Monday, June 22, 2015

2,300 is 2,300 too many

An anemone of Hope and Peace
“More than 2,300 Afghan soldiers, police and pro-government fighters have been killed since the start of the year — more than the total number of U.S. troops killed since the 2001 invasion that ended Taliban rule.”

Sometimes what's reported as a minor detail in a news story grabs you like an epiphany. The casualty figure above was part of a narrative about an attack on the Afghan parliament by the Taliban yesterday. All seven insurgents were killed; no Afghan fighters or civilians died in this particular attack but the number of dead Afghan soldiers and police who've died since January—2,300—gives pause. 2,300 is the approximate population of the bustling little town I live in plus it's nearest neigbour village.

Well, you might say, that's not so many. What's the big deal?

Being members of the Afghan army and police, I'm guessing that these were all, or nearly all, men. I'm guessing further that they had families, so it's obvious that at least 2,300 families lost a father or brother, son or son-in-law. Picture this number as men lined up in rows of 100, 23 rows ranged on a soccer field, then strafe them with machine gun fire from the stands until all are dead.

It doesn't seem like such a minor number illustrated this way. It's more than the total number of US soldiers killed in the 2001-2014 fight to oust the Taliban from power though. Canada lost 158 military personnel in that war, so just a row and a half of fathers, sons, sisters, mothers, brothers and sons-in-law, daughters-in-law.

Canada has recently been a participant in Western military interference in Afghanistan, Libya and now, Iraq/Syria. It seems a fair question to ask: has our military involvement in these places rendered the lives of civilians better, unchanged or worse? Libya is in a state of murderous anarchy, Iraq is dealing poorly with a growing ISIS that makes the Taliban look like a consortium of Sunday School teachers and Afghanistan, although not governed by the Taliban, must deal with their insurgent threat on a daily basis.

Apparently only the NDP and the Green Party have dealt with this question thoughtfully. So far, Harper hasn't got past the simplistic paradigm that there are only two choices: bomb ISIS or do nothing. Trudeau's position on this is similar to that on Bill C-51: appear as much as possible to be on both sides of the question lest a genuine decision should turn out to be electorally unpopular. Thomas Mulcair and Elizabeth May have seen some daylight on this: military involvement by us in foreign wars has historically contributed little more than the appearance of strength and resolve. Contrarily, the best propaganda for ISIS may well be the fact of Western powers dropping bombs on their country.

No, 2,300 is not a big number as far as war statistics generally are concerned. But to be blasé about even one death deliberately inflicted is to abrogate our responsibility as peace builders and pursuers of justice—and to throw in our passive lot with the Harperites and Bushes of this world. 

Claiming to follow Jesus and taking the high road that he took presents a true test of courage. 

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