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Canada and Afghanistan: the sacrifice of our small towns

December 31, 2009

On this last day of the year 2009, at the edge of the century’s new decade, an old war drags on. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are the method of choice for killing in a land-locked Asian country, whose connection to Canada, deepens.  Today our media reflect with us on the death of 4 men and one woman, a journalist described by her colleagues as “curious, open-minded and decent.” Is it too romantic a generalization to think of these qualities as quintessentially Canadian, when we are at our best? Perhaps. Canada as benign versus Canada as a dark place of disappearance and suppression. Canada as banal. Canada as a country whose major cities rarely give up any war dead but whose smaller places since 2002 do just that.

Home towns of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 2009 (source: cbc.ca – apologies for any errors)

Cambridge, ON

Edmonton, AB

Edmonton, AB

Yarmouth, NS

Victoria, BC

Calgary, AB

Saskatoon, SK

Loretteville, QC

Chute-A-Blondeau, ON

Beauport, QC

Warwick, QC

Val D’OR, QC

Sept-Iles, QC

Ste. Hyacinthe, QC

Montreal, QC

Saint-Calixte, QC

Peterbourough, ON

Edmunston, NB

Quebec City, QC

Brownsberg-Chatham, QC

Wicklow, ON

Les Mechins, QC

Hearst, ON

Port Colborne, ON

Ripples, NB

Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mississauga, ON

St. Catherines, ON

Baie-Comeau, QC

Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NFLD

Pinawa, MB

Ottawa, ON

Canadian Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan in 2009: totals by Province

QC       12                               

ON      10

AB       3

BC       1

SK       1

NS       1

NB      2

MB      1

NFLD  1

 I write a collection of prose-poems – fragments that comprise The Canada Project about my birth in Pune and then my journey to Canada, across its provinces: a meditation on the nature of dates, numbers, place names – each of us, carrying inside, our own roll calls. After a year’s procrastination, I begin to read Roberto Bolano’s 2666. More fragments.

A “routine” presence patrol in District 2, Kandahar close to the Dand district, where reporters say Canada has established a “model village.” A friend sends me an email, with this culled news clipping statement: “Witnesses described panic among locals, as Canadian soldiers rushed to secure the area and airlift the victims to medical care. Nevertheless, Brig.- Gen. Menard, commander of coalition forces in Kandahar, declares that Dand remains a “safe area” and expresses confidence that this was an isolated incident.

“Expresses confidence that this was an isolated incident.”

 Those who support our efforts in Afghanistan – from the general to the policy analyst to the veteran reporter to the non-fiction writer – hold opinions that must be placed alongside those of Rory Stewart, writing in the New York Review of Books,

            “We armed militias in 2001, disarmed them …in 2003…rearmed them again in 2006 as community defence forces…we allowed local autonomy in 2001, pushed for a strong central government in 2003, and returned to decentralization in 2006. First we tolerated opium crops; then we proposed to eradicate them through aerial spraying; now we expect to live with production for decades…Through all these bewildering years, a subtle and refined edifice of justification for troop increases has emerged, in which arguments are…reinforced with analogies and precedents.”

Percentage disapprovals for Canada in Afghanistan by province remain highest in Quebec.

From Nik Nanos, in an email to subscribers, December 30, 2009

The Leader with the Best Vision for Canada’s Future

Stephen Harper: 30.0% (-2.3)
Michael Ignatieff: 14.8% (-5.6)
Jack Layton: 14.0% (-0.6)
Gilles Duceppe: 3.4% (-0.6)
Elizabeth May: 2.8% (-0.9)
None of them/Undecided: 34.9% (+10.0)

Leadership Index Score

Stephen Harper: 94.6 (-5.1)
Michael Ignatieff: 39.0 (-15.8)
Jack Layton: 41.2 (+2.3)
Gilles Duceppe: 15.4 (-3.2)
Elizabeth May: 9.7 (-4.3)

 “Nanos Poll.” http://www.nanosresearch.com/main.asp

See the specific composite of indicators for the “leadership index score”: http://www.nanosresearch.com/library/polls/POLNAT-W09-T408E.pdf

 2002-2009 Canadian Soldiers Killed in A/Stan: totals by year

2009       32

2008       32

2007       30

2006       36

2005       1

2004         1

2003       2

2002       4

Total       138   (see wikipedia for an detailed chart by year of Canadian war dead in Afghanistan)

In 2006, the nature of the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan changed. In 2010, we will continue to ask: what happened and was it worth it, is it worth it? I remain steadfast: we will not be leaving in 2011. I hope to be wrong.

 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mara Kardas-Nelson permalink*
    January 8, 2010 1:02 pm

    Renee,

    Thank you for your post–I think it’s timely and needed and highlights the important fact that some provinces, and especially small towns within those provinces, are disproportionately affected by the war in Afghanistan. The same is, for the most part, true in the U.S.: looking through the lists of dead in newspapers across the country, readers stumble upon unrecognizable names of forgotten places in the deep south and Midwest, not the big glimmering cities of the east and the west. I think that this phenomenon is central to the continuation of the wars in the Middle East, for it allows the majority of North Americans not only to be sheltered from their impact on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also to be ignorant of such occupations’ affect on their own fellow Canadians and Americans. Imagine if everyone who died came from New York City, or from Toronto? The families’ mourning would be more public, the outrage more acute. Furthermore, this quiet small-town phenomenon points to who is joining the armed forces today: primarily those who are economically depressed and look to the military as a way to see the world as well as a way to college and university, a way to support their loved ones at home. They are the forgotten people, and allow us to forget the little understood impact of these much-talked-about wars.

    We cannot simply hope that our government will rights these most egregious wrongs, but help to right them ourselves, but taking to the streets and, most importantly, learning about and recognizing those who have lost their lives. We can’t let them be forgotten.

  2. December 31, 2009 8:44 pm

    I bleieve that most of the trouble in those countries is because of frustration.They live impoverished lives and get treated badly by multinationals.They get angry and want to hit bakc
    The rich get richer,the poor get poorer

  3. Sandra Chamberlain-Snider permalink
    December 31, 2009 5:28 pm

    I hope you are wrong too, Renee. I really dont know how politicians (and the people who vote for them, because the buck does stop with us) balance the cost of armoured tanks and helicopters against the losses to IED’s. I hope the ministers involved in these decisions in the 1990’s come to appreciate the longlasting effects of same. I think the myth of Canada as a benign country needs to end so that when we field an army, either in war or to protect peace, we equip and protect them sufficiently.

    I also hope that when people see those stats, it makes them want to vote. We get the government (and the foreign policies) we deserve when we have less people voting with every election.

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