Dignity and war are mutually exclusive realities

There is no dignity in war: only murder, mayhem, suffering, survival (hopefully) and “profit” for “some one”.  Like so many of my generation, militarism was an integral part our family tradition. Typical European young men were conscripted (pressed) into military service whether the government of the day/era was democratic or not; whether there was peace or war. 

All the men over the age of eighteen on my father’s side of the family served in the military. Not I. One can imagine my reaction when I read [part of] a headline of a story authored by Ehsanullah Amiri published in the Toronto Star on August 14: Four lessons from Canada’s mission in Afghanistan: ‘if you go to war, make sure you have a plan to finish the war with dignity’. Hiroshima and Nagasaki come to mind.

Label me a naive “Peacenik”, but I always thought that war was the regrettable last resort to an impasse that needed to be resolved quickly and with minimal loss to human and material resources. One loses one’s dignity going in. The “war in Afghanistan” and our participation in it is a case in point.

We were lucky to get out when we did. I met General/Senator Romeo Dallaire on a plane after a caucus meeting on what Canada should do on the Afghan issue.. He did not come across as an enthusiastic supporter: “if we go in, he said, we’ll be there for the next 40 years.”

There really was no role for us other than to provide an “aura of legitimacy” for the American war-lust to avenge the terrorist attack of 9/11 in 2001. They could have done it on their own, but it would not have “looked good”.

Even today, the USA – annually -spends more on military firepower then the next 11 countries in the world combined: $1.183 Trillion Canadian, 39% of the global total and the equivalent of more than 50% of Canada’s GDP.

Yet it took them ten years to hunt down Osama bin Laden. They stayed another ten after they killed him, until the government could no longer justify its occupation of one of the poorest, most backward (by Western standards) nations of the world.

The USA spent roughly $3 Trillion Canadian in the 20-year occupation. In those 20 years, about 2,500 US soldiers died; 165 Canadian soldiers and civilian support staff suffered the same fate. Between 2010 and 2020 a further 175 Canadian military personnel (40,000 served in Afghanistan) committed suicide, presumably as sufferers of PTSD. The last Canadian troops left the theatre of war in 2014. They/we had nothing to show for it.

Afghanistan became addicted to one cash crop and its downstream purification and distribution system: poppies, opium and heroin. In fact, the United Nations places the country as first (at 90% of the world total) among suppliers.

It pains me to think that, as a country, we spent approximately $1.8 billion per annum in creating the conditions to facilitate that trade, and a further $4 billion for “development projects”.

Ah the projects. Time and again, government Ministers justified our participation with unsubstantiated boastful claims of the millions of girls who could now go to school; the millions of women who overnight could mix and mingle free of the oppressive oversight of their male family members and the elimination of Taliban warlords among others. None of it true, as it turns out.

No, the reasons for our entry were as petty then as they appear in hindsight: the weakness of leadership and the desire to appear bright in a room of dullards.

In the wake of 9/11, Prime Minister Chretien, already on his way out in 2001 and still smarting from the pushback he received as Opposition leader for his criticism of the second Iraqi war, rushed to commit Canada to help the USA do whatever it might take.

Then, [a] General Hillier (yes, the logistics expert who bungled the distribution of the first Covid-19 antidote) made the argument to both Martin and Harper governments that Canada should transform its Peacekeeping participation into a peacemaking one. In other words, ‘stop educating and start shooting’.

The general was apparently “anxious to prove his mettle” with “real soldiers”.