So, What [do] We Talk About When We Talk About War? Noah Richler’s new book is a polemic, going after what he sees as the creeping militarism of Canadian society. It’s a sharp book, an angry book, and for someone who spent the last six years in the US it comes as a bit of a shock. For Richler, the last decade of foreign and military policy is a travesty of both speech and action: proclaiming Canada a “warrior nation,” denigrating peacekeeping, and indulging in insincere celebrations of the military.
The problem is that after skewering segments of the federal government, the media, Canada’s universities, and – from time to time – the public itself, there’s nowhere for Richler to go. If “warrior nation” rhetoric is misleading and misguided, where does that leave Canadians? With peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, yes, but also with a looming gap whenever we next ask ourselves “what is it worth fighting for?” Sometimes, What We Talk About When We Talk About War feels more like What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking About War, as it dissects the language of conversation without much regard for the truly thorny issues on the ground.
From this point of view, it’s a serious problem that WWTAWWTAW has only two points of reference when it comes to war: World War One and the recent commitment in Afghanistan. No Korea. Almost no World War Two or Boer War. To say that nothing is worth going to war for, except when it is, is a singularly unhelpful position on foreign policy.
Reading WWTAWWTAW I miss the old Noah Richler from This Is My Country, What’s Yours? who went out and talked to people. A cornucopia of op-eds does not equal a conversation, and in this case that’s truly a shame.