Monday, 12 November 2007

Remembering the Right Lessons about War

Some 30,000 people gathered on Parliament Hill yesterday to commemorate Remembrance Day. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is, of course, the anniversary of the end of World War I, but it has become an occasion to honour the men and women who have served in the military since. The size of the crowd is disturbing. Canada is mired in an adventure in Afghanistan which is undermining the principles governing Canadian military policy since the 1960s—that is, participation on the world scene as peace keepers. Let us hope that—as the NDP's Jack Layton and the Liberal’s Stéphane Dion indicated yesterday—support for Canadian forces does not mean support for the policies which has led to their deployment in Kandahar province.

We came to Canada in the middle of the Vietnam War, and I was very surprised to see young people wearing the red poppy of Remembrance. In Berkeley, where we’d both studied, nobody but ancient right wing warmongers wore poppies, but what I didn’t realize then was the immense role Canada’s participation in WWI played in building national identity. Sixty-two thousand Canadian military were killed in WWI, from a population eight million, and 600,000 men were in uniform, or about 20 per cent of the pre-war work force. I haven’t yet been able to buy a poppy in November, but I can now understand the pride of Canadians at the difference small nation made then, and in WWII.

But we must beware of what is going on in Afghanistan now. Having signed up for service in 2001 when it looked like something constructive could be accomplished against the Taliban, Canada appears no longer to have clear idea of what it should be doing to make peace, and rebuild the country.

Note: last year CBC radio began Afghanada, a weekly half hour radio drama series about Canadian forces in Afghanistan. So far it has avoided the trap of blind patriotism. Instead it presents gripping (and often funny) episodes about what’s going down there. Definitely worth a listen: Broadcast Times: Wednesdays at 11:00 p.m. (11:30 NT) and Fridays at 11:30 a.m. (12:00 NT) on CBC Radio One.

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