It can be hard to like the peace movement. The truth is that, for the most part, they aren’t very good at what they do. Many of the people on the “progressive” side of the political spectrum seem to believe that pointless gestures matter. Just showing up and chanting the slogan-de-jour seems to be enough for far too many of them.
A common example of the kind of useless group think found at rallies of all kinds is the aggressively casual clothing worn by most of the participants. It’s a symbol of many of the things that are wrong with the movement as a whole. There they are, trying to speak truth to power, trying to influence the largely apathetic majority, and they can’t even bring themselves to dress the way people we think are serious dress. The uniform of the day for marchers of most kinds is just that, an almost archaic counter-culture uniform worn to prove that they have nothing in common with the people they are trying to talk to.
Another common problem, symptomatic of so much is wrong with the peace movement, is the lack of consistency. When “Bush’s War” became “Obama’s War”, it didn’t. The expression was never used. In fact, most of the peace movement went strangely silent when Barack Obama was elected. U.S. military and security policies may be exactly the same as they were under a Republican administration, but apparently it is no longer polite to complain about it. This strange phenomenon is just as common in Canada as it is in the U.S. Fortunately local activists still have Steven Harper to vilify.
It often seems that nobody in the peace movement cares about results, and it shows. If it’s enough to just show up, then nobody needs to notice that they didn’t actually end the war. Nobody needs to talk about success or failure, about what works and what doesn’t work if all you have to do is sign your name on the petition to call it progress.
This lack of competence is not completely pervasive, there are exceptions and one of them is the Rideau Institute. Steven Staples does show up in a suit and tie, he and the people around him do the hard work. They are not afraid to get there hands dirty by actually knowing what they are talking about. The reports by Michael Byers and Stewart Webb are an important part of the ongoing conversation we need to be having in this country.
The complaint that this blog and many others have is not with what they are saying, but how it is being said. It can be argued that much of this is due to lazy journalists who can’t be bothered to identify the goals of the Rideau Institute and the people who speak for them who, for the most part, do not try to hide their sympathies. Having said that, attempts to appear neutral in publications such as “Stuck in a Rut: Harper government overrides Canadian Army, insists on buying outdated equipment” and That Sinking Feeling Canada’s Submarine Program Springs a Leak” are a serious mistake on the part of the authors.
By trying to give the appearance of neutrality the authors of these reports find themselves contorting into untenable positions. In their last paper, on the Close Combat Vehicle acquisition program, the authors found themselves in the unlikely position of appearing to support the counter insurgency policy espoused by U.S. General Petraeus. It’s not the only obviously unlikely and/or outright incorrect statement in the paper and most of them are forced on the authors by the apparent necessity of not explaining why they are opposed to military spending of any kind, while opposing military spending of any kind.
What makes it hard to like the Peace movement is that so many of them are doing a very important job badly. If the subject at hand were not so important then the relative lack of ability shown by the Peace movement wouldn’t matter. But is important and it does matter. Because it does matter then it is especially important that those who are trying to do the job well to do it with integrity.