fredericton ceremony. In a statement Hehr noted, “we thank the thousands of indigenous Canadians in uniform who answered the call of duty and made the ultimate sacrifice. Their contributions and efforts have helped our country in its efforts to make this world a safer place.”

There is even a current of ‘progressive’ thinking that draws on indigenous military contributions to legitimate criticism of Canadian colonialism while simultaneously promoting Canadian imperialism. In a 2013 Huffington Postblog titled “Whitewashing Remembrance: I Wear A Poppy For Native Veterans” Elizabeth Hawksworth made an anti-racist argument for wearing the red poppy. “I choose to wear it because as a woman with Native ancestry, I want to remember those whose faces we never see in the Heritage moments or on the Remembrance Day TV spots.… I wear the poppy not just as a way to remember, but as a statement: freedom doesn’t just belong to white folks.”

Of course, the red poppy is the property of, and raises funds for, the jingoist Royal Canadian Legion. Additionally, red poppies were inspired by the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian army officer John McCrae. The pro-war poem calls on Canadians to “take up our quarrel with the foe” and was used to promote war bonds and recruit soldiers during WWI.

In a TVO interview marking the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I author Joseph Boyden said indigenous men enlisted to “do what’s right”. As he denounced the mistreatment of indigenous peoples after WWI, the author of Three Day Road, a novel dedicated to “the native soldiers who fought in the Great War”, called their fighting a “beautiful corner” of Canadian history.

But, there was nothing “beautiful” about World War I. It was an inter-imperialist conflict that left 15 million dead. All the ordinary soldiers who participated in it were victims of the ruling classes’ imperial ambitions.

And glorifying First Nations’ participation in imperialist wars as part of overcoming Canada’s colonial treatment of First Nations is, at a minimum, ironic.

This is where blind foreign policy nationalism and so-called patriotism has taken us.

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Media bias is real, and everywhere

Can you trust any media outlet to tell the truth about foreign affairs? Or are they all part of some propaganda system? Perhaps the best we can do to understand what’s really happening in the world is read/listen/watch a variety of sources, but assume they are all biased in one way or another?

These questions came to mind after a recent Montréal event about Syria.

In a La Presse article, international affairs reporter Agnès Gruda essentially dismissed a presentation by a freelance journalist who has covered the war in Syria by writing: “for who does Eva Bartlett really work? During her conference, she confirmed that she wrote commentaries for Russia Today — a Russian propaganda organ.”

Gruda isn’t the only reporter to highlight Bartlett’s ties to RT when discussing her Syria work. A Hamilton Spectator story about her talks in that city noted, “Bartlett maintains a blog for the state-funded media outlet Russia Today” while Pulse reported that she contributed to the “Kremlin broadcaster Russia Today.” (Bartlett has published five articles about Syria for RT.)

Of course, the question of where journalists publish or who employs them and the interests of the owners/funders of said media does deserve attention. It is not unreasonable to be skeptical of a Russian media outlet’s reporting on Syria. While I’m not current with RT, it’s hard to imagine that a station set up by the Russian government wouldn’t be biased in favor of Moscow’s position in a conflict it is a major player in.

But, does Gruda describe herself as an employee of the billionaire Desmarais family that is heavily involved in Canadian and other countries’ politics? How does Gruda describe journalists who’ve written for Al Jazeera, which is owned by a Qatari monarchy that has backed armed opposition to Assad? Or how about the BBC, CBC and other media outlets owned by governments?

Does Gruda offer readers similar background on journalists who’ve worked on a National Film Board documentary? Created as part of the Canadian government’s World War II propaganda arsenal, the 1950 National Film Board Act calls for it to “promote the production and distribution of films in the national interest.”

Or, does she mention journalists’ ties when they have freelanced for Radio Canada International, a “Canadian government propaganda arm”? Initially focused on Eastern Bloc countries, beginning in 1945 RCI beamed radio abroad as part of “the psychological war against communism”, according to external minister Lester Pearson. Early on External Affairs was given a copy of the scripts used by commentators and it responded to criticism of Canada’s international policies. Into the 1990s RCI’s funding came directly from External Affairs.

Or what about the Canadian Press? The influential media institution has significant historic ties to official Canadian international policy. During World War I Ottawa helped establish the Canadian Press to increase pro-war coverage and strengthen national identity. A predecessor newswire disseminated Associated Press stories in Canada but the war spurred criticism of the US news agency, which did not cheerlead British/Canadian policy loud enough for some (Washington had yet to join the fighting). “In effect, an arm of the British Foreign Ministry”, Reuters offered Canadian newspapers free wire copy during the war. But, the British press agency would only deliver the service to Ottawa. If the federal government “wanted to ensure that this pro-war imperial news service was distributed effectively across the country”, it had to subsidize a telegraph connection to the West Coast. To support CP the federal government put up $50,000 ($800,000 in today’s dollars) a year, which lasted for six years.

CP “cemented” itself as Canada’s national news service during World War II. “To accomplish this,” Gene Allen writes in a history of the organization, “CP cultivated unprecedentedly close relations with Canada’s military authorities — who had reasons of their own for wanting extensive coverage of the national war effort — and thereby moved some distance away from traditional notions of journalistic independence.” In an extreme example, CP recruited a Canadian Forces public relations officer who led reporters into battle zones. Bill Boss remained with the same unit but began reporting for the news service and would become one of Canada’s most famous war correspondents.

Nationalism remains an important media frame at the CP. “As a warcorrespondent in the 1990s”, former CP reporter Stephen Ward describes facing nationalist pressures. “I came under pressure to be patriotic when reporting on Canadian soldiers or peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere [Iraq] … I should not embarrass Canada by reporting on mistakes in the field; I should not quote soldiers puzzled about their mission; I should do ‘feel-good’ pieces about soldiers watching hockey via satellite in warring Bosnia.”

Most Canadian media face similar pressures in their international coverage, as I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation.

Certainly Russia’s foreign affairs machinery isn’t the only one that shapes international coverage. Highlighting Russia’s “propaganda system” to a Canadian audience without mentioning the one at home indicates either a journalist’s ignorance or that she is part of it.

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