***So this is my 20th Post! I’ll have next part of the deconstruction coming up tomorrow, but since this is a (modest) milestone for me, I figured this was a good time to post a slightly more philosophical essay.***
***Also, like I said in a previous post here, I wrote the first draft of this deconstruction over three years of NaNoWriMo projects. This particular excerpt was written in 2015 (that is to say, a year before the Trump election) and I’m leaving it mostly as I first wrote it, with just a few basic edits for grammar and spelling.***
So now might be a good time to answer a few questions, like: “Why do you care about this?”
Or maybe answer the uglier question: “Why do YOU care about this? You’re not native!”
Thinking about it right now, I’m actually a bit perplexed by the first question. Why should I care about a situation that is fundamentally screwed up and that could hurt innocent people? Why would I not care? What kind of person would I be if I could just see all of this and keep on walking?
Refining it down a bit, I think it can come down to a couple of questions: Why is this book so important? What makes it important to you? What do you think you can accomplish?
I’ll admit, it doesn’t look like Uprising is ever going to be a best seller, but it did sell, and people have read it. Specifically people who ‘have concerns’ about the ‘native problem’ in Canada. These people are out there, I’ve met some of them, and they’re talking to each other. More than that, they’re talking to other people who haven’t read the book and may not know any better. Douglas Bland may be an ugly minded git, but he did legitimately serve in the CAF and retired as a LCol. He lectures at Queens. He has spoken with MPs and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself. He’s not some kook holed up in a cabin in the woods, and his name on this book gives the vile things within it a veneer of respectability.
On top of that, there’s been a polarization in Canadian society that genuinely worries me, and I’m worried that it’s getting worse. South of the border, I can see Republicans reduced to an almost frothing rage at the very existence of President Obama and their gradual demographic loss of power to the more progressive side of the spectrum. It’s almost like a dark comedy except there is the very real possibility that they might pull the temple roof down on everyone’s heads purely out of spite, taking the world economy with them. [At this point, I was expecting Hillary to win the election, and for conservative America to go nuts as a result.]
And I think I see the first hints happening here.
Do I think we could go as crazy as the American right? Well, yeah. Why not? There’s nothing special about us that can protect us from becoming bigots and assholes with our own Canadian style and issues. This book is part of a conversation, and I feel I need to raise an objection.
One of the things that people don’t always understand is that the history of civil rights movements is filled with violence. Riots, bombings, shootings, all kinds of messed up stuff. You stomp on a population long enough, that population is going to get mad, maybe even get crazy. Stomp on them long enough and you’ll get an explosion. It’s not always a constructive explosion, but then it’s not coming from a place where constructive thoughts are born.
A huge part of why we revere people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela is that they beat the odds and managed to head off the violence that is the normal default setting for human conflict.
In Canada, the Indigenous population has all kinds of good reasons to be mad. Poverty, marginalization, the ‘Sixties Scoop’ and the Residential Schools, thousands of women murdered without any concern from the law. There’s plenty of fuel there for crazy and if Uprising had been written by a native author I would be worried because of that. When a marginalized population starts talking about organized violence, that’s a very dangerous thing. When they start sizing up the dominant population, feeling out their weaknesses, looking for places where they could be kneecapped with a single blow, that’s bad news. When they start telling themselves how easy it would be, how quickly they could seize victory, how easily their enemy would crumble before their righteous assault, it’s time for everyone to panic.
And I do mean everyone, because in a war between a militant minority and a (initially) complacent majority, no one is going to win. I remember reading about Yugoslavia prior to it’s breakup. People honestly did not believe it was possible that the country would tear itself apart along old national lines. They did not believe that their countrymen would give up the identity of ‘Yugoslav’ in favour of Serb, Croat, Bosnian, or Kosovar. But a nationalist movement was rising, and thousands of young men and women quite happily threw off their old identities in favour of much older ones, only to discover that the complacent ‘Yugoslavs’ which they’d hoped to conquer were just as willing to throw off their own identities and build new ones in self-defence.
Contrary to what some people might think, there is an ugliness in the human character. We still divide ourselves into tribes by skin colour, by religion, by region, by language. And if pushed we will fight. And if enough people die, we will seek revenge. Blood calls out for blood. Atrocity begets atrocity.
So if a native writer was calling for their brothers and sisters to rise up and overthrow the white man, I’d be worried. No one would win that fight, and even if some real life NPA could battle white Canada to a standstill and force terms, neither party would ever be the same.
But we’re not talking about a Native writer. We’re talking about a white one.
This is a whole other story, and a much uglier one.
What we have here is a member of the dominant population, the one that (deliberately or not) has been doing all the oppressing, all the hurting. And he’s talking about the minority population plotting violence. He imagines them sizing us up, examining our weaknesses, looking for an easy way to kneecap us with a single blow. He looks around himself and sees to his horror My god! We’re so vulnerable! Look at how easily they could take us out with a single blow! How quickly and easily they could seize victory! How fast would our weak and decadent culture crumble before them!
It is the language of the lynch mob. It is the language of the pogrom. It was written in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it was spoken over the air on Hutu Radio. We’ve heard these words before, even if we don’t know it. The old instinct to tribalize and alienate the other is deep inside us all. Make no mistake; Douglas Bland is speaking to that part of us all.
Now, me personally? I’m not native. Not even part. Frankly I don’t think any of this should matter. An injustice against one person is an injustice to all and I don’t need to have grown up on the Rez to feel that there is something fundamentally wrong about demonizing Aboriginal people. But I get that some people will be upset with the idea of a white guy rolling in and taking up the cause of Canada’s First Nations despite being a middle class Honkey.
But I am a Canadian and I am a serving member of the CAF and an Afghan Veteran, and Uprising features all of these things very intimately, and in an equally ugly light. I would hesitate to psychoanalyze Bland’s perspective, but there seems to be something distinctly self-hating about his portrayal of Canada in general and the Canadian Forces in particular. In his world the CAF is weak and dispersed, undermined by treacherous Indigenous in our midst and fearful of PC regulations imposed by Liberal overlords. Canada in general is populated by milktoast liberals and whining weaklings who will happily sell out their fake principles (which were fake anyway) for another hour of comfort. There is no room in this Canada for honest people who might disagree. The liberals are wrong and degenerate, the conservatives are right but out of power, and all the rest of us bleating sheeple will blindly wander our way to the slaughter house.
It’s an ugly and hateful view of Canada, and it’s one that I don’t believe is accurate. But Bland has created this world of paranoid right wing fantasies and given it the shine of respectability and aimed it at a group of people that, whatever their failings, are still people with real legitimate grievances and serious, ongoing wounds.
But most of all, he’s using the army to drive this point home. I’m in the army. I’ve been here for nearly fifteen years. I went to Afghanistan with it and it’s been the only real job I’ve been able to hold down for my adult life. I love the army. It’s where I keep all my stuff. And I don’t like the idea of some retired Light Colonel fantasizing about me and my troops in a modern day Indian War with the real life First Nations people in our modern age. I don’t like the fact that he’s fantasizing about us getting shot and killed because we weren’t suspicious enough to hate the fiendish red man in our midst. I don’t like the fact that he’s hoping we’ll become angry enough to turn on the Native troops that we’ve served alongside, sometimes for years. At the end of the novel (Spoiler: A lot of people end up dead and Canada is destroyed!) the sense of triumphalism is genuinely sickening, and the fact that this man once wore the same uniform I do today is enough to make me want to puke raw fire.
There’s something that came out of the civil rights movement (I’m still looking for the quote), where someone pointed out that the Civil Rights’ Movement didn’t just liberate the Black people in America, they were also liberating the whites. If you were born black in the pre-Civil Rights era, you were condemned to oppression, disenfranchisement and violence. But if you were born white, you were condemned to be the oppressor, to disenfranchise your fellow citizens and to inflict violence upon innocent people for the sin of wanting basic human rights. In short, you were condemned to be a bad guy from the moment you were born. All because of your white skin.
In his nightmare world of Nineteen eighty four, the writer George Orwell had his chief villain O’Brien describe the future of the human race. Imagine a boot, stamping on a human face, forever. In Bland’s world, that face is native, and the boot is a CF Mk III Combat Boot, and my foot is supposed to be filling it.
This is the role that Bland has set for me.
This is why it’s personal.