October 5, 2006

Canada's Troops in Afghanistan

As each week passes and another flight returns from Afghanistan with the remains of one or more of our soldiers, the rhetoric of rationale is recited with increased fervor. Foreign Affairs minister MacKay notes the polls that show Canadians are highly skeptical of our role in that far-off land, but responds with the familiar refrain that he is pleased with the support Canadians are giving our troops.

Whenever challenged about the real reasons why Canadian forces are in Afghanistan, the government's standard response is to make a blatant emotional appeal to the natural desire to uphold our own. The subtext seems to be that no-one wants to be understood as criticizing our brave troops. So, the skeptics carefully explain the obvious-- that to question the mission is in no way to disapprove of our forces. In fact, it is our duty to question the mission, for the very safety of those citizens. During both World Wars, it was regarded as unpatriotic to question the conduct of the war. And history reveals that thousands of lives were needlessly lost to the sheer incompetence of both political leaders and military commanders. Had these prominent men been more accountable to the public, many soldiers would have returned home alive who, instead, spilled their blood on foreign soil.

In the unfortunate Afghanistan situation, there are humanitarian reasons one might cite to justify our presence; for example, subduing the Taliban to prevent the return to harsh Islamic rule that quashes the basic rights of women. But this government hasn't used that argument. To do so might invite questions about why we don't use the same grounds to intervene in Darfur. So, instead, our officials mumble something about making Canada safer from terrorists by attacking them in their strongholds. This is the line of reasoning borrowed from the Bush administration; and everyone knows it makes no sense. But, you can't question the mission because we don't want to shake our troops' morale.

Yet there's an especially sinister reason why we must re-evaluate our commitment to Afghanistan. If our government is really so concerned about the welfare of Canadian soldiers in the Middle East, then why are they allowing our troops to be exposed to one of the deadliest menaces in modern warfare? This menace already took its toll on 'Coalition' troops in the First Gulf War of 1991. This menace is depleted uranium dust that is created by the illegal weapons deployed by American forces. The North American media have been virtually silent about DU and its horrible effects, yet DU weapons have been used in Iraq in both Gulf Wars, and in Afghanistan. When these shells explode, they generate clouds of microscopic particles of uranium that are breathed in by all living things. That dust is virtually everywhere in Iraq, and some studies show that an area of danger radiates for about 1000 kilometers beyond Iraq.

The effects of DU on humans are well known among Gulf War veterans, and have come to be known as 'Gulf War Syndrome.' Coalition forces suffered virtually no casualties in that first Iraqi war; yet many soldiers from Britain, the US, and Canada who served in that conflict either died prematurely, or survive in a living hell of debilitating symptoms-- that are often still denied as legitimate by military health authorities in all three countries. None of the governments or military organizations involved wants the public to become aware of the terrible risks posed by depleted uranium weapons. If this knowledge became widely known, the public-- who supply the bodies and the funds for our valiant leaders' foreign adventures-- would start asking some very serious questions about the real reasons why Canadian forces are risking their lives and their future health for a highly dubious cause.

If Canadians simply stand on the sidelines cheering our brave soldiers onward, while ignoring the big questions of what we really-- and realistically-- hope to achieve in Afghanistan, we will do our troops a far greater disservice, than to speak up and demand solid answers from this government that seems willing to needlessly sacrifice Canadian lives in a futile mission. History will demonstrate, once again, that the real patriots are the peace-lovers, not the war-mongers. Every Canadian should take the time to get educated on depleted uranium weapons, and then contact the Prime Minister and his cabinet to demand some answers.

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