Saturday, September 23, 2006

I wore blue, green, khaki and black. I'm not wearing red for anybody.

OK, so it's Saturday. What colour am I supposed to wear today?

Apparently "Wear Red Friday" was a howling success with thousands attending a rally on Parliament Hill to show support for Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

That's nice.

I have no doubt this idea germinated some time ago. It might have even been intended to be an impromptu event. However, despite all the good intentions of the original organizers, it became a political rally supporting the Conservative Party of Canada.

Some skeptics believe the CPoC may have actually had a hand in organizing the whole event.

I don't think there's any question of that.

The telling point is that Steve Harper made an "impromptu" appearance.

Although billed as a non-partisan rally, Mr. Harper used the occasion to slip in a not-so-subtle jab at NDP Leader Jack Layton, who has called for the withdrawal Canadian troops from the combat portion of the mission.

"Friends, I believe you cannot say you are for our military and then not stand behind them in the great things they do."

The rally came hours after Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed a joint session of Parliament and thanked Canadians for their efforts in the poverty-stricken country. Later, Mr. Karzai laid a wreath at the National War Memorial to honour the 36 Canadians who've died serving in his country since 2002.
Pure choreography. And Harper doesn't do "impromptu". He isn't capable of it. The only way Harper makes an appearance is if it is managed, safe and pre-arranged. His words are always pre-prepared, cliche-riddled and unoriginal, just as they were yesterday. He gave away the game.

If the CPoC didn't originally organize this event, then they highjacked it long before the actual date. It looked and smelled Rovian. Radio station CFRA, an ultra-conservative media organ, was the biggest booster and put a great deal of effort into promoting the event. It leaves one wondering how hot Sandra Buckler's fax machine was running in the days before the rally.

As for the original idea, I really have no problem with it. Yes, the troops in Afghanistan will hear about it. It will make a difference to them - for a very short moment. They will then get back to their business because they have other more serious things to worry about.

And, while I have no problem with the idea, the optics, mechanics and real effect leave me cold. In ascending order of importance the problems appear as:

1. Red Fridays, as a symbol for supporting troops overseas is a purely American idea, as is detailed here and here. One could suggest a coincidence but that's not likely. In fact, given the similarities of the "movements" it strongly suggests that the American idea was exported to Canada. That gives rise to another problem.

2. Red Fridays, the US "support the troops" movement, claims to be non-partisan and grass-roots . Nothing could be further from the truth. Red Fridays is an ultra-right-wing US Republican initiative of the Move Off network run by LB Neal of Move Off LLC. Following the links in any of the Move Off sites produces a litany of jingoistic rubbish and in many cases, blatant racism. If you go, take a vomit bag. Keep in mind that red is the distinctive colour of the Republican party. Of course, another problem arises.

3. The whole idea of wearing a visible symbol for anything like this leads to an argument that those who do not wear red on Fridays obviously do not support the troops. Joe Warmington of the right-wing Toronto Sun made that clear in his latest column when he was whining that the organizers of Toronto's car-free day event weren't wearing red. That translation is inevitable to the weak-minded. Warmington, like Harper, erects a strawman. If you don't visibly demonstrate support for Canadian troops in Afghanistan, you must be against them. You must be FOR the mission in order to be FOR the troops. Regardless of my view, I have never accepted that anyone opposed to the mission in Afghanistan has any less feeling of support for the troops on the ground than anyone who supports the deployment. Whether Warmington wants to enunciate it or not, the wearing of red on Fridays becomes support of the mission - the only way you can support the troops. Warmington, if he wants to support the troops, might do well to trade-in the ridiculous fedora for some kevlar. Of course, that creates some other issues.

4. Aside from the immediate families of those members actually serving in Afghanistan and the CF, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who more strongly supports the troops than me. I want every single one of them to come home safely. I'll wear whatever I want on a Friday. Further, I find the idea that wearing red, going to a "Rah-Rah" rally and listening to a speech is supposed to provide any tangible level of support for expeditionary troops near ludicrous. It is the least committed, laziest and least demanding of a multitude of things that one could be doing to show real support. It boils down to: they fight - you sit and whistle, and garner praise for doing it. I would question whether anyone gave up a day's pay to attend the rally in Ottawa. I would not be surprized, however, to hear that a lot of people booked off "sick" to get the day off. And, for what it's worth, red has always been the colour of enemy forces on a combat plot. Friendly forces are blue. (A commenter on another blog pointed out that most Republicans are unlikely to know that.)

Do you want to show support? Try doing it in a fashion that demonstrates at least a little bit of knowledge of their situation. This guy certainly has a better idea.

An even better idea is to get directly involved. Find out what the troops on the ground in Afghanistan want and cannot get. Go here, and you can write to any CF member and ask. Go here, and you can send some of the things they might like to have. Try to keep it small, but don't spare the expense. A few ideas would be to send 2000 of these. Or maybe send some of these - enough for a platoon - in various sizes. Or, what ever the troops might ask for.

You want to really support the troops? The best way you can do it is to make sure that when the next rotation to Afghanistan comes up it isn't the same people going back. Join now and make sure your training is completed in time for the next roto. If you're too old, send your kids.

Do something real. Breaking your arms while patting yourself on the back for wearing red and attending a political rally is so.... safe, cheap and way too easy.

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