A Vietnam veteran reflects on Canada's involvement in Afghanistan and some of the rhetoric surrounding it
The military history of Canada recently entered a new era. Our military is now deeply engaged in what we have been led to believe is a U.N. sanctioned operation in Afghanistan. We are no longer told that the Afghan operation is a peacekeeping action, a stabilization mission, or anything similar - rather, we are now encouraged to call it a war.
Speaking of "a noble war" and of "not cutting and running" may sound macho to those who haven't seriously studied war and to those who have never been involved in war and the experience of war. Recently I listened to a retired Canadian brigadier general espouse the virtues of the war on terrorism and the need for Canadian troops to be in Afghanistan.
As this person spoke, he repeatedly referred to the War on Terrorism as being "our war." He actually said that when the World Trade Center was attacked, we were attacked and therefore we need to be engaged.
During this talk, the retired general continually referred to our need to be involved as a North American involvement and I was struck the many times he made reference to North America as if it were a country made up of the US and Canada. This military mindset that US interests are Canadian interests is not only threatening to our sovereignty but is exposing our nation to less than scrupulous international judgements. We are now so heavily influenced by the US that our international reputation is certain to be linked with that of the US.
America lost its last major guerrilla war -- Vietnam -- and is currently in the process of losing its second major guerrilla war, in Iraq. Russia removed itself from Afghanistan, because it realized it couldn't win.
We are intruders and despite the noble ideas we may have of ourselves and the noble nature of the mission as we see it, the local people have no use for us. George Bush had such a noble cause of ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussain; now that Iraqi society has been almost totally dismantled and the fabric of that country is in total shambles and they are very close to an all-out civil war, is it possible that we could learn something from that? Or possibly look back to Vietnam and remember that untold thousands of Vietnamese were slaughtered by the American killing machine, yet the Americans still lost. They did, in fact, "cut and run" and we witnessed it on TV; the last helicopter flights out of Saigon will be seen again shortly when this new American war draws to its end.
What I have concerns about is: does this country have the desire to see it through to the end? The evidence suggests that it does not. No matter what Stephen Harper says, he will not commit the money and resources to this mission to be successful. He can't even equip them properly, he doesn't even have the planes to fly our men and women who get injured to our hospitals. They are flown in someone else's planes to some one else's hospital.
When Stephen Harper says that a debate about the war would adversely affect the morale of our troops he reveals his ignorance about military determination; these are not schoolchildren, they are mature adults willing to give their lives that we may live in peace. Those lives are precious and should not be sacrificed for anything less than when Canadian freedom and democracy is in peril.
The conflicts of the world outside our boundaries need political solutions to settle their disputes, not Canadian blood. Is that reality enough for Canadians to understand what is at stake?
The aftermath of war shrouds itself in misery and grief. We can expect that many will come home seemingly normal, and then one day they fall apart. Maybe it is alcohol, maybe drugs, maybe depression, countless marriages will be dissolved, and some will be diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome; most will go on undiagnosed and suffer alone in their misery. Divorced, drunk , drugged, wandering from job to job and alone.
I am a combat veteran of Vietnam. Like my brother, I enlisted in the military in the US and served in Vietnam. My daughter, an American, recently completed four years' active duty in the US Marine Corps. I hope you would consider that I am writing these thoughts to you as a citizen who has experienced war. I have no delusions of the politics of war. War is not fought to help people, it is fought with one thing in mind: to kill the enemy. Governments can tell us they want to dig wells and build schools and they may do as little of that as possible in order to get your support to fight their dirty little wars.
In Vietnam, during the daytime, the local villagers would tell us how much they appreciated our being there; at night time, we were attacked by those same villagers. If this sounds similar to what happened to Captain Green [attacked with an axe in Kandahar in early March], it is.
As Vietnam returned to itself, so will Afghanistan. Today, in Vietnam, those who survived and weren't annihilated by that killing machine are growing rice and living in peace; although they live under communism they have offshore oil and so are now friends of the US.
My buddies who died in Vietnam don't have to worry about the price of oil now; they don't have to worry about anything. I sometimes wonder why people are so eager to go to war, so quick to send others into a burning building. Politicians are sometimes pretty ruthless for their own political gain.
I often see in the US a bumper sticker that says: "God Bless America." Whenever I see that phrase, I think that, when countries respect life, work for peace, and love and fear God, then they will receive God's blessing.
Rennie Calder is a Métis veteran of the Vietnam war who lives in Manitoba.