This article is from the first issue of Press for Conversion!, Winter 1989-1990.


Debunking Myths of "Canadian Defence" and the Arms Trade

by Richard Sanders

Language is a powerful tool which shapes our thoughts and behaviour. Politicians who speak for the military-industrial complex are among the most deceitful in their use of language to manipulate public opinion. The mainstream media is guilty of parroting political doublespeak thus perpetuating cleverly disguised lies. The public is subjected to this bombardment of propaganda in the daily news. The most absurd contradictions between words and reality then become part of our cultural belief system. This creation of modem mythologies allows governments to get away with murder while they are praised for peaceful initiatives.

The Canadian government, arms industries and military are expert in talking peace while profiting from war. An important task of the movement for social change should therefore be to expose the grim realities masked by certain politically loaded words and phrases. Each issue of this newsletter will examine certain key words and phrases which harbour the myths of the military-industrial complex.

MYTH # 1
"Canadian defence industries protect our national security"

Canadian companies which produce armaments and other military hardware proudly call themselves "defence industries." They portray themselves as companies producing equipment for the defence of Canada's national security. The government which gives these companies about $250 million per year in handouts (through the Defence Industry Productivity Program) also refers to them as "Canada's Defence Industrial Base."

The truth is that over two thirds of what Canadian military industries produce is exported, mostly to the U.S., but increasingly to Third World governments. Much of what is sold to the U.S. is assembled there into weapons systems which are exported.

Most of the equipment used by the Canadian Armed Forces is made elsewhere and imported by the Canadian government. An article in the Canadian Defence Quarterly, the trade journal of the armed forces, says it all: "Dependent to a significant extent on American contracts, components, machine tools, and research and development, the Canadian defence-industrial base can meet only a modest percentage of Canada's own defence equipment requirements. However it must be appreciated that the Canadian government has not tasked Canadian industry to meet the military requirements of the Canadian forces" (June 1989. p. 52).

The word 'defence" has become so perverted that it now bears no resemblance to its real meaning. It is invoked by government and industry alike to manipulate public support for programs which, if labeled correctly, would meet with disgust and large-scale opposition. A good example of how the term "Canadian defence industry" is abused is also drawn from the Canadian Defence Quarterly: "The early imbalance of trade under production sharing was reversed during the second half of the 1960s, when the most important influence on Canada's defence industry was the Vietnam War" (June 1989, p.26).

Military force is used to "defend" an unjust global economic order which ensures that about 80% of the world's resources are consumed by a mere 20% of the world's population. Military equipment, often containing Canadian components, is used to "defend" repressive regimes from the demands of their own citizens for peace, justice and human rights. In other words, Canadian military hardware ends up being used to prop up regimes with repressive policies and practices. Multinational corporations depend on the "national security" of such regimes because they enforce conditions conducive to the profitable exploitation of labour and natural resources.

MYTH # 2
"Military industry is good for job creation"

This is one of the myths most often used to rationalize the existence of military industries. This myth allows the government and industry to accuse peace activists of being opposed to job creation programs. However, military production is perhaps the least efficient way ever conceived for creating jobs. This is because it is highly "capital intensive" and not "labour intensive"; i.e. the money invested in military industries goes towards the high tech equipment, not jobs. Several studies have been conducted to learn how many jobs can be created by investing in various industries. In the bar graph below, notice the relatively few jobs created through investments in military industries.

MYTH # 3
"The Canadian military establishment is now experiencing severe cutbacks."

This myth is in the forefront of government and military industry propaganda. However, as David Langille explains in the accompanying article called '"Defense cuts' camouflage a spending increase," the myth of cutbacks is part of a 'smoke and mirrors game' to disguise continuing increases in the military budget.