Conditional support for our troops

Ottawa commuters in the snow

Walking through the Rideau Centre yesterday, I came upon a cart selling t-shirts with various slogans on them. Beside the silly Che Guevara stuff was one shirt that caught my attention. In white letters on a red background it said “Support our Troops.” Under that were both a maple leaf and the flag of the United Nations.

It struck me as admirably post-nationalistic. We recognize the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces, but also that their conduct needs to be bounded by international law. While the sentiment is admirable, it sits uncomfortably with the reality of how ignorant most Canadians seem to be about what we are doing in Afghanistan. People really think we are mostly building bridges and distributing big bags of rice. The reality of the all-out war in which we are committed is very different.

That is not necessarily to say that we shouldn’t be fighting the Taliban along with our NATO allies; it is simply to highlight that Canadian governments manipulate the perception of Canada as a ‘peacekeeping nation’ to keep people from looking too closely at what our armed forces really do. The degree to which many people seem happy to continue to believe in the peacekeeping myth just because it makes them feel good is also problematic.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

10 thoughts on “Conditional support for our troops”

  1. It is possible people wearing the shirt mean to say: “I support Canadian troops, but only on operations backed by the United Nations.”

    It is also possible that they aren’t really distinguishing between the two authorities: supporting all actions of Canadian troops because they assume them to be in keeping with international law.

    It would be interesting to interview a few people who buy and wear these shirts.

  2. While I agree…

    Just because the UN supports a mission doesn’t make it right. While the UN is more universal than Canada in theory, this is no guarentee that the UN could never ask Canadians to die for a particular, arbitrary, special-interest cause. Therefore, it is not enough to spread around the responsibility to the most universal body (the UN).

    I actually think that “support for our troops” needs to be divided into 2 distinct emotions to be understood properly.

    The first is support for the effort, and its nationalistic or post nationalistic, and it needs to be mediated by a personal comprehension of the right (it can’t be just that the UN supports the effort, you have to support it personally, and it can’t be merely for the reason that the UN supports it).

    The second is support for the persons in the troops, which is not political support for an effort, but moral respect for individual persons. I think this is the emotion that runs strong during Remembrance day, and therefore the reason why I am so angry that the state co-opts Remembrance day to glorify the army (you might remember my story about the honour guard symbolically dragging along the boys who will actually be getting shot at). The moral respect itself might be confused, because at least according to Kant, respect is something we accord even against our will to those who obey the moral law. And, it in no way seems clear that a soldier who fights in a war is obeying the moral law regardless of whether I think the war is just or an atrocity.

    I think the division between the two sentiments might a manner we in the west cope with the trauma of war, specifically since the first war and the outing of the old lie (dulce et decorum est…) We are no longer able to universally approve of war, as the sentiment leading up to the the great war indicates that we probably did. However, we still want to feel some aspect of that universal approval, so we feel it only in reference to the individual sacrifices of particular soldiers, who’s lack of personal political jugment leaves them untainted by the problematic causes of a conflict.

    However, in Germany this is no longer possible. Since the second war, personal military sacrifices are not glorified in public in the way that they are in the rest of the west. There are no war memorials in Germany, or at least not in every town with the names of fallen soldiers on them as we find in Canada.

    This indicates that the division between the two sentiments is new and artificial, and has a threshold which can be breached if the political cause is horrid enough.

  3. Despite U.S. and NATO forces’ repeated tactical victories on the battlefield, al Qaeda’s Afghan allies, the Taliban, continue to survive — the critical task for any guerrilla force engaged in an insurgent war. Following a pattern that has been repeated many times throughout Afghan history — most recently in the war following the Soviet invasion — the Taliban largely seek to avoid extended battles and instead seek to engage in hit-and-run guerrilla operations. This is because they realize that they cannot stand toe-to-toe with the superior armaments of the foreign invaders. Indeed, when they have tried to stand and fight, they have taken heavy losses. Therefore, they occasionally will occupy a town, such as Musa Qala, but will retreat in the face of overwhelming force and return when that superior force has been deployed elsewhere.

    Due to the presence of foreign troops, the Taliban have no hope of taking control of Afghanistan at this juncture. However, unlike the foreign troops, the Taliban fighters and their commanders are not going anywhere. They have a patient philosophy and will bide their time until the tactical or political conditions change in their favor. Meanwhile, they are willing to continue their guerrilla campaign and sustain levels of casualties that would be politically untenable for their U.S. and NATO rivals. The Taliban have a very diffuse structure, and even the loss of senior leaders such as Mullah Dadullah and Mullah Obaidullah Akhund has not proven to be much of a hindrance.

  4. Midnight Oil
    My Country

    Was it just a dream, were you so confused
    Was it just a giant leap of logic
    Was it the time of year, that makes a state of fear
    Methods were the motives for the action

    And did I hear you say
    My country right or wrong

    Did you save your face
    Did you breach your faith
    Women, there were children at the shelter
    Now who can stop the hail
    When human senses fail
    There was never any warning, no escape

    Did I hear you say
    My country right or wrong
    My country oh so strong
    My country going wrong
    My country right or wrong

    I hear you say the truth must take a beating
    The flag a camouflage for your deceiving
    I know, yes I know
    It’s written on your soul
    I know, we all make mistakes

    This is not a case of blurred vision
    It’s a case of black holes, pocket holes, soul holes

    And did I hear you say…


  5. “It is interesting to reflect on the institutional inevitability of these disagreements. The military is involved in a war. It is institutionally and emotionally committed to victory in the theater of combat. It will demand all available resources for executing the war under way. For a soldier who has bled in that war, questioning the importance of the war is obscene. A war must be fought relentlessly and with all available means.

    But while the military’s top generals and senior civilian leadership are responsible for providing the president with sound, clearheaded advice on all military matters including the highest levels of grand strategy, they are ultimately responsible for the pursuit of military objectives to which the commander-in-chief directs them. Generals must think about how to win the war they are fighting. Presidents must think about whether the war is worth fighting. The president is responsible for America’s global posture. He must consider what an unlimited commitment to a particular conflict might mean in other regions of the world where forces would be unavailable.

    A president must take a more dispassionate view than his generals. He must calculate not only whether victory is possible but also the value of the victory relative to the cost. Given the nature of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus — first the U.S. Central Command chief and now the top commander in Afghanistan — had to view it differently. This is unavoidable. This is natural. And only one of the two is ultimately in charge.”

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