Arts and Entertainment Editor
Remembrance Day is one of the most important days in the Canadian calendar. It’s a day of recognition that evokes emotions, passions and memories of soldiers lost and sacrifices made.
Politicians dutifully use it to bolster their public image, while reporters in flashy suits and red poppies eulogize narratives of heroism, selflessness and courage that are guaranteed to get good ratings.
Veterans bedecked in immaculate uniforms march, flags wave, anthems sound and moments of silence play out. It all looks worthy and beyond reproach on the surface. But beneath the glossy veneer, the question that never truly gets asked is ‘why?’
‘Why what?’ you might ask. Why should we honour veterans? No, not that. Why should we have a day dedicated to memorializing conflicts that squandered Canadian lives? Good question, but not that either.
The unasked question, forgotten along with the Unknown Soldier, is why do we still send troops to kill and die for us in 2015? What we must ask ourselves is why we continue to produce psychologically and physically damaged veterans year in and year out?
The answer we’ll hear is that our troops protect us overseas and at home, that they safeguard our cherished values and uphold our liberties and freedoms. Our way of life depended on them and continues to do so. But is that even true?
The justification for Canada’s involvement in the First and Second World Wars is nowhere near as righteously clear-cut and noble as populist history and Canadian conservatives would like it to be, and the dubious motivations behind our military engagements persist to this very day.
The U.S.-led combat mission in Afghanistan, otherwise known as Operation Enduring Freedom, lasted until 2014 before the plug was ignominiously pulled on the “enduring” military quagmire. Canada was a member of the American coalition committed to fighting the Taliban. Or was it fighting Al Qaeda? Or was it terror? The answer’s unclear.
One hundred and fifty-eight serving Canadian soldiers died in Operation Enduring Freedom, but for what? For very little, if we glimpse at the state of Afghanistan today. The Taliban continues to exist, and thrive by some estimations. Al Qaeda remnants and other religious extremists are still there in droves as well, their numbers perhaps even swelled by the invasive presence of Western powers such as Canada.
It is the latest example of what happens when armed foreigners are dropped into a country where, for the most part, they don’t speak the language or fully comprehend the historical, social and political make-up.
Along with the 158 dead are the countless surviving veterans who returned from Afghanistan with PTSD, depression and other crippling conditions. In the midst of its extensive Remembrance Day coverage this year, the CBC highlighted the story of Rob Martin, a 34-year veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan. Martin was wracked with guilt, blaming himself for the death of 25 soldiers during his second tour in 2009. He’s struggled with debilitating depression since.
It’s a saddening story, and one that should give us pause for thought. The question of why he had to go through such a harrowing ordeal is never put forth in the article. The conviction that it was for a righteous and just cause is never questioned, obviously. The fact that the Canadian government should be vigorously blamed for those 25 deaths is never stated.
Even today, the casualties continue to fall. Canada’s suspect involvement in bombing missions and special ops “advising” against ISIS since 2014 has predictably led to casualties. Last March, Sgt. Andrew Doiron was killed by friendly fire from Kurdish allies in what was purportedly a case of mistaken identity.
Why did he die? To protect our freedoms, naturally. The proposition that he (and many others) died for nothing in an avoidable situation is one too controversial and painful to bear. Canadians aren’t exempt from the fact that most wars are costly failures or that soldiers are expended at the whim of political manoeuverings and strategic alliances.
Now let’s take it a step further. Why does Canada even have a standing army numbering over 68,000 active personnel?
We have no great enemy. There are no hordes of ISIS converts emerging from our children’s bedrooms or our immigrant population, no matter what sensationalized (and nauseatingly repetitive) media headlines or Bill C-51 might imply. No amphibious assault by Arctic seals appears to be on the horizon either.
For those who argue that our army protects oppressed peoples, like the Yazidis of Iraq or the women of Afghanistan, why stop there?
The abuse of peoples and ethnicities has no bounds and extends to every continent, from the Boko Haram-abducted Nigerian women to the enslaved denizens of North Korea. It even exists within our own borders with our government’s abhorrent treatment of First Nations peoples. Our government cynically picks and chooses where it sends troops based on strategic considerations and ideological leanings, just like everyone else.
The line between remembrance and propaganda is always blurred on November 11, and 2015 was no different. Damned if Remembrance Day is not a perfect occasion to unite divided people, to get the right soundbites and photo-ops in. And damned if it’s not a great opportunity to gloss over blame on a government that has long been culpable for neglecting the veterans it is purportedly revering. In the wake of new Globe and Mail revelations that over 50 Canadian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan have taken their own lives, it’s the perfect misdirection and one that screams hypocrisy.
For all of the above, we should ask why on Remembrance Day. We must always question, for the sake of the very veterans in whose honour the event is orchestrated.