I heard someone in a coffee shop last week, talking to their friend who was thinking of enlisting in the Canadian Forces. “Are you going to go to Afghanistan to fight?” asked the person’s friend.
To me, there are so many things wrong with that question. The fact that Canada’s multiple-year combat mission pulled out of Afghanistan last month and this person didn’t even know about it astounded me. Despite the controversial nature of the war in Afghanistan, I think as a country we are failing to recognize adequately the soldiers who have been there fighting, many of whom are now struggling with their civilian lives, trying to understand what role they played in the “big picture.”
If anyone asked me four years ago what I thought of the war in Afghanistan, I would have told them I thought it was senseless, frustrating, and a needless waste of perfectly fine human lives. Then the person who I loved most at the time decided to go to Kandahar to join the fight. He spent more than half a year on the dusty plains driving convoy vehicles, and I sat alone in Canada, worrying. I watched the news breathlessly each night, and worried some more.
When he returned, he was a different man. He shared with me pieces of what he saw there, and kept the goriest details to himself. I watched him struggle with life in Canada, and watched his internal battle as he tried to arrange his newfound perspectives into something that made sense. Ultimately, his time in Afghanistan led to the demise of his closest pre-war relationships, for reasons I will never understand.
I am no soldier and cannot speak for those who have fought. But I can — we all can — recognize the very real sacrifices soldiers have made to their families and personal lives. Yes, the troops pulling out of Afghanistan was dutifully covered on the news, but for the most part, we have all already moved on to the next story. Canada lost nearly 160 lives in the war in Afghanistan, and there are many soldiers still living who are struggling. The war in Afghanistan and the Canadian pullout is a perfect example of when to put politics aside and honour the human element of the fight.