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. …