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Casualties Of War

Every city, town, and village in Canada, and I would presume the United States, has one: a cenotaph for the people from that locale who have died in the wars that our countries have fought. In Canada some of them are old enough to date back to the first foreign war we sent troops overseas to, the Boer War in South Africa, but the majority of them start with World War One and continue on up to Korea. I don’t know what’s been done for the men who have fallen since that time, if the names of those lost in peacekeeping missions are just added on after those names lost in Korea, or if each different engagement has been given its own monument.

I highly doubt it would be the latter as, until recently, Canadian soldiers have not been involved in the field of battle for any extended period that has resulted in significant casualties (Outside of a supply plane on the Golan Heights shot down by the Syrians, accidentally, in which nine were killed.)

In the United States, I know you have erected the black wall in Washington D.C. in memory of the soldiers who died in Viet Nam, and perhaps local cenotaphs will have added lines for those who died in the first Gulf War, and more recently Afghanistan and of course the current conflict in Iraq. In Canada individual towns are probably doing the same thing these days as our body count in Afghanistan increases.

But what are our central governments doing? You know the guys who either sent the troops over or decided to extend their mission and increase their role exposing them to increased chance of casualties. They exhort us to support our troops by not speaking dissent against the job they are doing, but what in turn are the governments doing to recognise the fact that son, husbands, and fathers aren’t going to be coming home to their loved ones?

What recognition of the responsibility they have for causing these young men (and in some cases women) to spend their lives because they were ordered to do so, have they offered? Are there monuments springing up for the soldiers being killed in Iraq? What is the Canadian government doing to honour the troops who have been dying on the roads of Afghanistan?

One of the first of the new press laws that went into effect for the Iraqi war was that no one was allowed to film or take pictures of the soldiers being shipped home in the proverbial box. The only lesson that the government seems to have learned from the Viet Nam war is that they needed to try to limit public outrage over the cost of the campaign in lives. Don’t let them see images of flag-draped caskets piling up on the tarmacs of airports across the United States and they won’t really visualise the numbers seems to have been the logic behind that thinking.

Why else would you prohibit coverage of those who have made the “ultimate sacrifice” as they like to say, for their country? Do officials think so little of what these people have surrendered that their only consideration is a public relations issue? It feels like they are trying to sneak the bodies home so that they can be forgotten about. If we don’t talk about them, or see pictures of them, it didn’t happen in the minds of the public.

They’ll continue to mouth platitudes about supporting our troops, but if they have the nerve to get killed, that’s a whole different story. We don’t want anybody to know about you. I also have to wonder what’s happening to all the seriously wounded soldiers. Where have they been shunted aside to be forgotten about?

Up in Canada we’re not much better. For the first time in a long time we’ve begun to experience what it’s like to have our military in a war zone. Almost on a weekly basis we are either reading about new deaths or casualties from Afghanistan. Most recently four soldiers were killed on patrol by a roadside bomb that destroyed their military transport and killed three of them instantly, while the fourth died in hospital from head injuries.

Under the last government every time a Canadian service man was killed in the line of duty all the flags on Parliament Hill in Ottawa were lowered to half-mast. In 2002, the last time four soldiers were killed at once, then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his Minster of Defence were part of the party that assembled at Trenton Military airport to honour and greet the dead soldiers.

The death of four soldiers may not seem like a lot to the American army, but Canada is a lightly populated country with a small, close-knit armed forces. The loss of four soldiers is a heavy blow and resounds deeply throughout the country. Although nothing can replace the loss of someone’s loved one, I’m sure that the families of the slain appreciated the fact that the Prime Minister made the effort to be part of the party honouring the fallen. By attending the event, he was, in a small way, taking responsibility for his decision to send these soldiers into a situation where they faced the possibility of death. At least he wasn’t denying their existence or denying them public recognition for their deaths.

Contrast this to the policy of our new government, of Steven Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada. Taking their lead from Mr. Bush’s administration they figure the less attention paid to the dead the better, and have cancelled the practice of lowering the flags on Parliament Hill to half mast. Their excuse, they don’t want to favour one war’s dead over another. While I’m sure survivors of those who died in the Boer War appreciate the sentiment, the families of the four men who died over the weekend might be a little nonplussed. Considering the government reaction in 2002, the last time this many Canadians died at once in combat, they might be puzzled as to why all they get from this Prime Minister is a platitude about paying the ultimate sacrifice and excuses for not honouring their kin.

In fact it seems like they’ve taken it as another opportunity to haul out one of their favourite pundits, ex-Major-General Lewis Mackenzie, to speak the party line of how they hope these casualties don’t make the Canadian people less supportive of something whose importance they don’t understand. If the Canadian people don’t understand the importance of this mission whose fault is that? It wouldn’t be the people in charge whose job it is to tell the people they govern what’s going on and why? Of course if it’s your official policy to keep the public in the dark about something, than you can’t get upset with them for not understanding now can you? Anyway, who says they don’t understand the importance of the mission, and have still decided they don’t think the sacrifice of Canadian lives is worth it?

Instead of insulting people by telling them they don’t understand so they can’t make a decision about it, why not make sure they know the reasons for the policy? Are you afraid that they still won’t support it, and you’ll then be without an excuse?

Afghanistan was where the first salvo of the War on Terror was fired and Canadian troops have been there since the beginning. After four years, our involvement there has become near as long as our involvement in World Wars One and Two and longer than the time our troops were in Korea. For probably the first time since Korea our troops are in battlefield situations on a daily basis and the risk of casualties is mounting as the Taliban focus on them as a prime objective.

It seems to me if the Taliban can recognise the size of Canada’s contribution to this effort, the least our own government can do is match their interest in our troops. What’s it going to hurt them to publicly acknowledge the deaths of the men who are doing the job that they’ve been ordered to do. Everybody knows about the casualties anyway; diminishing their importance only insults their memory and cheapens their sacrifice.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    Richard,

    With respect I disagree. The Liberal policy of lowering the flag to half-mast everytime a Canadian soldier is killed is a recent manifestation and one that, laudable as the efforts to honour each fallen soldier might be, is a mistaken one.

    The Liberal government has never demonstrated any excessive zeal in looking after the interests of Canadian soldiers previously. They regularly placed them in harm’s way on multiple peace-keeping missions in hotspots around the world – while at the same time cutting funding and equipment and reducing the Canadian military’s operational readiness and capabilities significantly.

    Given the openness and support the military has provided for the Canadian press to operate, I don’t think anyone can reasonably complain that the government is trying to reduce awareness of the Afghan committment. I suspect levels of awareness of the Afghan committment is higher then awareness of the previous missions to Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Rwanda and other locales.

    The Liberal policy of lowering the flag everytime always struck me as being more about the Liberal Party posturing to the public then about honouring the troops. It is stage-managed mourning – “(Sniff) See how much we care!”, a hired “weeping widow” for a nation and it cheapens and demeans the honest efforts of the troops on the ground.

    Whether the Tories will be any better remains to be seen but I don’t think you can reasonably lay into them for returning the flag policy to the traditionally observed policy.

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    Well the Tories managed to blow this one off in record time. I see from the news today that they are shutting down any press coverage of the arrival of casulaties back in Canada, exactly as the US has implemented.

    I still think they are correct to restore the flag policy to something approaching sensible however you appear to be absolutely correct in reading their approach to the situation. Is it too much to ask that government stop treating their citizenry as through we are children and stop attempting to manipulate us through crass, dishonest policies.

    We need to see the consequences, we need to understand and weigh the costs, not sweep them under the rug for the purposes of some partisan popularity. The men and women serving deserve at the very least, a little of our attention, a little moral weight and consideration to their efforts, not a cheap form of censorship for political gain. They deserve better than that.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Richard,

    I can’t comment on Canada. But if our government gave adequate recognition to the casualties of war, the flag would fly at half mast each day, and the government here would be forced to face teh fact that it has not provided for the security of the citizenry here adequately at all. Instead, our children are supposed to be ‘sacrificess for peace’ and we are supposed to applaud.

    BTW, I haven’t seen the word cenotaph in quite a while.

  • http://blogs.epicindia.com/leapinthedark Richard Marucs

    Deanno:
    I absolutly hate when I’m cynical and right. I wish for once that somebody could prove me wrong. I’m not a big fan of the flag lowering thing either, but at least it was something to remind poeple that soldiers are worthy of attention.

    Ruvy, your country had been at war since 1948, and if people don’t understand by now the importance of their armed forces than there isn’t a country on earth that ever will.

    Centoaph is still in common usage in Canada, but than we still celebrate Remembrance Day as well with Red Poppies and the works. Maybe it’s because the poem “In Flander’s Fields” was written by a Canadian soldier we have a more emotional tie to the traditions asociated with those ceromonies.

    Richard

  • troll

    IMO the US flag should fly at half mast all of the time these days….as well as upside down

    troll

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Gee, Troll,

    Haven’t heard anybody talk like that since… Nam.

  • Anthony hamm

    this page tells me nothing about how many canadians died in world war 2