WHAT STARTEDOUT for years ago as a story about the murders of two Somalis by Canadian troops during the 1992-1993 “peacekeeping” mission has turned into an ever-broadening indictment of a military drenched from the top down in jingoism, racism, sexism, and ties to organized Nazism. Despite massive official stonewalling and cover-up, the brutal, imperialist essence of Canada’s armed might is being clearly exposed, like a photograph emerging slowly from a negative.
The Ugly Canadians abroad. Billed as a humanitarian expedition to save a “failed state,” the invasion of Somalia was really a play by the world’s Big Guys to regain control of a geopolitically key former colony. Canadian soldiers were dispatched in mid-December 1992.
It didn’t take long for the horror to begin. On New Year’s Eve, the commander of the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment, Carol Mathieu, wandered drunk through the streets of the city where he was stationed, shouting, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the king of Belet Huen!”
His boss, Colonel Serge Labbe, offered a case of champagne as a prize for the first dead Somali.
His troops, meanwhile, referred to Somalis by racial epithets and joked about hunting them as trophies. They hung Nazi and U.S. Confederate flags in their barracks, perhaps influenced by the time they spent training in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Fort Bragg is home to the 82nd Airborne Division, which included white supremacists charged in the murder of a Black couple in Fayetteville.
On March 4, 1993, Mathieu’s soldiers shot down two unarmed, fleeing Somalis. Wounded and struggling, both were shot again from behind; one, Ahmed Afraraho Aruush, died.
Two weeks later, a hungry teenager named Shidane Arone entered the Belet Huen aid camp, hoping to be fed. Instead, he was grabbed, beaten all night, and tortured to death by drunken soldiers.
After the regiment came back, nine of its members were tried in military court for crimes related to the murder of Arone. A private was convicted of torture and manslaughter, but Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu was acquitted, and Major Anthony Seward, who ordered troops to abuse prisoners, got off with a reprimand.
After the military trials ended, a public inquiry, which is just now concluding, was launched. Hamstrung by official noncooperation, destruction of documents, and restrictive judicial rulings, it has nevertheless brought about a high-level shakeup in the military and a review of Seward’s sentencing, which landed him three months in jail and dismissal in disgrace from the army.
The war within. In January 1995, as the military trials were wrapping up and the public inquiry about to start, the Airborne was preparing once again for so-called peacekeeping duty – this time in Croatia. But then Canadian TV aired footage from two amateur videos, one made in Somalia and one made earlier at the regiment’s base in Ontario, showing shocking scenes of the regiment’s racism and gruesome hazing rituals.
Two examples: In the Somalia video, Master Corporal Matt McKay, a former member of the Aryan Nation, complained that he “ain’t killed enough niggers yet.” In the other, a Black recruit with the words “I love KKK” written on his back in excrement crawled through a gauntlet of blows and urination.
Public outrage was intense, and the Airborne was disbanded in March.
Mountains of monstrosities. The Canadian military is sick right to its bones, and for anybody needing more proof, evidence abounds:
- In 1992, Canada’s first female infantry officer, Captain Sandra Perron, was tied to a tree, beaten, and left bare- foot for two hours in the snow during a training exercise.
- In 1993 in Bosnia, military personnel who took over the Bakovici mental hospital shot at, raped, and battered patients; others engaged in countrywide black marketeering and fraud.
- A few months ago, the press ran photos of military engineers in Kuwait posing with body parts of dead Iraqi soldiers.
These cases are neither isolated nor accidental. The role of the Canadian armed services is to impose, by force, the will of the world’s major governments on every other country – and on their own populations, when it comes to that. Therefore, xenophobia and an insanely exaggerated white machoism are essential to building their terrorist-capitalist fighting machine.
There is nothing humane about the supposedly humanitarian missions of the U.N., U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, etc., and there is nothing “junior” about the war crimes of junior imperialist Canada.
What is to be done? After years of pay freezes and scapegoating, underpaid soldiers who shoulder the blame for abuses rooted in leadership policy are now calling for a union. They should be supported: A soldiers’ union that pushes to elect its own officers and have a say in its places and terms of engagement, as well as pay rates, hours of work, and so on, would be a step forward.
But make no mistake: the current military can not be reformed. It can be redefined only when it is completely removed from the control of the capitalist class that now profits from its uses. The fight to change it, however, can be part of the fight that makes the overthrow of the predator class possible.
In Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, he says the army must become “a weapon of the exploited instead of the exploiters.” Let us work with all our strength to make that real.