Wake Up, Canada - We're at War!

Article excerpt

The weekend of March 18, worldwide antiwar protests took place, Toronto included. That day, I was having my hair cut. My Ecuadorian stylist, in Canada four years, proudly asserted, "Canadians are peacekeepers. We don't fight." Wow, I thought, only here four years and you've got the lingo down like a native. I suspect they taught her that in citizenship class.

In 1956, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister (and future prime minister) Lester B. Pearson proposed a peacekeeping force to deal with the Suez Canal crisis. Mr. Pearson was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, and ever since, Canadians have been in love with the image of themselves as blue-hat wearing do-gooders, convincing everyone to get along while never firing a shot. That fantasy took on even greater power during the era of Pierre Trudeau, who welcomed draft dodgers and positioned himself as a Euro-style "citizen of the world."

But that fantasy is being challenged. Through the early months of 2006, the number of Canadian troops in Afghanistan (there since 2002) increased to 2,300, by our standards a huge commitment. Canadian forces in Afghanistan are part of a multinational combat force participating in both the continuing battle against stubborn Taliban remainders and in the securing of the young Afghan democracy. One would think, given the generally accepted role of soldiers and given the easily provable brutality of the enemy in question, that Canadians would understand the inevitability of casualties, both military and civilian.

Yet a cursory look at recent headlines in Canadian newspapers reflects the sad reality: Canadians are in a dream world, and need to be shaken from their sleep. Some examples: "More risk for our troops," "Dangers to Canadian troops in Afghanistan expected," "Canadian deaths in Afghanistan unavoidable: Department of National Defence," and, "Nervous day for Canadian troops after Afghan blasts." On TV and radio, debates about whether our troops should be "exposed to danger" are commonplace. Should it not go without saying that soldiers face risk and danger? The minutiae of each death of a soldier (there have been 11 so far, four from hostile action, three in accidents, four from friendly fire) is parsed, analyzed, given wall-to-wall coverage, exploited by politicians and everyone with an anti-American ax to grind.

And it isn't just soldier deaths that send us reeling. When an Afghan civilian ran a checkpoint in mid-March, Canadian soldiers shot him. The incident sparked Canadian self-flagellation, and the man's family asked to be relocated to Canada and have us pay for the education of his six children. …