Thursday, February 12, 2009

Canadian Murders Afghan? What Did You Expect?

[as originally posted 01/04/09 on my formerly free thinking blog ]

News that Canadian Army Officer, Capt. Robert Semrau is facing murder charges for offing "an alleged Taliban insurgent" during a period of
fierce fighting on a "chaotic battlefield" is indeed troubling. Now questions about the ten week delay in the laying of the charges are, predictably, all the rage. Yet, Blatchford may be right when she says senior Canadian commanders, "once informed, acted swiftly" and transparently. Time will tell. But as of now, we simply don't have the facts.

But We Two Arseholes do know one thing: 'War is Hell'! And we have to ask, is it reasonable for Canadians to expect that, once our government chooses to place our brave soldiers firmly in the middle of said "Hell", that none would succumb to the darker impulses that lurk within a human's nature? Of course not.

Like death itself, war is a monstrous equalizer. It has the unique capacity to dehumanize any and all of its participants, regardless of their value systems or ethnic/national origin. It is l
ike a pathogen - without regard for the nationality, ideology, or morals of its victims - because it infects the soul. It degrades and demoralizes it, such that, even if one is on the side of the angels, it leaves scars on the psyche.

And that, unfortunately, is the best one can expect. At its worst, war debases combatants to the point that they act in atrocious ways which, predictably, lead to atrocities. So, should we really be surprised when this shit happens? Really?

In this case, we see the media (as is it is want) focusing on the simplistic and dwelling on the mundane. Who knew what when? Why weren't charges brought sooner? How should this incident inform our future Afghan policy? Oh, to be sure, a few columns will try to place a human face on the event, but they too will be shallow, rife with canned quotes and heart tugging notes designed to appeal to Canada's soft literate mid-section they will avoid the larger issue. Namely, the horrific price our combatant forces pay for our national moral desire to "make a difference" in a place where that difference is measured in blood. The fact is, otherwise good men and women on both sides are committing atrocities on a daily basis. Sure our side commits less - but how important is this mathematical variation in the land of moral high-grounding?

Now, to be clear, we are not siding with the smug, self-satisfied, "holier than thou" anti-war crowd who will delight in this news and cite it as further proof that their stance against the Afghan War is justified. No, we believe they care little for the toll this conflict is taking on both innocents and guilty alike. Their goal is political opportunism - shallow point making at the expense of their own combatant countryman's alleged failure if you will.

As for the war apologists, we anticipate they will try to make allowances for the incident. Fair enough, but it should give them pause as to the veracity of their position. At the very least it should make them wonder if the Canadian cost, the human cost, the intrinsic cost, is worth it. How many Canadian soldiers must cross the moral line before they say: enough!?

Maybe the next time a decision is made to put our young soldiers into dangerous war zones (especially ones like Afghanistan which are arguably un-winnable) we won't be so naive. By asking our soldiers to partake in combat that necessarily taxes their judgment and invites abuses, are we not the guilty party? Faced with the same imperatives would "we," the soft Wal-Mart shopping middle-class, act any differently?

As the new
Facebook site dedicated to fighting the "wrongful" charges being leveled at Capt. Semrau states: "In a land of misery, fear and an unknown enemy ... We cannot begin to understand the stress our troops undergo everyday in Afghanistan." Indeed - maybe this is the larger truth.

Maybe, we who are not there "cannot begin to understand" this killing misery of fear and stress. And maybe, just maybe, it is entirely possible that "we," from the comfort of our homes, laptops, and fireplaces, have no right to judge what our troops are doing in "our" name as they try to survive "their" Afghan Hell!

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