A few years ago, I recall my first time seeing the Canadian military ribbon “Support Our Troops.” I remember physically recoiling at the thought that supporting our troops in Afghanistan meant supporting the war. To me supporting the troops meant supporting the death and destruction that comes from war and the subordination of democratic liberal pursuits of the people to an external foreign policy agenda. It meant suppressing the liberties and freedoms of today with anti-terrorism legislation under the pretense of ensuring more freedoms and liberties for tomorrow.
I now see that my initial reaction was naïve and gravely mistaken. I still believe that reasoning to be true in relation to the war, but it is not antithetical to supporting our troops. Quite the contrary, the death and destruction of war make it evermore imperative to support those still in Afghanistan and those who have returned home. Why? Because they answered the call to war and risked their lives. They will forever have to live with the trauma and horror that is war.
Whether our soldiers personally support the war or not is irrelevant. Whether or not the war should have been fought is similarly irrelevant. These soldiers went to war, end of story. Now it is up to us as civilians to be there for them in terms of civil employment, mental and physical health services, and veteran pension plans — something that, with the recent government cuts to Veteran’s Affairs, we unfortunately have yet to live up to. Veteran’s benefits are the neglected cost of war.
Unconsciously or not, there has been a change in the societal mindset towards war. It has drifted away from the idea that when these men and women are at war, our whole country is at war. At times we forget the history of Canada at war. We forget the current sacrifice of our armed forces in Afghanistan. We forget that 158 Canadian soldiers have given the ultimate sacrifice — their lives.
As I reflect upon my younger self, my grave mistake was that I, like many others, neglected the reality that these brave men and women are our fellow Canadians. So this Remembrance Day, I implore each and every one of us to truly remember. To wear our poppies next to our hearts, visit the Soldier’s Tower on campus, and look back at the history of military sacrifice with a sense of humility.