On History and Hon. Steven Blaney

“A senior Conservative cabinet minister says if it wasn’t for Canadian soldiers who risked their lives fighting communism, the world might never have had the last year of goofy unadulterated joy dancing to ‘Gangnam Style.’

In an interview broadcast on Radio-Canada on Sunday evening, Veteran’s Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said the viral South Korean hit song by the singer Psy would have never been possible if international forces hadn’t vigorously defended the country against communist North Korea in the war that ran from 1950 to 1953.

‘We talk about Gangnam Style. There wouldn’t be a Gangnam Style if we hadn’t had the sacrifice of Canadians, members of the United Nations who came together with a resolve to ensure that we repelled communism,’ he said.”

  • Canadian war veterans made Gangnam Style possible, says Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, By Allan Woods, Toronto Star, Published on May 6, 2013


For a government and a party that claims to respect history, our military and veterans, one would wonder why the Hon. Steven Blaney is a minister. As noted by the Minister, in 1950 to 1953, Canadians soldiers fought heroically throughout the Korean Peninsula. They distinguished themselves in the Kapyong Valley in 1951. Fighting in the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade of the IX Corps in the 8th US Army, Canadian Troops worked with American, South Korean, Australians, New Zealanders, British and Indian Military and Medical Personnel to get the job done.

However, the Minister seems to forget Korean History. For after the Korean Armistice, South Korea was not exactly democratic. South Korea had a number of coupés including the 1961 coupé led by Park Chung-Hee. In fact, the recent trend toward Korean Democracy is credited to the June Democracy Movement. Also known as the June Uprising, it was a nation-wide democracy movement in South Korea that generated mass protests from June 10 to June 29, 1987. In other words, it took place more than thirty years after the end of the Korean War. This uprising is what created the “Sixth Republic” – the present day South Korean Government.

Many have said that the movement was more likely protected by the rings of the 1988 Olympic Games because the Games did take place in Seoul, South Korea and the Government did not want their time on the world stage to be sullied. However, the actions of our veterans were likely not responsible for the June Democracy Movement.

In fact, some would argue that Gangnam Style came to South Korea in spite of Western Assistance. For, Western Governments were willing to provide resources to South Korea’s previous authoritarian governments. Due to South Korea’s stance of being “anti-communist”, between 1953 and 1969, the US was willing to put more than $8 billions of dollars into that country. This meant that US aid “financed nearly 70 per cent of total imports from 1953 and 1962” and “was equal to nearly 80 per cent of total fixed capital formation”. (Political Economy and the Changing Global Order, Stubbs and Underhill) Consequently, the US was also willing to stand by as various South Korean Governments repressed the human rights of successive generations of South Koreans.  Consequently, Veteran’s Affairs Minister Steven Blaney does not understand Canada’s role in the Korean War, nor does he understand the reasons or history behind the Korean War. Consequently, for a Government who values Canadian history above all else, he shows a keen lack of knowledge.

However, it does not stop there. For Veteran’s Affairs Minister Steven Blaney also alluded to another “notion”: Authoritarian Governments cannot create world class art or pop art. Here again the Minister shows his ignorance. Jane Bunnett, a great Canadian songstress, went to Cuba years ago for inspiration. For three decades, she has been working with Cuban musicians and exploring the Afro-Cuban beat. In fact, she has promoted many of those same artists and some of them have even come to Canada.

Or think of the effect of the Buena Vista Social Club or the many musicians, artists and creative class who either now live in Cuba or who have moved to the US. As a historical fact, while Repressive Governments don’t like the words of artists, they generally contain and suppress their message rather than eliminating it.

Just look at Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They are a South African Group who sang for years before Paul Simon’s Graceland album. It is true that Mr. Simon introduced them to the world in the mid 1980’s. His landmark 1986 album is still considered a seminal work and much of the reason is due to Black Mambazo’s rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies. With that being said, Ladysmith Black Mambazo started to sing during the depths of the Apartheid regime. Blacks under that regime were systematically discriminated against. That did not share many of the rights of their white brethren and yet they had music.

The ridiculousness of the words of the Minister become clear when one reads the influential, inspirational and pivotal works created in Communist Countries under dictatorial regimes.  Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn and Václav Havel are just two authors that come to mind. While I admire the ambitiousness of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, one cannot deny the strength, talent or tenacity of prominent artistic dissidents who lived under Communism. Even as Ai Weiwei struggles against present day Communist China, artistic freedom has only been limited and never been destroyed by a state.

This knowledge is available to all who search for it. It is available to all those who read. The problem is that Minister Blaney chooses to be ignorant, lie or not read.  As such, he disrespects those who have served for this country and those fallen in this country’s name. He disrespects Canadian History and the simple principle of political and historical honesty. While I may disagree with some of the policy choices of some people – like the Hon. Jim Prentice, PC, QC, the former environment minister – I could respect him. I cannot say the same of Minister Steven Blaney. While I hope he changes, I doubt he will. For increasingly, Ministers of the Harper Government seem to be chosen for their ability to be partisan and not capable. In my opinion, the ability to protect the “Other” requires capacity. In my opinion, the ability to protect the liberty of individuals requires political honesty. In my opinion, the ability to balance the interests of a society, so as to improve it, requires transparency, wisdom, knowledge and objectivity. These should be the hallmark of a Liberal Government and it is why I have such difficulty with the Rt. Hon. Steven Harper’s Government.

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