David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Canadians Must Maintain a Higher Standard in War

Brandon Sun, February 13, 2010 - David McConkey

Should we care what happens to Afghan detainees? After all, weren’t these Taliban fighters just recently trying to kill Canadian soldiers? And isn’t criticizing the Afghan mission showing a lack of support for our troops?

Answers to such questions reveal where we are at, not only in Afghanistan, but also in our place in war and peace in a changing world.

Let’s look beyond Afghanistan to reflect on Canada’s role. The past can provide a perspective, and let’s go right back to the First World War. Although almost a century ago, it was the cause of the majority of our 116,000 war dead.

When the First World War started in 1914, Canada didn’t need to articulate a reason to enter the war. We were at war simply because Britain was at war.

Our first troops, equipped with Ross rifles, were hastily assembled and sent off to fight in Europe. There eventually would be more than 600,000 in uniform.

In Canada, the War Measures Act passed by Parliament limited free speech. The first income taxes were introduced (as a temporary measure) to pay for the war effort. Ukrainian Canadians and other “enemy aliens” were imprisoned; one internment camp was right here in Brandon.

We learned – sometimes during that war, and sometimes long after – that battlefield courage and dedication are not enough. After all, our enemies are also courageous and dedicated. 

We also need to be smart. Very smart: if we want to limit our casualties, prevail in battle, and most importantly, prevail in peace to help prevent future wars.

One hard lesson learned during the First World War was that the Ross rifle was inadequate in battlefield conditions.

Our troops learned quickly that the better weapon was the Lee-Enfield rifle, which was used by the British. Canadian soldiers even threw away their Ross rifles and used Lee-Enfields that they took from the corpses of British soldiers.

After two long years, and over the protests of Canada`s top military brass, the Ross rifle was finally replaced by the Lee-Enfield.

During the First World War and since, Canada has followed international rules (the Geneva Convention) for the humane treatment of prisoners of war.

After the Second World War, some former German prisoners of war even felt so well treated in Canada that they immigrated to our country! And remember, these were soldiers fighting for Nazi Germany. They were engaged in killing our troops until just before they were captured.

Fast forward to Afghanistan. We are still learning.

The reasons for the war (still officially called a mission or an engagement) have not been clearly articulated by the government. And that goes for each of the Chrétien, Martin, and Harper administrations we have had during this time.

We now allow free speech during wartime, but are still leery of some debate. But, contrary to what the Prime Minister asserts, criticism of the Afghan mission does not show disrespect for our troops.

Instead, a vigorous debate is the sign of a healthy democracy. Which is what we are trying to demonstrate to countries like Afghanistan.

Support our troops? It is easy to stick up a ribbon. But what about paying more income taxes to buy the equipment our troops need?

Most Canadian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or land mines. These are deadly even when our troops are in armoured vehicles.

As a citizen, I am concerned that the armoured vehicles our troops use in Afghanistan are the “Ross rifle” of today.

The Americans are spending billions to replace their armoured vehicles with MRAP (mine resistant, ambush protected) trucks, which are much better.

To conclude, we must be smart internationally, in war and peace.

For Afghanistan, that means having the highest possible standard: whether fighting in battle, treating detainees, or dealing with the people and government.

Certainly having a higher standard than our enemies, whom we hope to inspire to become our friends in the future.
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See also:  

War and Remembrance

Community Memorials a Link to the Great War

Role of Religion in War and Peace

We Can Forge a New Drug Policy

Citizen Active



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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