Afghanistan casualty count; 118 down, 34 to go, acceptable?

aghan-death-toll1The decision to go to war is justified, I imagine, based on the extent to which some deplorable travesty is, or has been, committed. Fair enough, I get it.

When I’m in Ottawa, usually every week, I listen predominantly to 580 CFRA. While some think that’s part of my problem – that I listen to CFRA, not that I’m in Ottawa every week – that particular station is a must-listen for the type of work I do in Ottawa. To the uninitiated, Lowell Green is to current affairs talk-radio what Howard Stern is to shock-jocking; you tune in not because you agree or disagree, rather just to see what [far-out] point of view Mr. Green will impart on any given day. By contrast, Mark Sutcliffe, is a host I respect. But I digress…

A few weeks ago Lowell Green craftily played upon a plight against afghan women as justification for the war, and in his ever-present strong support for the troops and defense of the mission, Mr. Green taunted his audience with ‘next time someone asks why we are in Afghanistan, think of this issue…etc.’ 

It was a well thought-out communications strategy by a radio talk-show professional with 50+ years experience. Further, it was an articulate and clever play on words and emotion designed to press a patriotic button. Who wouldn’t agree, or who would dare to disagree to such bullet-proof logic is what listeners were manipulated into thinking and feeling. Me included.

However, one doesn’t drive to and from Ottawa as much as I do and not encounter, at least once, a procession of repatriation along one of the stretches of “Highway of Heroes” on either the 401 or 416. On one such occasion last Fall, I was so moved by the sea of gatherings I could see forming over any one of a number of overpasses between Toronto and Trenton, I couldn’t help exit the highway, park on the shoulder, and climb the embankment to be among the few dozen other complete strangers waiting for the procession to pass that particular check-point and to pay a sign of respect.

I can’t explain it, but as the line of police escorts and black limousines approached I was overcome with emotion. I had a lump in my throat that made it almost impossible to breathe. Tears were streaming down both sides of my face for a person, a soldier, I’d never met or heard of only minutes before. Afterward, it took several minutes to compose myself once I’d climbed back down to my car before continuing with the remaining 4 hour trek to Ottawa. Needless to say those stretches of highway have taken on a new and special meaning. Enough that motivates me to offer another point of view.

The problem with the war in Afghanistan is not with insufficient reason for being there. I accept, even agree, many human atrocities around the world, not just in Afghanistan, must be defended against, sometimes with the full force and brutality that war entails. The problem, or rather the suggestion I would like to offer, is the cost be measured not just in terms of the financial and human cost to date, but rather on the expected and/or the deemed “acceptable” human cost going forward.

All of the tightly controlled and carefully crafted communication about Canadian casualties in Afghanistan is nearly always shrouded in an up-to-date death count. Today for example, with the announced death of Major Michelle Mendes, the Media is awash with a death count that has notched 118 since April 2002. While never expressly described in the following way, the growing figure is often used to demonstrate or talk-up Canada’s level of commitment to the mission. More recently the death toll was used to muzzle and extract an apology from the morons at Fox who thought it comical and appropriate to ridicule Canada’s armed forces.

Is that what the growing death-toll has become … another notch in some figurative UN belt-buckle, or historical bragging rights? If so, then I dare say no amount of Lowell Green’s logic to manipulate makes any sense.

Watch enough TV and there is always character whose role is to run simulation models for the hostage negotiator in-chief to decide when, or what, is an acceptable number of collateral casualties that warrants a full frontal assault, a perimeter breach, or some justifiable swat maneuver.

The same can be extrapolated from the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. If 118 soldiers have perished since April 2002, that’s an average of 17 deaths per year. Said differently and if the current rate of “success” can be counted upon, then choosing to remain in the same [combat] role until 2011, Canadians are essentially agreeing to, in advance, offering-up for slaughter another 34 innocent, and often very young, lives.

A recent Harris/Decima poll found Canadian’s opposition to the Afghanistan mission increases from 60% to 75% if the rather bizarre family law code is enacted whereby it is permissible for a husband to deny his wife food if she refuses to “put-out.”

I have another survey methodology to suggest. How about randomly selecting from the list of enlisted personnel 34 young and still very much alive faces, complete with their background and family history the way it’s reported after-the-fact, and then express support for the mission as a percentage Canadians prepared to commit the 34 individuals to certain death between now and 2011. My hunch is the aforementioned support for the current mission would plummet.

What does this achieve, other than proof that an equally clever counter-argument to Lowell Green can be constructed?

I argue not in opposition to the mission. Some of the reasons for being there are valid. However, strategically limiting the discussion about the human toll to after-the-fact instead of with eyes-wide-open, makes for an easier sell than would otherwise be bought. At a minimum, might a proactive versus reactive strategy not force a different approach and set of demands from a UN constituency that is only too happy to go along with a much contrived definition of success?

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