Monday, June 30, 2008

No More Vietnams -- Certainly Not in Canada

Matt Bin reminds Canadians of the importance of taking care of our own

Sometimes, even the most vapid, empty and hateful little toilets on the internet can gurgle up some worthwhile ideas.

And while no one with a lick of sense actually expects the regular contributors to the Canadian Cynic Temple of Sychopantic Groupthink to ever produce anything of actual value, special guest contributer Matt Bin (who would actually do well for himself to maintain his own blog rather than choosing to associate himself with a known hatemonger) reminds us of the all too easily forgotten side of the war in Afghanistan: taking care of our troops when they get home.

"A new report shows that Canada is not taking care of its wounded soldiers and their families. Oddly, this isn't mentioned anywhere in the gushing praise for the outgoing Rick Hillier -- a Liberal-appointed CDS who became the poster boy for the war on Afghanistan.

I've been saying since the start of our work in Afghanistan that the price of this war isn't tallied today, but starting ten years from now and carrying on to the end of this generation. We've sent thousands of Canadians into an intense war zone -- many of them reservists -- and we must bear the cost of dealing with the consequences of our little national adventure as great and as long-term as those costs might be.

Indeed, the recent report is extremely disheartening. The men and women who choose to enlist so they may defend their country abroad are all too often finding the covenant made with them -- by extension -- that they be taken care of if they come back physically or psychologically wounded from service.

But unfortunately, this is really nothing new. Throughout Canadian history there have been numerous shameful examples of the violation of this solemn obligation to our serving men and women.

From Romeo Dallaire's battle to make Post Traumatic Stress Disorder an honourably-regarded ailment to the plight of servicepersons exposed to Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown to the still-sluggish response to Gulf War syndrome, Canada simply hasn't done the best job it can of taking care of our servicepeople when they return from duty.

In particular, the scourge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has taken an untold toll on our veterans since it wasn't recognized as a psychological disorder until 1980. Numerous terms for a similar mental afflictions -- such as shellshock -- had been bandied about for decades before hand, but all too often were regarded as base mental frailty, not as the after-result of participating in the extremely stressful rigours of armed combat.

It's a shameful non-partisan legacy that needs to be halted immediately.

Unfortunately, Bin seems to miss the point that this very much is a non-partisan legacy of failure, as he seems to go out of his way to tether it as closely as possible to Canada's sitting government (overlooking the fact that their primary competition has governed Canada for nearly 20 of the past 30 years).

"If we don't actively and cheerfully bear those costs, if we don't care for the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of the wounded and their families for as long and as far as they need us, then we have failed as a nation. The "support the troops" brand of politicization, crude and inane as it might be, requires those who subscribe to it -- most notably our current government -- to actually put in place the infrastructure and mechanisms by which these troops are actually supported."

Unfortunately, Bin -- oddly enough for someone who himself is a veteran in the armed forces -- doesn't seem to understand that supporting the troops also requires supporting their right to believe in the missions they undertake, if they so choose -- and Canadian troops have overwhelmingly pledged their support to the mission itself.

But the simple fact of the matter is thus: the shocking and alarming lack of support for Canadian servicepeople after they return home from the battle front -- one with a long historical precedent -- demonstrates that some of those who admonish Canadians to support the troops don't quite get the concept either.

Of course, some improvements have been made:

"The military is doing better than it was, say, 15 years ago, when there was no individual counselling for returning peacekeepers and no treatment available for PTSD. But without the political commitment -- which in this case means money and effort -- to maintain the standard of living for wounded soldiers and their families at least at the average for other soldiers and veterans, our government has failed those soldiers. It won't be long, at this rate, before the Afghanistan mission's image is an aging panhandler -- similar to the image of Vietnam veterans in the USA today."

Which is war Matt Bin hits the proverbial nail on the head. If there is any conflict in history that reminds Canadians precisely why taking care of our wounded is so critically important, it very much is the conflict to which opponents of the Afghan war so often draw comparison: Vietnam.

We as a country simply cannot survive with our identity intact if we allow the condition of our soldiers returning from Afghanistan to devolve as the Americans allowed to happen to their Vietnam veterans.

Bin is precisely right when he notes that the true cost of the war in Afghanistan will be tallied within the next generation: or at least will be, if Canadians don't ensure that some preventative measures -- ample disability pay, generous pensions and diligent medical care (for both physical and psychological ailments) are not put in place.

We as Canadians cannot allow that to happen. We owe it to our serving men and women, and it's non-negotiable.

Unfortunately, the very larger and more important issue here doesn't prevent Bin from attempting to unduly politicize a prior friendly-fire incident:

"Our current government has already failed once -- an abject, tragic, and shameful failure -- to support our soldiers deployed around the world. Afghanistan is poised to become a much larger failure, whose consequences will be borne throughout Canadian society for many years to come."

But other than the occasional hiccup, Bin's post reminds us of the importance of taking care of our own: they pledge their lives and well-being to the defense of our country.

The least we can do is ensure they'll be well taken care of. Considering the risks that our serving men and women agree to take upon themselves, Canadians of all walks of life should be more than happy to cut that particular cheque -- even knowing that no amount of money, no amount of medical treatment, and no amount of support can ever give them back the lives they had before going into combat.

It's the absolute least we can do.

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