The good we do, the sacrifice we make, the suffering we cause

The Ottawa “group of four” greens sponsored a panel discussion on Afghanistan and Canada in Feb 2010.   During the question period an Afghani told a story of his relatives in which a young man, within a day of being married, was taking two children to the market for some shopping. They failed to understand an order to stop and all were shot dead by Canadian soldiers.  Rather than a marriage, there were three funerals.  How could this happen?

The question was directed at me as a panel speaker and as a retired Colonel from the Canadian military.   This is the stuff of trauma.  How do you respond to such a story,  but to respectfully listen, and feel the tragedy of the suffering in war and the insanity of this notion of collateral damage. 

 Then there has to be a moment where we just stop and just reflect on just what we are doing in Afghanistan and what we should be doing.   We must face squarely not only the good we do, and the sacrifice we make, but the suffering we cause.

 In the good we cause, there is no doubt that some good humanitarian work and reconstruction is being done in Afghanistan.  For that we are to be commended. 

 In the sacrifice we make, there is no doubt that we have made a heavy sacrifice in lives, over 130 of our  Soldiers and other Canadians killed, and many more wounded or traumatized.  For the tragedy of this, we vow to honor and remember, and  we extend our deepest sympathies to their families, and do what we can to relieve their suffering.

 However, there is the suffering we cause.  Do we never learn?  We are a global family and those children are our children.  We have no right to do this.  One has only to reflect on the abuses in the residential schools and our aboriginal communities, to know there will be an accounting and a healing sooner of later.    

 The way forward can only be of one of truth and compassion.  We must provide opportunities and “safe spaces” such as this, to have the truth spoken, to be listened to and respected, to have responsibility accepted, to make sincere apologies, to make restitution, and to ask forgiveness.  We must take those suffering into our hearts.  Everyone must be satisfied with the outcome, including the Canadian public.  We must resolve to do be better and do better.   We must get out of this combat role in Afghanistan yesterday.  We must adopt as a first and enduring principle of our foreign policy, as DO NO HARM!!  THE ETHIC OF CARE – ALWAYS!!

 We must treat those we harm with the same respect, obligation and consideration we treat our soldiers. Exactly the same, trauma care, everything, nothing less will suffice.  As we remember our fallen soldiers, we must always in the same breath, remember those who suffered at our hands.  How else can we not go down this road again?  How else can healing ever happen?   

 If we do not voluntarily deal with this now, we will deal with it later, and the longer we leave it, the more we diminish ourselves.  First, we need to speak the truth.  This is a call to the government and the Department of National Defense, to provide an account of the suffering we have caused.  They deserved to be remembered every year so this does not happen again. They deserve our heartfelt apology. They deserve no less.

 In the cause of peace from the Ottawa Group of 4

Paul Maillet, Akbar Manoussi,  Sylvie Lemieux, Qais Ghanem


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