It is an interesting choice of words: speaking to Canadian soldiers in Italy — more precisely, congratulating them on their role in supporting rebels trying to overthrow Libyan despot Moammar Ghadhafi — Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose to use a quote by German physicist and satirist Georg C. Lichtenberg.
Lichtenberg, to be sure, has some fascinating quotations.
There is the insightful “The pleasures of the imagination are as it were only drawings and models which are played with by poor people who cannot afford the real thing.”
You also might pick “What is called an acute knowledge of human nature is mostly nothing but the observer's own weaknesses reflected back from others.”
Harper, however, picked neither of the above.
Instead, he or his speechwriters chose the slightly frightening, and slightly more war-like, “A handful of soldiers is better than a mouthful of arguments.”
Slightly frightening, because it seems to be more evidence of a significant turn in Canada’s direction when it comes to international affairs.
Harper went on to say, “This is the best of Canada’s military tradition. For we are not a country that makes war for gain or for territory. We do not fight for glory. And if we covet honour, it is only a reputation for doing the right thing in a good cause. That is all. And that is enough.”
Harper’s speech — albeit written for a specific audience — echoes comments by members of his cabinet that the costs for the continued conflict in Libya aren’t an issue.
Costs aren’t an issue internationally, even while Canadians are being told that, inside the country, cost-cutting efforts have to reach everything from marine safety to helping jobless Canadians navigate the Employment Insurance system.
Leaving aside the disparate logic about costs, it’s well worth thinking about what kind of role we want our nation to have in the world, and how we want to be seen by other nations.
With our presence in Afghanistan and Libya — despite whatever good those missions may have achieved — we have still clearly moved from a country best known for supplying troops for peacekeeping missions to a nation willing to ride with countries that see interventionist military missions as the way to go in international affairs.
In his own way, Harper referenced that change in his speech as well: “They used to claim that in international affairs, and you've heard the quote many times: ‘Canada punched above its weight.’ Well, to punch above your weight, you first have to be able to punch. And that is what you have done here.”
It is more than a little unsettling, and Canadians should rightfully question whether this is the direction we wish to head.
And while we’re at it, we might stop to consider another Georg C. Lichtenberg quote: “The most successful tempters and thus the most dangerous are the deluded deluders.”