What do they actually mean by "Defence," "Security" and "Public Safety"?
By Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade; Editor, Press for Conversion!

One promotional blurb for the "Secure Canada 2008"  trade show scheduled for Lansdowne Park states:
Promote your products and network with potential buyers at Canada’s premier international security exhibition. At this U.S. Department of Commerce-certified show, the U.S. Commercial Service will host the U.S. Embassy Defense and Security Exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion. This two-day exhibition and networking event will showcase the latest U.S. products and services for the defense, security and public safety sectors." (emphasis added)

What is meant by the above highlighted terms that are so often bandied about in reference to "Secure Canada 2008," namely "defense," "security" and "public safety"?

Language is of central importance in shaping the way people think about and understand the world, and their relation to it. This phenomena has been rigorously studied by linguists, cultural anthropologists, psychologists and others. Read more here: The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.)

One can learn a lot about a person's world view and their core political beliefs, assumptions and political inclinations simply by examining some of the basic terms that they use. Key words are therefore like political litmus tests. They can also be seen as a symbolic code that we can use to decipher a person or organization's true underlying  position on key issues. Revealing the deeper hidden meaning of such key terms is a subtle business because people don't often say what they mean or mean what they say. Especially when it comes to politics and politicians—and particularly the politics of war and forcing regime change on other peoples—language is as often used to manipulate public perception of reality as it is used to clarify it.

Thankfully however, over time, the euphemisms and cover words that are used to deceive and trick people become transparent and no longer work as they were originally intended. They backfire. People begin to see through the fraud and eventually certain words and those who continue to wield them after their "best-before date" become the objects of public ridicule.

Military Euphemisms: "collateral damage" and "pacification"
The military is infamous for its use of ridiculous euphemisms. Everyone is probably familiar with how such expressions as "collateral damage" have been used to mask the mass murder of innocent civilians in war.  This phrase is still used occasionally by military apologists but nowadays since most people immediately associate this phrase as an exemplification of cover up, it is finally falling out of favour with those who seek to control public perceptions of the horrors of war.

An example of a term that has definitely passed its "expiry date" is "pacification." This pleasant sounding term was actually used during the Vietnam war to refer to such things as the CIA's widespread assassination program which was code named "Operation Phoenix." Government, corporate, academic and media men in suits would regularly stand in front of the public and calmly, unashamedly talk about the "pacification" of Vietnam. What these witting and unwitting front men for war and repression were doing was packaging a US government program of mass murder and torture as if it was a process for winning the hearts and minds of Vietnamese by making them peaceful. Although antiwar activists could immediately see through such linguistic fraud, the term actually helped pacify many naive observers on the homefront who desperately wanted to believe the lies their government—and its PR flaks—were telling them about the Vietnam war.

Operation Phoenix and the "Office of Public Safety"
Counter-spy magazine described Operation Phoenix as "the most indiscriminate and massive program of political murder since the Nazi death camps of world war two." (Counterspy Spring/Summer 1975 p.6.)

Operation Phoenix grew out of, and was facilitated by—and therefore must be examined in the context of—a much larger international program begun by President Eisenhower. This US government initiative begun in 1955, was supposed to be all about "public safety." It's goal was to train foreign police officers and their police teams in, among other things, paramilitary counterinsurgency tactics. In 1962, this US program became the infamous "Office of Public Safety" which operated in 45 countries and had a yearly budget of $50 million. The funding and training for much of the Phoenix program was arranged through this so-called "Office of Public Safety." By 1975, $200 million worth of US equipment had been distributed to foreign police, more than 7000 senior police officials and over one million lower rank police officers had been trained around the world. (Counterspy Winter 1978 pp.29-30.)
See former top CIA officer, Ralph McGehee's "CIA and Operation Phoenix in Vietnam," Feb. 19, 1996.

"In the 1960s the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of Public Safety provided Latin American police forces with millions of dollars worth of weapons and trained thousands of Latin American police officers. In the late 1960s, such programs came under media and congressional scrutiny because the U.S.-provided equipment and personnel were linked to cases of torture, murder and "disappearances" in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay."

What better way to package a program of assassinations and torture in fascist US puppet states, than to hide it under an innocuous sounding "Office of Public Safety" that is part of the government's official "aid" agency—USAID (the equivalent of the Canadian International Development Agency - CIDA).

So the lesson that some Canadians still need to learn from all this—and it is a lesson that has already been learned by many millions of people a generation ago in numerous US client states of the global south—is that when the American government and its allies come to you trying to promote an event claiming to focus on technology for "defence," "security" and "public safety," it may not actually be what it says it is. In fact, it may be time for human rights, development, antiwar activists and others to come together to organize against it.

The "Defence" of what exactly?
The euphemism "defence" is used by those enamoured by the military-industrial complex to refer to virtually anything that is "war-related." War industry insiders for instance unhesitatingly refer to their various technologies—no matter how deadly or offensive they may be—by calling it "defence technology."

By thus referring to the technology of war, oppression, regime change and mass destruction as "defence" equipment, those who profit from these enterprises are putting a carefully-calculated spin on how they want people to understand what this technology does and the functions that it serves. 

"Defence" conjures up images of protection like shields. The opposite of "defense" is equally clear. Antonyms include aggression, assault, attack, offence and offensive. So, it is no wonder that euphemisms such as "defence equipment," "defense technology" and "defence industry," are the terms of choice used by all war profiteers alike, as well as by apologists for their business.  

Many people have been sucked into the vortex of this beguiling and misleading terminology. They do so unthinkingly, simply because the term "defence" has become so ubiquitous in our culture that its real meaning—though still understood and having a powerful subconscious effect upon the user—has almost been lost. The mainstream corporate media, government, and pro-military researchers, writers and analysts are happy to echo the use of "defence" phraseology and to thereby assist warfighters and war profiteers in their efforts to spin public perception in the direction of thinking that the war technology of their nation and its allies can only be understood as being for "defensive" purposes.

The word "defense" has therefore become something akin to a weapon used in a linguistic war of words over the way people think about their military, and the wars waged and weapons wielded by their governments. Obviously however—if anyone actually thinks about what they are saying—"defence technology" actually refers to a whole panoply of weapons, weapons systems and other military technologies that can just as easily be used in "offensive" manners. In fact, the tools and institutions used to wage and win wars absolutely must be aggressive and offensive. This is so obvious that it seems almost ridiculous to have to even state this fact. And yet it is necessary, largely because of the mental programming instilled by terms like "defence" that have been repeated so often as the linguistic equivalent of war and aggression. Those unfortunate enough to have been at the receiving end of "defence" technologies—and who have thus fallen prey to the applications of this equipment in war—include literally millions of innocent civilian victims just over the past few decades alone. 

Merchants of Death and War Technology
During the period between WWI and WWII, the corporations that profit from the business of manufacturing and selling war technologies were commonly referred to as "Merchants of Death." This term was used as the title of a classic book exposing the then still un-named military-industrial complex, written in 1934 by
H.C.Engelbrecht and F.C.Hanighen. Merchants of Death can be read in its entirety online.)

Although referring to military technology as the "tools of war" and "war technology" is perfectly accurate, and should be accepted without hesitation as a legitimate and honest, straightforward description, it is often shied away from as too partisan or biased. However, the phrase "defence technology" does not suffer from this stigma. It is widely accepted as neutral, unloaded, apolitical terminology. It is even used by people who style themselves as opponents of war.

In the struggle to take back our language or to at least make people think about how their use of words affects thoughts and belief systems, antiwar activists have to begin at home, with their own allies and supporters. We have to watch out for the tendency to split into use of the dominant, corporate culture's pro-war camp by use of their terminology. To use terms like "defense" when really in fact we are talking about offensive wars is to seriously undermine our own efforts to promote peace. If we acknowledge that our adversaries in this struggle have the right to define themselves and war-making as "defense" then we are setting ourselves up as "anti-defence." One would however be hard pressed to find any peace activist who defines themselves as being "against defence." We are not opposed to "defence." We are against war, repression, regime change, crimes against humanity, and the might-is-right philosophy. This is obvious. However, if we use words like "defense" to refer to "war" then we are shooting ourselves in the foot. 

When we hear our allies and friends in the peace/antiwar movements and other progressive people using loaded terms like "defence," we need to call them on it. The process of exposing this term for the pro-war propaganda that it is must start with our own usage of this terminology.

So, for instance, if we really want to be unarguably neutral, then the term "military technology" should be used, never "defence" technology. However, if we want to get closer to the truth and to unveil the real meaning of such technology, then there is nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade. So when a military trade exhibition like "Secure Canada 2008" comes to town what we should really be talking about is the function of this event in the context of war. This is a war show, an exposition of war technology, a bazaar for the tools of war, an opportunity for the merchants of war to flog their wares.

And yes, there will also be technology there for use by police and other institutions of state security.  This does not take away from the main function of this event which is war-related. Neither should we forget where the police stand on the question of the legitimacy of such war shows. The police will be there in full force to protect and defend the right of war merchants to promote their international trade. Yes, they will also generally allow protesters to voice their opposition and to assemble peacefully, but they will not tolerate any effort—no matter how nonviolent and peaceful—to even symbolically thwart the sale of weapons even to human rights violators and those who are now widely recognized as waging wars of aggression violating international laws. The business of war will be protected by the police. And they may conduct their defence of war profiteering through the use of various psychological techniques of intimidation as well as technologies ranging from blunt batons to sophisticated surveillance devices including aircraft. This means that they too have a personal interest in protecting such arms exhibitions.

No doubt we are in a privileged position here in Canada in that police will generally refrain from the use of such excessive methodologies as murder and extensive torture. This is not the case elsewhere. In many countries, police regularly and systematically engage in just such serious human rights violations.  Police are often on the front line in wars against peoples' nonviolent movements for justice, equality, human rights, democracy and peace. Such policing has historically cloaked itself behind such positive sounding phrases as "security" and "public safety." Therefore we must be as wary of these words as we are of "defence." 

Because the corporations that supply the needs of warfighters and other forces engaged in state sanctioned violence often refer to themselves with such euphemisms as "defence," "security" and "public safety," we might well ask what they are defending?  Who's "security" is being protected? What about the "public safety" of innocent civilians of faraway lands that our military forces are occupying? What kind of "public safety" guarantees do they have when individual Canadian and US soldiers are thrust into a foreign theatre of war for hidden corporate reasons that they aren't even told about? What kind of "peace," "security" and "public safety" can they uphold if they are trained to act a self-appointed global police force that is on such a hair-trigger alert that they feel they must respond by shooting first and asking questions later?

What kind of defence are the "merchants of war," and their apologists—really talking about?  Is it: 

Email: Tell the Mayor, City Councillors and Staff what you think!

Please sign online PETITION now to "Stop Ottawa's Arms Shows."

(Print version: Here is a printable version of the petition that you can use to get additional signatures.)

Related article:
"What is a Weapon, anyhow?"

This webpage was produced by the
Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)

as part of the COAT campaign to oppose 
"Secure Canada 2008" (Sept.30-Oct.1, 2008)