Thursday, March 09, 2006

Afghanistan and Public Opinion

I came across this email from a Canadian soldier, commenting on the divided public opinion for the Afghanistan mission:
I am a currently serving soldier based in Shilo, Manitoba. Master Cpl. Tim Wilson (killed when his armoured vehicle rolled) was a good friend of mine and I knew some of the other guys in the rollover.

"I couldn't agree more with your assessment of the weak support making us feel ashamed for what we do. What these people are telling us is that our sacrifices and efforts are for nothing.

"Since when did freedom not become worth fighting for? I can't believe this is the same country that turned back tyranny in 1939 and 1950.

"If these people were in charge, we'd all be speaking either German or Russian. It's hard enough to go through the stress and dangers of operating in a war zone like Kandahar, but it's even harder when you're wondering when the folks back home are going to pull the carpet out from under you and undo everything you've worked and sacrificed for over there...

"I don't hear anyone asking a cop why he answers 911 calls, or why a firefighter runs into a burning building.

Hardly unique, the argument that unfavorable public opinion distracts from the mission and demoralizes the soldiers. A common tactic in American politics to silence criticism, any dissent is viewed as an affront to the soldiers in harm's way. You could well argue that equating patriotism to supporting a war led to the feeble opposition of Democrats on Iraq, despite the alarming concerns. Opposition should not be suppressed because of the perception. It is the role of government to debate the merits of potential conflicts, not simply rally around the flag as a show of unity.

The public is free to form any opinion it wishes, without considering the implications outside of their personal preference. If they wish to support the troops out of duty, that calculation is their right, but equally those that oppose should be given a voice. Democracy doesn't demand the goosestep, if it did then we could accurately question the notion of freedom. So, when a soldier laments the fact that low public approval effects the troops, I think it unfortunate, but hardly wrong. While we have already had the debate over Afghanistan, the mission evolves and government must constantly reaffirm our goals. I suspect Canadians will debate the merits of Afghanistan until such time as our troops come home, to expect anything less is unrealistic.

I might add that I support the mission in Afghanistan, although it bothers me that our troops are taking an uneven risk, mainly because of the Americans misguided Iraq war. It is not Canada's role to fill a void that is byproduct of an overextended American military. In principle, the effort in Afghanistan is justified, but the scope appears more than we bargained for initially.


catnip said...

I don't think Canada should have joined the war effort in Afghanistan however, I do agree with you that this soldier's perceptions (and that old tired argument that we'd all be speaking German blah, blah, blah) are just off kilter.

Of course we excpect cops to answer 9/11 calls. That's their job until they stop doing it. We expect our soldiers to be in war zones and that's their job until they stop doing it. And, like it or not, we the people of this democracy have a right to discuss that job and to decide when it will end for them.

That's what all of those previous soldiers fought for - our right to make decisions.

Steve V said...


Thanks for the comment. Actually, it was your post on Afghanistan that prompted me to defend dissent, even though I disagreed with your opinion :) An open society demands disagreement and nationalism is too often used as a crutch to stifle debate.