Since Col. Pat Storgan’s infamous news conference in 2010, veterans have been very-publicly calling out for us to fix the problems with their benefits. Veterans have been protesting, suing, going on hunger-strikes, staging sit-ins, holding rallies, talking to the press, explaining to anyone who will listen what the problems are with Veterans Affairs. Some of us have even been paying attention. But the issues persist, not much action has been taken, and government has continued to fight our veterans in court.
There are many reason why we must fix veterans benefits, now.
There’s the hero-worshipping we-owe-our-freedom-to-them sentiment. There’s the obvious fact that we citizens owe them for serving our national interests - they sacrificed for us, it is fair and just that we should provide and comfort them. There is enlightened self-interest - if we do not care for those who served, we will soon find no one willing to take up that role.
There is also a big and obvious reason: fear. While most hesitate to discuss this, we cannot deny it. We have almost one million current and former members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP. All have been heavily trained in the use of weapons, in pacifying and occupying regions, and in acting in unity against opposing forces. We should be asking ourselves: is it a smart idea to make enemies of these people?
The history of human civilization has provided us with powerful object lessons: any group which is continually mistreated and ignored by general society will eventually erupt in violence. We are witnessing this now in Europe, in Syria, in Egypt and Palestine. We watched it with the Arab Spring, in Northern Ireland, in South Africa. The Russian Revolution. The French Revolution. The American Revolution. Mobs take to the street, and then take the streets, and then take control.
Every violent uprising grows from the same seed: frustration. Frustration with the status quo; frustration with being ignored; frustration with being unable to obtain fair treatment through other means. The PLO, IRA, ANC, FLN, FARC, ETA, PSP -- the list stretches back through history -- the Socialist-Revolutionary Party and the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the American Patriots, the French National Constituent Assembly ... All of these groups tried to talk and negotiate better circumstances for their people. All became frustrated when the ruling power ignored or dismissed them. All turned to violence. From modern Greece to ancient Rome -- from the present day to the far past, mistreated people have taken up arms when their appeals were ignored long enough.
As uncomfortable as that may make you, it is still true. Oppressed people rise up.
Those who enlist with the RCMP or Canadian Forces engage in a social contact with us citizens. They agree to sacrifice limb, life, and sanity to protect us all. In exchange, we agree to care for the wounded and dead and their survivors.
Veterans take that contract very seriously.
Much more seriously than us. We have been neglecting, ignoring, failing, or simply breaking our side of that contract. We also continue to ignore the complaints of injustice from veterans. This is an extremely dangerous way for us to behave.
Acting like that is extremely dangerous, for there is nothing more alienating than apathy.
In the year 100 BCE, Roman Consul Marius got the Senate to pass a law giving Legion veterans land upon retirement; a pension plan. When the Senate later repealed that land grant, the outraged Legions took control of Rome and gave it to General Julius Caesar. Throughout the rest of the Roman Empire’s history, cuts or delays to soldiers pay or mucking with their pensions would result in the Legions moving on Rome. Many coups, rebellions and civil wars would result from failure to provide for the Legions.
What has Canada been doing?
Retired Mounties and Forces know how we are failing them. They know about the homeless veterans; the wounded veterans on welfare because of their lack of benefits; the widows and orphans not able to make ends meet while they are fighting for death benefits, decorated soldiers losing their utilities or homes due to lack of funds; veterans not able to keep medical appointments because they cannot afford the gas money; the lack of funds to give a veteran a decent burial.
Veterans are horrified that Calgary has a veterans-only food bank; they are appalled that there should be such a need. Veterans have been lobbying and suing and protesting. But things are not getting better and frustration is mounting. Veterans gave for us, and we took. We owe, but do not pay. Veterans shout, we do not listen.
How long can it be before veterans take matters into their own hands? Before you scoff at the idea of armed insurrection in Canada, remember OKA and the FLQ Crisis. One doesn’t have to go to the distant past to see that it is possible for groups to take up arms in our country. It has happened before, with small groups. Now consider who we are pushing around.
There are almost a million current and former members of the Forces and Mounted. They are trained in urban warfare, in crowd control, in area occupation. Serving members hold the keys to the armouries and fighting vehicles. Even grievously wounded veterans are better able to fight than most civilians. Veterans have the knowledge and training to take over a country; some have done it before.
They have access to the weapons and tools needed to take over a country; some know how to operate without them. They have common cause with each other and are trained to act with unity.
What do we have? We have the ability to ignore their problems, to not hear their pleas, to refuse fair treatment. We ignore our duty and obligations. We deny their claims, bury them in paperwork, fight them in court, refuse to discuss issues. Veterans win in court but we credit our beneficence. We play petty games with veterans lives and livelihoods. We target outspoken veterans and their families for cuts and shaming.
Don’t wonder if it is possible for Canada’s veterans to rise against us all. Instead, marvel that they have not already done so.
Veterans are not asking for the world. They want nothing more than for us to make good on our promise: to care for the sick and wounded and to look after the survivors of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. They want to be treated with the respect they earned by surrendering themselves to our collective will. They simply want what they have earned through blood and sacrifice.
It is in all our best interest to see that they get what we owe.
Jeff Rose-Martland is a Newfoundland-based writer. He is also President of Our Duty, a citizens’ organization which advocates for fair treatment of Canada’s veterans.