Saturday, November 15, 2008

Support Our Troops

I get mixed feelings whenever I see a "Support Our Troops" ribbon on the back of a car or on the window of someone's house. What does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that I'm expected to condone Canada's presence in Afghanistan or, if I happen to be American, the United States' presence in Iraq?

I think that most people now understand that the Iraq war is a sham. America's reasons for invading a country which posed no threat to the United States have been shown to be invalid. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. Iraq was not harboring Osama Bin Laden and had nothing to do with the September, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

And why are Canadian troops in Afghanistan? They went there at the request of the Americans, after the 9/11 attack, presumably to flush out Osama Bin Laden, who was presumed to be hiding somewhere in the Afghani hills, and perhaps to disrupt Al-Qaeda's operations. But, again, Bin Laden was never found, and Al-Qaeda still remains active.

Meanwhile, each week more Canadian and American families bury their young soldiers. At the time of this writing, 97 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the start of the conflict. In total, over 1,000 coalition soldiers have lost their lives there. Over 4,500 military personnel have died in Iraq, and almost 4,200 of those were U.S. troops, and for what? What did they die for? What have we accomplished? What do we expect to accomplish before it's over?

I think we need to draw a distinction between supporting our troops, and supporting our governments' military agendas. I support our troops. I have the deepest respect and admiration for every Canadian and American soldier that goes to Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else. These are volunteers, not inductees. They have chosen, for their own reasons, to support their countries in these theatres. They are away from their families and friends and from the comforts and familiarities of home for extended periods, and many have given their lives to the cause. My problem is that I still don't fully understand what that cause is, or whether it's valid. I suspect I'm not alone.

Supporting our troops does not necessarily mean blindly supporting our governments' military agendas. For some, it means getting clarity about why they are being asked to make the sacrifices that they have been asked to make, and to ensure that the reasons justify those sacrifices. Supporting our troops means challenging those who give those troops their marching orders, in order to ensure that not one soldier dies in vain.

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