Since Ottawa sent military support to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Canadian public opinion has generally hovered in a state of confusion, with many people unsure of exactly why troops have been sent there in the first place.
Now, however, that befuddlement is steadily being combined, if not replaced, with a sense of distrust and agitation.
And understandably so. Canadians largely remain perplexed as to why Ottawa has sent troops to a war which many see as unjustified, and even more seem to feel is still unexplained. No solid reasoning has come from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to elaborate on the very general statements released this far, which have simply declared that Canada is now “committed” to the war. Despite the rising military and civilian death toll overseas, he claims that Canada now has a “better military” from the experience.
Contrasting with the tranquil and vague rationalization from the federal government has been a rabidly defensive outcry by the armed forces. Conveniently disregarding the large number of innocent people killed in the invasion and consequent occupation, military officials have been quick to respond to anti-war sentiments by offering up the suggestion that the public often forgets about “all the good things” which Canadian soldiers contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
An intensified pro-military advertising campaign in Canada over recent years has been coupled with corporate media refusing to carry out a critical analysis of the political and economic reality of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. This has fostered the conditions for at least partial support of the war by working class Canadians.
But the attempts at winning over public opinion have not been as successful as some political leaders and military brass had hoped. According to recent polls, nearly 50 per cent of Canadians are opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Public demonstrations against the occupation are still strong, with thousands protesting in the streets throughout 37 cities last October 25, in order to spread the truth about the Conservatives’ agenda.
When examined, the often ignored numbers don’t lie either. Canada entered a war that aroused international popular condemnation, and which is now responsible for the deaths of between 20,000 and 49,600 Afghanis, according to Jonathan Steele of the Guardian. Canada’s participation in Afghanistan provides essential logistical support to the simultaneous US war in Iraq. Canada’s death count in the Afghan “theater of operations” is now at 45 troops, with an additional 150+ injured. In analyzing the number of dead, the math paints a dreary picture which is difficult to understand. Great Britain, which currently has 4,700 soldiers serving in Afghanistan, has had fewer troops killed than Canada, which has fewer than half the number of British soldiers stationed there. Meaning that Canada’s fatality rate is double that of the British rate. Yet these realities do not penetrate Canadian media.
Further displaying the success of wartime propaganda at work, an Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of CanWest News Service this past September showed that of just over 1,000 Canadians questioned, 80 per cent actually believe that Canadian forces are conducting a “vital humanitarian mission” in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the truth is far different from this common misconception of the Canadian military as being one of peacekeepers eager to reconstruct war-torn communities.
Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan currently have approximately 90 per cent of their work consisting of combat missions, and only 10 per cent allocated to humanitarian projects — a scandalous injustice when it is considered that 1.5 million people in Afghanistan are suffering from imminent starvation. Canada’s participation in this US-instigated war helps maintain the annual deaths of 268,000 Afghani children under the age of five who pass away from easily treatable diseases such as diarrhea and pulmonary conditions.
Since Canadian forces arrived in the region in late 2001 (and actively engaged in on-ground missions beginning in early 2002), the US government has been able to utilize more of its military resources in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Mainstream press in Canada has been largely silent on this matter. There was an equal lack of publication on the confirmation from Ottawa in April 2003 that over 50 Canadians were actually fighting in Iraq, placed there via exchange programs with the “allied” forces.
Canadians are faced with the challenge of choosing between blind nationalism and a critical perspective on the economic realities underlying the occupation of Afghanistan, through which Canada has enrolled itself as a military junior partner of the US global empire. As the body count of both Afghanis and Canadians grows higher, the facts are becoming clearer as to the true intentions behind the war, and the necessary illusions which cloak them.