Lies, damned lies, euphemisms and statistics

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Catherine Ford / Guest Columnist

Twice as many Canadians have been killed in a single plane crash than have died fighting in Afghanistan.

Three times as many Canadians have been murdered in their homes than killed by insurgents.

Four times as many Canadians have committed suicide than have been blown apart by improvised explosive devices.

Such statistics are meaningless, but for the common denominator: all of the above deaths could have been prevented. But it is only those 161 deaths in Afghanistan — 157 soldiers, two aid workers, one diplomat and one journalist — for which Canadians collectively must accept responsibility.

We sent each person who died in that ravaged, ungovernable land to their deaths. We did so by supporting a government who sent them there, saluting, glorifying in, promoting and employing the euphemisms that mask the true ravages of any war.

Canada’s war ended recently, when soldiers of the Royal 22e Regiment handed over their war to the Americans who, if truth be told, started the whole thing by announcing a war on terror, invading Iraq, whose citizens had nothing to do with 9-11, and subsequently futilely chasing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden through Afghanistan.

The making of heroes and the mourning

We made the ones who died heroes and mourned their loss. Those who survived will return, many damaged in body and spirit. We will slowly forget them, even as some will spend the rest of their lives trying to recover from the experience.

Canadians will not do this with malice aforethought, but we will certainly forget their sacrifice, unless members of our own family were involved.

For most Canadians, “lest we forget” on Remembrance Day is rote. The fact remains before this current debacle in Afghanistan, Canadians had the privilege of forgetting about war, which had not been faced by this country since Korea, from 1950 to 1953. The legacy of past wars had been peace and forgetting for our children. That’s why our fathers and grandfathers fought in two World Wars — to allow us to live in peace. They fought to make the world a better place.

Tell me how our involvement in Afghanistan has made the world a safer, better, more peaceful planet.

We make it seem as if war is something to be accepted, rather than an admission of failure.

This was never our war, albeit we joined the NATO mission whose involvement was insisted upon by the U.S.

Now that Canada has ceased its combat mission, do we seriously believe every Canadian left in that country will survive to come home? Regardless they are there to supply aid and training to the Afghans, they remain foreigners. They are still targets. That is our legacy of turning peacekeeping into peacemaking, a euphemism for warmongering.

Have we never learned the lesson of insurgency, guerrilla warfare and tribalism? This was a war with no chance of succeeding. We just join a long list of nations that have fought for and in Afghanistan, only to be defeated and, eventually, depart. And each time, the country itself suffers more.

Our silence has meant acceptance, approval

Too many of us have been silent out of a reluctance to criticize our armed forces and the men and women who serve in them, many of whom have been at the sharp end of battle.

Too few of us have been vocal in criticizing this waste. In his 1989 book, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, Paul Fussell examines the euphemisms employed by ordinary people and soldiers to deal with the realities and grotesqueries of war. He writes: “Disappointment threatens anyone searching in published wartime writing for a use of language that could be called literary — that is, pointed, illuminating, witty, ironic, clever, or interesting. What one find rather, is the gush, waffle, and cliché occasioned by high-mindedness, the impulse to sound portentous, and the slumbering of the critical spirit.”

Fussell, whose 1975 book on the First World War, The Great War and Modern Memory, examined the literature of war, wrote about how modern authors gave “the ritual of military memory a new dimension. And that new dimension is capable of revealing for the first time the full obscenity of the Great War.”

Fussell adds, and one can almost hear the regret in his written words: “The greatest irony is that it is only now, when those who remember the events are almost all dead, that the literary means for adequate remembering and interpreting are finally publicly accessible.”

Before history is rewritten, yet again, to highlight the good our involvement in Afghanistan did, or the heroic nature of our troops, is it possible for us to learn and remember?

—Troy Media

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