Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bring them home

According to Yahoo News this morning, the family of Christian Duchesne issued a statement in which they said, “We encourage Canadians and Quebecers to continue supporting our soldiers, if only by putting a “Support our Troops” sticker on their vehicles. In our eyes, the best way to honour Christian's memory is to continue the mission with confidence and determination.” Christian Duchesne, 34, of the 5th Field Ambulance, died Wednesday when the vehicle in which he was riding was struck by what was apparently an improvised explosive devise as Canadian troops were driving the Taliban off a strategic hill west of Kandahar.

For those who oppose the war, such pleas from the families of the slain, while fully understandable, are frustrating. I can understand why the death of a young father, husband and son in the performance of his chosen career would raise such strong sentiments. Anything less would constitute acquiescence to the notion that soldiers’ deaths in Afghanistan serve no purpose, and possibly that their putting themselves in danger voluntarily was the consequence of misguided fervour, like a person dying while hang gliding. We honour such deaths (hang gliding, mountain climbing, etc.) by saying that “they died doing what they loved to do, and they knew the risks,” putting aside the fact that responsibilities to family and community were put aside in a selfish pursuit of a private obsession; to do otherwise would hurt too much. Is soldiering like this? I sometimes wonder.

Recently, George W. Bush compared the effort in Iraq to the American involvement in Vietnam, saying that the withdrawal of American troops there left that country to chaos and death, and—I think he said—genocide. Historians quoted on the news said that it was the American involvement in Vietnam in the first place that paved the way for the chaos and bloodshed. We all know the end of that story, of course. The deaths of all those American soldiers was “in vain;” they accomplished nothing of value, and the returning soldiers were not honoured by their fellow citizens, they were neglected, even vilified.

The very concept of making and using machinery designed to kill other people is an abomination. We have to keep reiterating that. War happens because we make and use weapons; the more deadly the weapons, the more deadly the war. Imagine removing all explosives, guns, knives, bombs, land mines, tanks, armoured troop carriers, etc. from Afghanistan. The civil war there (and in Iraq, Darfur, Palestine, I might add) would be over and the boys would be coming home. Conversely, if we sold deadly weapons to high school students, there would be wars raging room to room before the first recess bell. If we armed everyone in a mall, the bargain hunters would shoot at each other over the counters. That old saw of the simplistic thinkers, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” needs to be rewritten. “Guns introduce us to the idea that we can solve our disputes in an easy and permanent manner, and then provide us with the means to follow our imaginations down the road to war, and ultimately, chaos.”

Nobody knows the end of the Afghanistan story yet. We’re at the stage now where our leadership is saying that withdrawal will definitely mean failure, and continuing guarantees nothing except hope. The fact remains that we are in a foreign country with guns, and that can be a recipe for disappointment. If I put a sticker on my car, it will read, “Bring them home.”

One thing is certain: Afghanistan’s future is in Afghani’s hands. No matter how hard we try to remake that country, the people who are at home there will determine their own direction in the end. They may as well get on with it.

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