I live and work a few kilometres away from the site of the CNE in Toronto, and every Labour Day long weekend I’m forced to endure the travesty and disgrace which is the annual Air Show.
Now really, I’m quite lucky. The sound of the jet engines roaring sets my teeth grinding mostly because of an abiding hatred of stupid blind nationalistic militarism and war-mongering, a sort of innate despising loathing of the tools of war.
But I personally have never heard that same jet engine roar and feared for my life, or the life of my loved ones.
Which isn’t true for my neighbours. I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world – and amongst that diversity are refugees from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from Bosnia, from places where Canada’s air force, and the air forces of our allies, have rained down death from the sky.
That jet engine roar is, quite literally, the sound of impending death.
And our city’s celebration of these planes – our glorification of them, our aweful praise for their technical ability and their pinpoint precision and their tight coordination – is nothing less than a fetishism of the machinery of death.
Which is kind of awkward. Because such a celebration is really only tenable if we are celebrating the death of Those People Over There, the bad guys, the ones who had it coming.
But Those People Over There are also our neighbours, our co-workers, the people next to us on the streetcar and in line with us at the grocery store.
And it’s only by ignoring this fact that people are able to watch the air show with childlike delight, and imagine that these killing machines are used in the name of goodness.
Canada and its allies have come under metaphorical fire recently over reports of mounting civilian casualties in their air war against ISIS. From the CBC:
An internal Pentagon document obtained by CBC’s the fifth estate raises questions about the quality of the investigation conducted by coalition forces into an allegation that as many as 27 civilians were killed in Iraq by a Canadian airstrike.
The Department of National Defence acknowledged last week that an investigation looked into allegations that a Canadian airstrike had killed civilians in northwestern Iraq in January of this year. It was part of an important battle for a key highway near Mosul…
The Canadian-linked allegation stems from an airstrike conducted by CF-18s northwest of Mosul on Jan. 21 of this year. The strikes were meant to drive out fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which is also sometimes referred to as ISIL.
Oh, CF-18s, you say? From the Toronto Air Show’s website:
Showcasing the pinnacle of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s assets, the CF-18 jet’s unbelievable manoeuverability, combat capabilities and overall sky-power will thrill the crowd-favourite with its tactical demo. Featuring a paint scheme in honour of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, this crowd-favourite is not one to miss!
Leaving aside the ungrammatical incoherence, let’s just stop for a minute to consider the implications of this. The CF-18 is a bomb-dropping combat jet which Canada is currently using to pummel the hell out of ISIS – inasmuch as it can ascertain who exactly is a member of ISIS.
And let’s be clear on this – the nature of wars like these is that a lot of the time, air forces don’t know exactly whom they’re dropping bombs on. They may have vague notions. Hell, they may be pretty sure. But they are essentially acting as judge, jury, and executioner, on extremely limited evidence. And more often than they’d like us to believe, they wind up killing totally innocent people, by the dozens or hundreds.
This is the jet that is a “crowd-favourite”. The jet whose engine roars through Toronto’s skies harmlessly, playfully, showing off for the kids in the crowd looking up in awe.
We need to stop glorifying war. We need to stop teaching our children that it’s OK. We need to stop pretending to ourselves that the deaths of people who wanted nothing to do with any wars thousands of miles away is justifiable in the name of achieving some strategic imperative that even our military leaders struggle to articulate.
We need to stop treating international disagreements like dick-waving contests – we need to stop whipping out our CF-18s as soon as we feel insulted or intimidated or belittled. Emasculated. Our manliness questioned.
Of course we need to stop them, the war-mongers proclaim. They’re threatening us!
And everybody knows that the thing a real man, a drunk man outside a bar at two in the morning who thinks some other guy was eyeing his girl up a little too aggressively, does in response to provocation, is to escalate the situation. Rapidly. Violently. And decisively.
The Air Show makes me incoherently angry. It’s a hideous vicious expression of the worst most narrow-minded kind of militaristic bullshit this culture is capable of swallowing.
So screw this “tradition”. Its time has passed. The illusion of a world of good guys (Us) and bad guys (Those People Over There) that is promotes is not sustainable, nor should we want to sustain it. And the roar of the jet engines is not welcome in our skies.
For too many people in this city, those sounds are unwelcome reminders of the worst days of their lives.