Sunday, April 29, 2007

Support the Troops

"That was one of my first choices, just to fire the big guns and see (stuff) blow up," said the grinning Small, whose thick Newfoundland accent confirms his origins in Main Brook, N.L., a tiny community of 350 on the island's northeastern tip.

"It was pretty cool, so I said, 'Oh yeah, let's do that.' It's a big rush to fire the big guns. That's why I like it."

(Canadian soldier, 19 year-old Mitcheal Small quoted in a Canadian Press release and appearing in Yahoo! Canada News on April 29th, 2007)

A lot of cars in the USA have a sticker attached in the rear that's in the form of a yellow ribbon with "Support the Troops" as its text. That sentiment is also expressed here in Canada as a nod to the "brave boys" fighting over there "to make the world a better place for the people of Afghanistan." As is usually the case, especially in time of war, the soldiering career is held up as a noble and brave profession, and its practitioners as the best of the best of citizens, to whom we all owe a great debt.

In the case of Mitcheal Small--quoted above--I'm not so sure that such accolades are in order. If he was speaking seriously, he was telling us that he chose to enlist and go to Afghanistan because it would give him an opportunity to wreak massive destruction, to "see (stuff) blow up." I would be interested in knowing which kind of soldier--the brave and noble citizen or the young man with a fetish for big guns and explosions--predominates in the Canadian military. My experience is limited in this area, but one young man who went from a high school in which I was teaching to the Canadian Armed Forces came back to the staff room full of the piss and vinegar of Mitcheal Small.

I don't support our troops, but I would support any effort to get them out of Afghanistan for retraining. It's not right that our young men and women should be rewarded for nurturing a "patience, hell . . . I'm gonna kill something!" attitude toward the world. I like a good explosion as much as the next guy, but I'm restrained from giving it rein. War removes the restraints and says that the love of the big guns and the havoc that can be created through their use is a good thing. I wonder if Small has already discovered that while he's blowing up "stuff," he may well be scattering the entrails of Taliban and civilians alike across the Afghan wasteland.

I believe that the NATO effort in Afghanistan is futile. Forces like the Taliban may well be suppressed for a time, but if our troops come home in, say, five years, they will most certainly creep out of the woodwork to continue where they left off. What I resent is the corollary to "support our troops," which says that expressing a negative opinion about our soldiers efforts in Afghanistan undermines their effort there and gives aid and comfort to the enemy. I'm being unpatriotic to boot, I'm told.

I can live with that. But let's stop kidding ourselves about the nobility of our cause in Afghanistan. We're sending boys and girls over there who know little about the culture and its history, and who are in the armed forces for a variety of reasons, including the opportunity--apparently--to blow stuff up.

One way or another, Afghans will have to shape the kind of country they want. No one can do that for them. The longer NATO troops carry on their project to stabilize the country and bring about order, the longer it will take for Afghanis to take the bull by the horns themselves.

Meanwhile, all the stuff Small and his colleagues have blown up, will have to be rebuilt.

1 comment:

  1. I too wonder what Canada is hoping to accomplish. Recently I was in St. John's and was doing a tour of the city when we came to the church where they were about to start the funeral services for a recently killed soldier. All the military brass was there in dress uniform and as they brought in the flag draped coffin, I questioned out loud if it was worth the price to Canada to lose so many young men and women. A somewhat courageous comment given that I didn't know my audience. In the group I was in, there was not one person in favour of our efforts there. We were a mixed group from all across Canada. The predominant opinion was that we were just helping the USA save face because for them to retreat now would be to admit they were wrong. Now we've created a monster from which we may not escape.