Back in 2001, the shock waves had barely abated from the horror of September 11th when George Bush announced his intent of invading Afghanistan to overthrow a regime openly committed to terror attacks on the West. The Taliban had gone from being the plucky rebels fighting the Communist hordes of Russia to being despotic overlords responsible for evil deed after evil deed.
But inspite of the propaganda, and whatever other agendas may have been pursued, it seemed at the time that the Taliban were something that the world should be concerned about. The people of Afghanistan, for whom survival has been an iffy proposition for the last twenty years, needed help badly. The country needed basic infrastructure rebuilt, educational facilities created, and some sort of hope for a better future.
It seemed like the perfect country to begin a sort of Marshall plan for the developing world. Where the original served to rebuild Western Europe in order to curb the spread of Communism, in Afghanistan hope for a better future would be the best deterrent against terrorism. Terrorist organizations don’t just form overnight, or on the whim of one person.
Rather they require a generation of disaffected and despairing people, and opportunistic zealots who can give the masses something to live for. In the Cold War it was supposedly about economics and ideology; freeing the proletariat against free elections. Now it just feels like hatred in both directions and to hell with issues or causes.
But there are ways to make terrorism less attractive to the majority of people, just as there was a way to make Communism unattractive back in the 1940’s. Give people hope for the future. Help them rebuild their houses, improve their irrigation systems so that their crops have a better chance of success, build roads so that their produce can get to markets. Instead of investing money in bombs to drop on them, invest in their industry so that jobs can be created. Show you care by investing in their people by rebuilding the local schools that had been destroyed.
Sure there will always be those who are dissatisfied, but they exist in every society – witness the bombing in Oklahoma City if you require any proof – but if we do our best we can at least remove popular support from their cause. Without grassroots popular support it becomes harder for groups like the Taliban to vanish into the villages of the backcountry because they won’t be welcomed or supplied.
Unfortunately this opportunity was squandered. Once it appeared that the Taliban had been routed and the terrorist training facilities overrun, victory was declared, a sham government was installed and a token number of multinational troops was left behind to enforce the peace. It was a situation that cried out for long-term aid and direct involvement by the parties involved in assisting with the rebuilding of the country.
Unfortunately token involvement was all that was considered necessary and the new government was left to fend for itself in a country that had nothing and was being offered little. It only took a couple of years and the Taliban is now back as strong as ever, with the support and backing of people through out the countryside. Troops that were supposed to be overseeing the rebuilding of a country have all of a sudden found themselves in the midst of a full-scale guerrilla war.
When Canada became part of the multinational force involved with the invasion of Afghanistan it was with the understanding that the services of our troops would be best utilized in support positions. They would see some combat, but most of their work would really begin when the major hostilities were ended.
The training our troops have received for the last quarter century or more has been geared towards peacekeeping missions that involve trying to ensure that cease fires are obeyed and truces kept. It’s highly specialized and dangerous work for which they have been recognized the world over as being some of the best men and women to place in those situations.
Canadians have had every reason to be proud of the men and women who have done this difficult work in some of the world’s hot spots. The Golan Heights, Cyprus, Beirut, Rwanda, and Bosnia have all seen Canadian troops within the last twenty years in the blue hats of the United Nations. We have come to accept that casualties are part of the deal and we mourn each soldier lost as if they were members of our own family. Perhaps because of the rarity of the event we feel it that much more when one is lost, and their lives are not taken for granted or part of a parade of statistics.
For the first time since the Korean War a Canadian government has placed our troops into a full combat situation in a ground war. No one under the age of sixty or seventy in this country has ever experienced the reality of soldiers dying on a weekly basis, and casualties almost daily. It’s not something we were prepared for, if you can ever be prepared for it, and we are not liking it.
A majority of Canadians were against the idea of involving our troops in a more direct combat role in Afghanistan for the simple reason that it is not what we expect from our troops. Steven Harper and his Conservative Party of Canada in their anxiousness to be one of the big boys and play tough ignored the feelings of the people of Canada.
They compounded that insult by trying to remove the public’s means of participating in mourning the loss of the young men and women who lost their lives. First they cancelled the lowering of flags to half-mast on Parliament Hill. Then they banned press coverage of caskets being returned to Canada and the ceremonies for the families at the airports.
Meaningless platitudes about sacrifice and duty are becoming more and more suspect as questions are raised about who duty is owed to forms in people’s minds; duty to the Canadian people or Canada? How can that be when they are not dying to defend our soil or even what we believe in? It’s more like duty to Steven Harper’s ego and his government’s misguided policy of drawing us ever further away from a path of respected impartiality into one subservient to our neighbours to the south.
Canada’s opposition parties are calling for a review of our policy in Afghanistan in the wake of yesterday’s events that again saw the largest number of Canadian casualties in one day since Korea. Yesterday it was four dead and ten wounded.
It seems each week we continue to set a new high water mark for dead and injured. Is this what this government was elected to do, set record numbers for Canadians killed on active service for their generation? What will next week bring; five dead and eleven wounded in one day’s fighting?
Fewer and fewer Canadians are willing to find out anymore. Every poll taken since the vote last February deciding to extend and expand Canada’s troop commitment in Afghanistan has shown an increasing number of people against the idea. Even the Liberal party who had originally suggested the renewal and voted with the Conservatives last winter are rethinking their position.
Ujjal Dosanjh the Liberal Defence critic commented that the mission has become far more of a combat mission then what had been intended by the previous administration when they had made the proposal in the first place. They had envisioned the Canadian troop continuing with the rebuilding of the country in those parts where pacification was further along than in the region they now find themselves in.
As rumours fly that members of the armed forces don’t feel like they have been properly prepared for this type of mission, and that their training is inadequate to deal with the situations they face, the Canadian government continues to spout platitudes guaranteed to sentence more young men and women to death.
Not a single one of these people needed to make the supreme sacrifice on the altar to Steven Harper’s ego. How dare he and his Defence Minister claim to know the soldiers in the field and speak of their being honoured to do their duty. These people wouldn’t know responsibility and duty if it bit them in the butt. If they did they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night for their shame at stealing a family’s children, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives from them.
When they say things like they are determined to stay the course until 2009 all I can think of is a line from an old Phil Ochs song: “It’s always the old who lead us into war/it’s always the young who die.” But we can’t just lay the blame at the feet of the Conservative Party of Canada. We have to ask ourselves how did it happen that a party without a majority of the seats in the House of Commons was allowed to involve us in a full scale combat situation?
Steven Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada are arrogant bullies who need someone to stand up to them. Hopefully the opposition parties are finally beginning to show some backbone and will stand behind their public rhetoric and call them on their actions. These people have to be stopped before the damage they do is irreparable.
The Canadian military has a long and proud history dating back to World War One. It is a shame to see such a glorious history treated with such disrespect and callousness. There are times and places when a country’s soldiers must expect to find themselves in potentially life threatening situations. But we owe them the courtesy of making it something worth dying for. Afghanistan and their current situation is not one of those times and anyone saying otherwise is lying.