On Jan. 8, Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, flying from Tehran to Kiev, was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, killing all 176 passengers on board. The victims included teachers, medical professionals, young families, and a large number of students returning to school after visiting home for the holidays. Two of those on board were a young couple, married only the week before.
Around the world, people are now grieving. To some, the victims were family members, co-workers and friends. To most others, despite not knowing them personally, these were ordinary people like them—innocent victims of a conflict that they played no part in creating.
However, for many, their grief is also coupled with anger—anger at those responsible for the conflict, without which Flight 752 would have reached its destination, and its 176 passengers would be alive today.
Is Trudeau innocent?
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sought to direct this anger at Iran, which he claims is fully responsible for the tragedy. In his efforts, Trudeau has been joined by Conservative MPs and publications like the Toronto Sun, who go further by arguing for sanctions against Iranian officials, as well as calling for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to be designated as a terrorist group. No sooner had this tragedy occured than these politicians and columnists sought to use it to deal fresh blows against Iran.
Of course, the Iranian government is hardly innocent in this tragedy, having fired the fatal missile. However, what Trudeau and co. refuse to answer is this: why was Iran firing missiles to begin with? The answer is already known: Iran was firing missiles in retaliation against the unprovoked U.S. assasination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani just a few days prior. This set off an entirely predictable chain of events which ended in the accidental downing of Flight 752—”collateral damage” in the conflict between the U.S. and Iran.
The U.S. administration was no doubt aware that their actions could result in a significant loss of civilian life. However, in their view, it is but a small price to pay in the removal of a foreign adversary, and thus furthering the interests of U.S. imperialism. If the Iranian government has blood on its hands, the U.S. administration is bathing in it.
On this, Trudeau and co. have remained silent. They have avoided criticizing the actions of the U.S. administration, a key ally, and instead acted to justify those actions by focusing their statements on the crimes of Soleimani and Iran. Their reason for doing so is simple: they are just as culpable for the policies that led to this tragedy as Washington is.
Notably, the concerns of the Trudeau administration, as well as the U.S. Democrats, have not been that U.S. President Donald Trump assassinated Soleimani, but that he did so without consulting them in advance. Similar views have been expressed by other NATO members. In reality, Canada has in recent years offered total backing for U.S. policy in the Middle East, severing diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012 (which Trudeau has yet to reverse), and deploying Canadian troops to U.S.-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. These policies have in turn served to destabilize the region, setting the stage for the current conflict. Trudeau’s silence on Soleimani’s assasination as well as its repercussions shows not much has changed in that respect. In this case, silence is simply an admission of guilt.
Their wars, our dead
Across Canada, vigils are being held for the victims of Flight 752. The photos on display are of ordinary people—most of whom had no desire for war, but whose lives were still ultimately claimed by it. Meanwhile, those in Ottawa and Washington, after paying their obligatory condolences, can rest easy knowing that someone else, far below them, has had to pay the ultimate price for their actions.
With capitalism, it is never the rich and powerful who are called on to sacrifice in war. Instead, it is working people who are time and again asked to fight and die for the interests of millionaires in their home countries. As the standoff in the Middle East deepens, those casualties are certain to multiply, while tragedies similar to Flight 752 will become more common. To avert this, Canadian and American workers must first settle accounts with the real enemy at home.