Home > Does "Supporting the troops" justify anything?

Does "Supporting the troops" justify anything?

One of the principle reasons the government gives for the continuation and expansion of combat component of the Afghan mission is that we, the government and the people, must do so to support our troops, as we see in Mr. Harper’s statement in response to the four Canadians killed in action on the fourth of August, “As fellow Canadians, I know we all share their [the families of the deceased] grief, but what the men and women in harm’s way want and need to know in moments like this is that their government and Canadians stand behind their mission.†More quotes of the same: CTV interview, question period, August 6, parliamentary debate in house of commons on extension of Canadian mission.

Who’s mission is this exactly? The government’s, the people’s? Apparently not, it is the mission of the Canadian soldiers on the mission. Why should the government continue to the mission, that is apparently not even theirs to continue? Because Canadian soldiers thought it up, really wanted to go, and really want to be in Afghanistan. This is essentially the most absurd thing I have ever heard, and as Canadian soldier - initially trained in the Finnish Defense Forces, joined the reserves upon returning to Canada specifically to train and then go to Afghanistan out of a sense of responsibility to actually support Canadian troops and do my part in the mission - I discontinued all my training primarily because the reasoning the government has for the mission is this hog wash. Even though I agree with the mission in abstract, I cannot conscionably participate under the current reasoning the government employs.

For instance, say I, as a Canadian soldier felt strongly and passionately about a mission I thought up of going and killing as many Inuit as possible. And then say I walk into the ministry of defense and say, “I’m going on this mission—all here in detail, planned to the last detail—to kill all the Inuit and I want and need the Governments and Canadians support, which, as a Canadian soldier, I am entitled too.†What would happen? I would be arrested on the spot for conspiracy to commit mass murder. Yet according to the government, how I feel as a soldier about a mission is the prime determinant for whether that mission is justified.

Furthermore, the Canadian government seems to suggest that the Canadian government and people would support any Canadian soldier who decided to return to Canada due to a disenchantment with the mission, and aid that soldier in his or her new mission to return to Canada. We can ask the government about this, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the case.

Must puzzling of all, by the same reasoning the Taliban is justified in continuing to support their mission, of military take over of Afghanistan, and indeed any terrorist organization has an inherent duty to continue to support the mission of their fighters to bring meaning to the deaths of their fallen comrades, insofar as at least one person has already died on said mission.

Let us review another example. Say I am on deployment, I go out on patrol and I observe ethnic cleansing (say ... in Rwanda). I return to my unit and report to my CO and say, “This is the situation, if we act now we can do this about it, I’ll lead the mission myself, all I need is some volunteers and equipment.†My CO would say, “I’ll send it up the chain of command.â€

If I reply, “No, this is my mission, and I want to go on it, the government has to support me.†My CO would say, “It is not your place to decide anything about the missions you go on except how to accomplish the objectives set out to you. It is the governments responsibility to discuss the issues and make decisions about Canadian policy. It is our responsibility to carry out those orders.†If I continued anyway, my CO would have me arrested. Same would go if I wanted to leave the company and go build a school, or go aid an NGO in distributing food, or if I did anything, no matter how justified or virtuous, outside the orders I’ve been given.

No military personal is allowed to take part directly in any political decisions. It is the constitutional nature of democracy, and it is a mentality and mechanism built into the military as much as humanly possible so that it does not even occur to Canadian soldiers that they could stage a military coup and take over the responsibilities of the government. Canadian soldiers are not even allowed to work for a political party in their spare time, or do anything that could threaten their status as completely apolitical members of Canadian society.

Why then has the government used not only absurd reasoning that justifies any cause, but reasoning that would be unconstitutional if it were true?

Canadians have a reverence and deep respect to soldiers that risk their lives and mental health on over sees missions. Canadians find it very difficult to criticize soldiers on active duty. By delegating the moral authority of the mission to the soldiers carrying it out, the Canadian government has taken advantage of the respect they have earned through decades of faithful service to the Canadian constitution and Canadian policy. The Canadian government has purposefully placed the reasoning for the mission in sort of uncriticizable zone of the Canadian mentality, and by virtue of this is able to keep the issue from the parliament floor and continue to refuse to share the details of the mission with the opposition parties, which represent more than fifty percent of the population, so that constructive discussion may take place not only in parliament but throughout the public, or indeed do anything that, to appose or question, they can argue is a heart breaking declaration of doubt in all Canadian soldiers.

This last point is also strange. The government seems to be arguing that Canadian soldiers would be hurt somewhere inside if Canadians say, “We’re going to try to be as sure as possible, through questioning and discussion, that the Canadian military is being sent to the right place at the right time with the right strategy and equipment.†First, it simply makes no sense that a soldier would take offense. Second, it makes even less sense to continue dangerous combat missions because it will somehow emotionally devastate the soldiers involved to do otherwise. Third, I’m pretty sure combat is much more emotionally trying than having your standing orders reviewed to make sure they cannot be improved, or being redeployed elsewhere; Canadians soldiers go where their country tells them to go. Fourth, not only does how Canadian soldiers feel about a mission irrelevant in forming foreign policy, but soldiers are trained to deal with the stress of sleep deprivation, long periods away from family and friends, and combat. I’m pretty sure they can deal with politicians doing what we elect them to do: openly discuss all viable possibilities.

I personally, would only go on a combat mission under the following conditions:

1. All alternatives to killing people have been exhausted.
2. The Canadian people and government truly care about the mission.
3. The Canadian people and government truly care about my life.

Have all alternatives to killing people been exhausted? I don’t know. Presumably, if they had, the government would tell us carefully about it in all detail. As far as I can see the mission as it stands now is an indefinite expression of an ideology that going “after the terrorists†over seas and killing what we can consider “terrorists†is the “right thing to do†, but defining what a terrorist is, plays no part in this, nor does explaining how this strategy doesn’t simply inspire more terrorism and doesn’t simply lead to further general destabilization of the region. I would certainly like to see the governments evidence that this isn’t so, and that there is no other alternative than to search and destroy.

There are plenty of good reasons to continue our military presence in Afghanistan. “Support our troops!†Not only is not an argument or a reason, it has I believe led to poor management. With actual reasons for being in Afghanistan would involve resolving the question “what are we actually trying to do†, and so a strategy could then be thought up that accomplishes whatever the answer is. Rather, the Government seems to be under the impression that the status of war is the victory, and if this status can be sustained indefinitely would mean continuous victory. The idea that we are “righteously tough†simply by being at war, any war, does not support our troops. Not clarifying what the actual objectives in Afghanistan are does not support our troops. Not having a plan to accomplish these non existent objective does not support our troops. Ignoring reality does not support our troops.

In the military I was told details save lives. The government apparently feels otherwise.

As a soldier I feel abandoned by my government. As a person I feel the country has gone completely insane by tolerating this support our soldiers gibberish.

The people may not be aware that the Canadian soldiers are confused by the idea that the Afghanistan mission exists primarily to make them feel better. Why? Because Canadian soldiers are trained to not criticize government policy under any circumstances, and to do so would garner unknown, except that they will not be good (probably the exact opposite), consequences from the Canadian military. Why? Because it is not up to Canadian soldiers to make foreign policy.

However, that is only the training, it is not the law, and all soldiers have a responsibility to make the country aware of any issue that they think the country has not thought enough about. Every soldier is still accountable to their own conscience, their own understanding, their own definition of morality. To support the government in its public manipulation adventure is immoral. To demand the government actually explain what the exact purpose of the military in Afghanistan is, is the right thing to do.

If the government starts making sense and stops living in some fantasy land, I shall get down to the business of doing my part in accomplishing the to be announced Afghan mission objectives. If not, then I don’t know. Right now the details are only killing a few people unnecessarily. Which is quite simply wrong. If the reasoning continues until the entire thing is killing people unnecessarily ... Well, are we Canadians somehow innately morally superior to everybody? Are any crimes we have or might commit simply not applicable to us because we are Canadians? Do we not have to think deeply about what exactly we are doing, especially when it comes to killing as many people in an area in a minimum amount of time?

Meaning is brought to a soldiers death if and when the cause the soldier fought for is meaningful - which would probably involve thinking and discussing about it first - not simply because other soldiers continue to fight for that cause afterwards, which can be said of the Taliban, Hizballah, Alqueada, Nazis, Soviets, PLQ or any cause. I cannot stress this enough. The governments use of this reasoning is a cheap subversion of public discourse, and I find it deeply offensive. If Canadians do not find it offensive, I believe I will have no other choice but to give up my Canadian citizenship and move somewhere where Peace, Order and Reasonable people are things held dear.

We can bring meaning to our fallen soldiers by thinking as hard as possible about what we should do in Afghanistan and think equally hard about how best to carry it out. We can disgrace them by using them as political pawns to manipulate the emotions of the people, after we’ve drilled it into them never to comment on politics.


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