Monday, January 01, 2007

Top Canadian News Story of 2006: The Afghanistan War

It's rather sad, in more ways than one, that the Afghanistan war is the Canadian news story of the year five years after it began.

Images of Maple Leaf-draped coffins returning home became crimson staples for front pages and newscasts, and delivered the reality of war to millions of Canadians.

As historian and author Serge Durflinger put it, “nothing can bring it home like the faces of the dead.”

Jim Poling, managing editor of the Hamilton Spectator, said debate over the nation's role in war was “no longer theoretical.”

“We are no longer debating U.S. foreign policy from afar. This year Canadians witnessed and wept as coffins bearing the remains of Canadian soldiers landed on tarmacs across the country. Life and death and war is again a reality for Canadians and the divisions emanating from the conflict are real,” he said.

Had the Canadian public been paying more attention all this time and not just when the number of casualties had increased dramatically, there is a good chance our troops may have been withdrawn by now. But, in the early days before we signed onto the more aggressive NATO fighting mission, we still lived under the illusion that we would be peacekeepers and rebuilders in the country as long as we remained there.

That bubble burst in 2006.

And, now we have the tory PM and the new Liberal leader (who doesn't want to 'dishonour' the troops by bringing them home) firmly committing our soldiers for at least the next 2 years, if not longer. Meanwhile, a common New Year's resolution amongst Canadian soldiers is just to 'make it home safe'. While the fighting may have abated slightly for the cruel winter season in Afghanistan, we're left wondering exactly how many of them actually will make it home safe in 2007 when the battles heat up once again.

Modern war time for North Americans is far different than it was during the days of the major world wars. Very few are actually called to sacrifice much of anything. There is no rationing, no war bond drive, no getting a job at the rivets factory. In fact, we simply relish in our prosperity and try to catch the news once a nite in between trips to work and Wal-Mart or whatever else it is that we are keeping busy with. And war news gets old fast when wars go on year after year - except when there are more casualties. And, in 2006, those we did lose caused more Canadians to actually be touched in a more personal way just as the fact that the US military was losing the war in Iraq finally brought it home for Americans (who still aren't really following what's going on in Afghanistan, unfortunately).

So, the Afghanistan war goes on. A 'long, hard slog' as Rumsfeld characterizes these things. And the average Canadian really doesn't have much of a reason to keep up with what's going on 'over there''s just not sensational enough. Not like, say, who's in the [insert sports genre here] playoffs or Peter MacKay referring to Belinda Stronach as a dog. I suppose it should provide some comfort that the war was chosen as the top story of the year. Then again, that was the result of an 'annual poll of newspaper editors and broadcasters'. Does that reflect what a majority of Canadians would have picked?

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