Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wounded Soldiers

Viking Warriors Imagined

Veterans groups are turning on the federal government. Roughly, the complaint goes like this: you send us into dangerous battle in the interest of protecting lives and propagating Canadian democratic values abroad and when we come back—many of us wounded physically and/or mentally—you drop us like hot cannon balls! We deserve better than that!

               I don’t know how the armoured, sword-and-dagger-wielding gladiators of medieval conflicts behaved after battle, but the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers returning from Afghanistan should tell us that modern-day warfare is taking a terrible toll on soldiers. As to veterans’ contention that the government that sent them into battle is not sufficiently grateful, the suicides and the fights over compensation for the wounded speak for themselves. 

               But wait; doesn’t this bypass a bigger question? Is the work of a soldier really that heroic that special treatment for the wounded is obvious? Heaven knows that many of us are wounded performing day-to-day, unheroic services to humanity: road and bridge building, construction, farming, commercial fishing, and I’ve seen numerous teachers come away after a season with unruly classes exhibiting what could be called post-traumatic stress disorder. Granted, many injured civilians are fighting with Workers’ Compensation and disability pension providers much like the veterans are struggling with the federal government. Agencies that ostensibly provide backup services in case of injury at work are good at taking in premiums, not so good at paying up; a budget-balancing government is no different.

               Had Afghanistan been a war where a decisive victory over an enemy could be declared, the situation of veterans of that conflict might be different. But as I’ve said in earlier posts, the Afghanistan intervention had the flavour of a fool’s errand; Talibanism is woven into the cultural and faith fabric of that country and you don’t successfully combat religion with conventional military warfare. El Quaeda was driven out of Afghanistan but simply relocated, possibly only temporarily.

Granted, schools were built and large numbers of children—including girls—are attending, but it takes a great deal less effort to burn a school down than to build one. Maybe the slim hope that a few years of education will have changed what has been the oppressive factor in that culture can be legitimately held up as a worthy achievement of that war, but if that’s the case, the real evidence won’t be demonstrable for some time. The proof will be in the pudding, and this kind of pudding takes time.

Neither the Taliban nor El Quaeda have surrendered.

It’s my suspicion that Canadians just want to put Afghanistan behind them like a hockey game they should have won—but lost in a shoot-out. This is not good news for wounded veterans trying to rebuild their lives without adequate means to do so successfully.


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