Canadian Vengeance

This is a sad day in Canada, presaging even sadder ones to come.

Today, an as-yet-unidentified man shot a soldier near Parliament Hill, and then rushed further, armed and aggressive, into the halls of Canadian government. He was then shot and killed himself.

Two days ago, another man—a recent and very superficial convert to Islam—rammed and killed another Canadian soldier with his car.

I do not know the real political affiliations of either of the attackers, but clearly among their personal intentions we can list the intent to commit suicide. You don’t expect to survive if you kill a soldier and then, by rushing into the seat of government, practically guarantee hero status for whoever shoots you.

In other words, both of these men sought a way out of this mortal coil, and decided that the best and most dignified way to get out would be to go on a killing spree against strangers in uniform until someone else killed them in return.

Whether or not these attackers were in any way authentically associated with ISIS or Muslim terrorism, politicians, newspeople, and the common man at his dinner table will associate them with it. The steady spread of plausible, self-confirming rumour about the evil of Islam will grow and accelerate.

Like all acts of Muslim-branded terrorism hitherto committed on North American soil, although the casualties are numerically miniscule, the symbols are profound.

Because the terrorists attacked soldiers and politicians, the very embodiments of Canadians’ self-identification with the state, Canadians at large will feel that the terrorists have attacked them personally. Canadians will feel frightened and vengeful. We will find it psychologically very easy to dehumanize Muslims and Middle-Easterners. And we will feel more ready to kill them.

This is only one of the early incidents in a long and self-perpetuating cycle of vengeance, quasi-racist and quasi-religious xenophobia on both sides, and death, death, death for everyone.

Canadian politicians will shake their fists at the shadowy foe, and promise to send more brave Canadian soldiers, and especially more nice, clean bombs to go and kill the enemy.

Even if the enemy (ISIS? Militant Islam? Middle-Eastern sexist violence?) could be well-defined, when those bombs fall, they will kill and maim noncombatants, innocents, and children too.

Then the vengeful victims and their kin and those who feel some symbolic self-identification with them will cry out for more murdering.

And some new mentally unstable Canadian will adopt their cries for vengeance as a way to escape his own muddled life in a sudden act of purifying suicidal glory. And that mentally unstable fellow (almost always, it is a man) will kill some more Canadians, numerically insignificant but symbolically profound.

Killing some more of those Canadians will let you escape your life with glory, they say to their audience on Twitter and YouTube. Killing some more of those Arabs will bring peace to us and them, we whisper to our children as we tuck them into bed.

In the spiral of bloodshed into which we are now descending, the Canadian public at large may succumb to historically illiterate self-congratulatory neoliberalism (“We just have to go over there, bomb those sexists, and educate some girls; and then then they’ll all be ready for the gift of democracy.”) Or the public may succumb to implicitly genocidal self-congratulatory neoconservatism (“We just have to kill the bad guys until there aren’t any more of them, and then the Middle-East will be safe again and send us their oil in return for the gift of democracy.”)

Either way, if collectivist violence continues to be accepted as a wise and honorable pursuit, the blood will flow until the sands of time blot it over with some new catastrophe.

There is, as far as I know, only one hope for peace. And that is the humble recognition that other humans are people too — not nations we can rescue or demons we can destroy. Just people.

Both of this week’s amateur terrorists are dead. We can exact no further vengeance upon them for the fear they have struck in our hearts by attacking our symbols. If the politicians want (and they probably do), they can issue orders to have some more Canadian people kill some more Syrian or Iraqi or Turkish people. But that cannot resurrect our dead or erase our fears or refute their religions or save their nations.

It can just kill more people.

A decade ago, when I marched along with thousands in the protests against the Iraq War (2003 edition), I wept in the beauty of our songs (“Give Peace a Chance”). I laughed with the cleverness of our placards (“Who Would Jesus Bomb?”)

This year, weary and engaged more in fatherhood than in politics, I did not march to protest Canada’s involvement in the latest vaguely defined bombing of Middle-Easterners.

And this morning, I have no tears or laughter. I have only sadness and sympathy for all those people who will wave the flag of a nation or a religion and kill other people, and die themselves.


Image courtesy of the National Post. More details certain to be forthcoming.

Also posted on


23 thoughts on “Canadian Vengeance

  1. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that most of your fears will not come to pass. There will not be the same hysterical reaction that would happen south of the border. Why? Because we don’t have the same large proportion of wack-a-doodles as south of the border. Canada is not the U.S.A with quaint speech patterns.

    • I’m inclined to agree with that comment, and for essentially the reason you give. There really is a whack (or wack)-a-doodle quality to American politics, especially re foreign policy. In all seriousness, I’ve thought of moving to BC, but alas, personal and logistical considerations make it impossible.

    • There will not be the same hysterical reaction that would happen south of the border. Why? Because we don’t have the same large proportion of wack-a-doodles as south of the border two soldiers were killed, not thousands of innocent people working in skyscrapers and flying on planes.

      Fixed that for you, Dr A.

      Canada is exactly like the US, except with less Mexicans and blacks (i.e it’s just like Montana).

    • First things first. I made a prediction, it looks like you concur but I want to make sure. Do you?

      Second, you argue that there will not be a hysterical reaction because the numbers are low. Really? The U.S. of A. has gone into hysteria because of how many ebola deaths?

      “Canada is exactly like the US, except with less Mexicans and blacks (i.e it’s just like Montana).”

      For now I’m going to assume that you’re trolling me and your next post will have “HAHAHAHA! Gotcha!” I will admit that for a second I took it seriously. Good one.

    • ‘Yes’ I concur and ‘yes’ because only two people – soldiers no less – died.

      The ebola thing is political, not cultural. It’s an election year and the GOP has itself a nice, plump target in the form of an unpopular president, though your point is duly noted.

      And let’s be honest with ourselves: Canadians are just glorified Montanans.

  2. “Killing some more of those Arabs will bring peace to us and them, we whisper to our children as we tuck them into bed.”

    Who in the world is doing this? As a quasi-official representative of neo-conservatism on this blog (according to Brandon, its able editor), I am left scratching my head. I don’t know any one who does this, or anything close to it. I don’t even know anyone I would suspect of doing this (“tuck them into bed’).

    In what world, what mental world do you live?

    • Oh, that last one’s an easy question. The “tuck them into bed” business was admittedly rhetorical hyperbole, but Angelo Codevilla has, in literal terms, defended the “kill some more Arabs” proposition in question in this book:

      We ran a symposium on the book in Reason Papers (spring 2006). One symposiast was sympathetic to Codevilla’s views (David Goldman) two of us (Roderick Long and I) were critical. Codevilla responded in the Fall 2007 issue.

      His position was: if only we kill a few more Arabs, we’ll be safe. His target? The then-existing Syrian regime. Yes, that’s right: he wanted to destroy the Syrian regime that existed in 2007. If only we destroyed the secular Syrian regime in 2007, the claim was, we’d be safer. I encourage readers of NOL to go back and read the exchange.

      Neither Codevilla nor Goldman are marginal figures on the political right. They’re standard-bearers for right-wing militarism.

      The real question is what world they live in. The answer is, the world of the neo-conservative right, i.e., a dream world in which all problems are to be solved by the increased application of military force without any sense of limits or expected consequences.

    • Thanks for the heads up on the Reason Papers Dr Khawaja! You guys have done beautiful work. How on earth did you get all of that archived onto readily accessible pdf files?

      I have to admit upfront that I haven’t made it all the way down to 2006 or 2007 yet. I got sidetracked by the October 2012 issue. I just read Rahe’s paper but am unconvinced by his (or Montesquieu’s) commercial thesis (though I am of course very sympathetic to it), and am about to start on yours after I grab a cup of delicious, Sunday morning coffee.

      Also interesting to see, in the case of Goldman, a slow-but-predictable progression take place from radical leftist to neoconservative. This is such a common theme that I have ask if you know of any work attempting to explore this narrative.

  3. Irfan: Interesting reference but that’s a long way from whispering to children as you tuck them into bed. Also: Hardly anyone has read the document reference who is not equipped to pass judgment on what you present as a literal recommendation to kill more Arabs.

    Hyperboles matter. They often betray the author’s own intoxication. They are a good tool to sort what’s worth reading from what is not.

    Brandon: David Horowitz’s “Radical Son” is a good start.

    • I wasn’t defending the “whispering to children” quotation. I agree that hyperbole matters, such as when someone says there’s nothing worth eating in all of Canada.

      I really can’t figure out what you’re trying to say about the Codevilla-Goldman reference I gave. Codevilla came out in favor of war against Syria way back in 2005. Goldman asks (in 2006), how much Arab-killing do you have in mind?, going into gory detail about how much might be required, and reaching back into history to provide scary examples of wars that required lots of killing. And Codevilla responds: “Whatever it takes!”, where ‘whatever” starts from a baseline of 2,000 of the Syrian elites but includes large swatches of the rest of the population (p. 143 of the 2007 issue). The exclamation point is Codevilla’s; no hyperbole on my part. Granted, he doesn’t want to whisper it to children. He wants to yell it through a megaphone.

      In the paragraph before the “whatever it takes” one, Codevilla illustrates his point via the Aeneid: Aeneas had to slaughter Turnus before his statesmanship could be effective; we should learn from and emulate Aeneas. Like hyperbole, literary references betray an author’s ideological commitments.

      Brandon will like this, but not long after my exchange with Codevilla, I wrote a review of a book by Sarah Chayes, a leftist who favored our indefinitely remaining in Afghanistan for purposes of nation-building (aka “democratic imperialism,” a project also defended by neo-conservatives like Stanley Kurtz). In her book, Chayes had praised Abd-ur Rahman Khan, the 19th century Afghan amir whose “ethnic cleansings” forced his “unruly countrymen to submit to him.” Not a literary reference but a historical one, but one which she wanted us to emulate in Afghanistan. To paraphrase Led Zeppelin, the song remains the same, whether the imperialism is left- or right-wing.

      The quotation is on p. 32.

    • Brandon–

      Thanks for the kind words. Putting the PDFs on the site was really the work of our tech crew over the years–Stephan Kinsella, David Veksler, Israel Curtis, Blake Barber, and starting with our last issue, my co-editor, Carrie-Ann Biondi. Tech-wise, I’m worthless. I didn’t do anything but watch.

      I hate to brag but don’t mind advertising–there’s a lot of good stuff in RP, and hopefully, lots of good stuff to come. By the way, we’re always looking for contributors. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a partisan (libertarian or Objectivist) journal. We’ve published Marxists, theists– even conservatives. A couple of Canadians.

    • Irfan: Of course, I am not defending a book I have not read. I insist however that whatever the author of the book said, it’s not common for American parents to whisper to children that it’s nice to kill Arabs as they tuck them to bed. I have observed in my lifetime precisely this kind of hyperbole do much damage in this very country.

      Ok, I exaggerated; perhaps there is one restaurant in Canada where it’s possible to get something good to eat, one thing. One has to hurry though because it will close in a few days for lack of customers.

      And one more thing about Canadians: They all speak funny, in French as well as in English, and they can’t spell (“colour”) in either language.

    • Thanks for the heads up on that Afghanistan piece, Dr Khawaja.

      I finally got around to reading both that piece and the symposium on war hosted by Reason Papers (I got distracted by the symposium on Nusseibeh’s work).

      I largely agree with Codevilla but think that you and Goldman (“Spengler”) raise some good points that Codevilla doesn’t answer. I didn’t read Long because I already knew what he was going to say (Codevilla’s brusque summary of Long’s arguments in his introductory paragraph suggest my hunch was right).

      In general, crushing an enemy is indeed the best way to win a war. Codevilla’s point about state-sponsored terrorism is a good one, and suggests to me that the West is fighting the wrong enemy when it goes after “terrorism” rather than states. Where I think Codevilla goes wrong is on governing conquered peoples. I’m of the opinion that if “you break it, you buy it” and invading another state with a military with the intent of destroying a regime means you gotta stay behind if you really want peace (as you point out).

      Part of my thinking along these lines goes back to how it would affect us here in the States. A total war would be harder to declare than legislation passed to give executives broad power for fighting stateless enemies. Once conquered, I wouldn’t see anything wrong with carving a conquered area up into “states” that could send representatives and senators to Washington. Annexation of occupied territories, plus the (initial) costs of doing so, would lead to calm and understanding on both sides (with apologies to Matthew!).

  4. Terry: If Canada is a real country, how come there is nothing worth eating there from East to West? I know, because I tried although I gave up before I reached the very mouth of the Saint Lawrence (I was too hungry.) It’s true though that Canadians are nicer than Americans. They can’t even get raise their level of hostility before a hockey world championship. I did like the mayor of Toronto while he lasted. He sounded much more fun that the teetotaling, vegan mayor of Santa Cruz. And I used to know a Canadian woman (not really a lady) who… but I had better stop right here, nobody would believe me.

  5. “Terry: If Canada is a real country, how come there is nothing worth eating there from East to West?”

    You have to be willing to eat someplace other than the gasoline stations in the rest areas along the highway.

    • It’s good to meet someone whose standard of good food is hotdogs rolling under an infrared lamp and microwave burritos. You must’ve driven straight through Quebec; the French in Quebec created a dish right down your alley. A liberal serving of gravy and cheese curds served on top of French fries.

  6. Terry: Your knowledge of the gourmet circuit honors you. You are describing “poutine” I should have mentioned it. I agree that it’s the best thing there is to eat in all of Canada.

    Incidentally, “the French” in Quebec are not French, have not been for 250 years. Their popular songs, for instance are much better than anything you will find in France.

    However I have enjoyed this spirited exchange of abstract ideas, I am going to stop now. I am becoming ashamed of distracting others from other pursuits on this blog.

    • You’re incoherent babbling on foreign policy and Libya has been picking up steam again. More people have been mocking you and your arguments again.

      In short, Dr J, you are the one with an emotional-liberal connection to imperialism: you cannot make an argument without relying on your feelings and what you advocate policy-wise comes straight out of the liberal playbook (“arbitrary decision-making rather than rule-following and condescending paternalism”).

      If you cannot make a coherent argument, Dr J, why troll? Incidentally, Mike’s point about a spiral of bloodshed has proved to be remarkably prescient…

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