Afghanistan: Canada's second forgotten war

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I have to say, the book works. Now you might be wondering what that means. Well, it's quite simple. Every book, especially one that aims to educate, enlighten and/or entertain, has to have a goal. The Savage War's author, Canadian Press journalist Murray Brewster, states his in the preface:

If this book makes you pause for a moment in the day-to-day hubbub to reflect on the events of the last few years --even for a short moment-- then in will truly have been worth the effort.

Well, Mr. Brewster, if nothing else, deserves my congratulations. His work made me stop dead in my tracks on more than one occasion. I thought about the sacrifice so many Canadians made in a war that was impossible to win. It made me think why we were there in the first place. And it made me think how powerless we as a nation are at directing our government's course of action.
Above being in the war zone, getting to know the all the important players, and zigzagging around the world, Murray takes what is (in my opinion) a very complication situation and makes it clear as day.

But he doesn't do this by piggy backing on other reporters' stories or trolling WikiPedia message boards. He demanded answers from people who hated his guts and he refused to take no for an answer. Say what you want about the man (I think he was a little to naive at times), but he certainly has a solid pair of cahones.

I've debated this with another classmate, but what makes the book great is also it's undoing.

Is the real story what happened in Afghanistan?

I don't think it is.

I think the bigger story is why we went to Afghanistan in the first place.

My blood comes close to boiling temperature when I think about the 200-plus Canadians who lost their lives there because Canada needed to make a militaristic contribution in a war that we didn't belong in.

Instead of the decision being made in a vote by the people, the call was made just a few blocks away from my Furby Ave. apartment at the Fairmont Hotel.

Now, I get that we elect people into office so they can make those kinds of decisions for us. It's just a tough pill to swallow when something’s decided on without input from the masses.

I was also looking for something that would differentiate the Afghani war from any other strife I've read about. I don't think I ever really got a sense of that. Maybe there is no difference in war though. Maybe it's just all the same.


The Savage War played with my mind the same way a roller coaster plays with the contents inside one’s torso. 

As the pages turned, I developed a sense of embarrassment with my knowledge –or lack thereof—of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. Hell, referring to our role there as simply an “involvement” makes me a little uneasy. Canadian soldiers were engaged in a full-scale war. Yet at the time it never felt that way.
Reading this book now, and watching Lt.Col. Mike Vernon's stunningly haunting Desert Lions, there's no question that the war in Afghanistan was brutally serious business.

Maybe I was duped into believing that our mission there was one of the patent peacekeeping varieties. Or maybe my head was shoved so far up my ass with my own life that I couldn't pay the few moments a day it took to be aware.

But I think I can speak for all Canadians my age that we simply didn't want to understand why we where there because we didn't agree with it. 

Here are some facts:

Canada was pressured into contributing to US's war on terror effort in some capacity. We picked, in my opinion, what was thought at the time to be the easiest option: Afghanistan. For a year, we'd be fighting people who looked like they'd walked off the set of The Ten Commandments, whose stone age work ethic and thinking would prove laughable next to the modern-age military might wielded by our troops.

Well, that didn't prove to be the case. The biblical-esque characters weren't running off into the night at the sight of foreign troops. Quite the opposite, actually.  They proved (and still prove) to be relentless in every way possible. 

This point is also highlighted in Vernon's documentary. No matter how many strides were made to gain territory or change the belief system of an Afghani neighborhood, the Taliban always seemed to be one step ahead. Explosions, gunfire, and death were evidence of that.

The advantage of Vernon’s documentary over Brewster’s book is the visuals. Don't get me wrong, Brewster uses words to paint pictures better than almost anyone I've read, but the power of the image is strong. I don't know if I'd ever really get the sense of the uphill challenges the Canadian army had in dealing and training the Afghani army, for example. The cultural barriers, which Brewster certainly alludes to in his book, are really brought home in the doc. Like they say, a picture tells a thousand words.

The biggest take away for journalists is this: sometimes, you have to do more than just show up. Yes, half the battle is being there in the elements. Maybe one day it’s being huddled behind a LAV as rockets whiz by your head. Other days maybe it’s resting in the media tent striking up conversation with a soldier. But the need to push the envelope and to do things others aren’t willing to do is what sets the good journalists from the great ones.


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