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Loose Cannon: The terrible dilemma of war

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

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  • The Guelph War Memorial on Wydham Street. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    The Guelph War Memorial on Wydham Street. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • Remembrance Day ceremony inside War Memorial Hall. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    Remembrance Day ceremony inside War Memorial Hall. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • Remembrance Day ceremony inside War Memorial Hall. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    Remembrance Day ceremony inside War Memorial Hall. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • A wreath lain in commemoraiton of U of G students killed in war. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    A wreath lain in commemoraiton of U of G students killed in war. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • The Guelph War Memorial on Wydham Street. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    The Guelph War Memorial on Wydham Street. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • The Guelph War Memorial on Wydham Street. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    The Guelph War Memorial on Wydham Street. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • The Guelph War Memorial on Wydham Street. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    The Guelph War Memorial on Wydham Street. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

Written by Greg Beneteau

By the time this column publishes, official Remembrance Day observances will have come and gone.

It is fleetingly short: a single minute of silence to honour the fallen and contemplate the things that are gained and lost through conflict.

I encourage people to give the subject more thought, as Guelph is well situated to explore some of the terrible dilemmas of war.

This city is home to the 11th Field Artillery Regiment, whose members have served multiple tours in Afghanistan. It’s also a centre of the anti-war movement, which claims our soldiers would be best served by bringing them home.

Guelph’s famous son, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, served as both a doctor and a soldier during World War I – tasked with causing death to some and healing others.

From his experiences, McCrae was inspired to give voice to the dead by writing In Flanders Fields. The poem acknowledges the senseless tragedy of losing loved ones who “lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.” It also asks those left behind to “take up our quarrel with the foe,” which in truth is one of the more senseless reasons why wars propagate.

More than 27,000 Canadian soldiers have served in Afghanistan in the past eight years and 130 have died, bringing to the forefront the issue of how we treat new veterans returning home from an increasingly unpopular war.

At a recent fundraiser for military veterans and their families, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the conflict was responsible for solidifying Candians’ support for the armed forces.

"Public appreciation for our military may be higher today than at any time since the Second World War," he claimed.

I believe our Prime Minister’s heart was in the right place, though I found his statement disheartening in a way.

Canada’s appreciation for its military during World War II was, in part, driven by the shared hardship of sending tens of thousands of its husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and children overseas to participate in a bloody conflict.

No doubt nations on both sides of the conflict, due to treaty, colonial rule or the decree of despots, told their soldiers they were off to do glorious things.

Appreciation of service tends to go hand-in-hand with mourning of loss. The soldiers of WWII fought and died so that appreciation for armed combat would never again reach a fevered pitch.

Thanks to their sacrifice, that dream has largely been realized. The staggering death toll of recent conflicts, together with the frightening efficiency of modern-day weaponry, has made it too costly to employ direct war between countries as a first resort.

In its place, new kinds of conflict have become more common: smaller proxy wars, waged by stateless entities and their supporters. Genocide. Terrorism.

These small-scale battles don’t threaten the world entire, but nerveless force countries to make a choice: do we intervene?

Regardless of your answer, what shouldn’t be questioned is that all Canadians have a duty to make sure that veterans are treated with respect and dignity. Policy can be debated, but the men and women who obey orders and carry out the policy don't have the luxury of choosing their battles.

I doubt many soldiers serving in the Armed Forces today consider their job to be glorious. It is impossible to maintain a rose-coloured view of war in a world saturated with media testifying to its horrific toll.

That makes the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform all the more inspiring. They serve their country regardless of polls or popular opinion, not because they enjoy it, but because they have to.

They fight in the hopes that one day there will be no more reasons to fight. It is just another terrible dilemma of war.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: D.L Newton on Nov 11, 2009 @ 2:02pm

    It appears that you are not a true fan of democracy; to say that "They serve their country regardless of polls or popular opinion..." is an incredibly undemocratic notion. If the people’s interests are not being served by their armed forces, whose interests are they serving? Are you to say that the public does not know what is best for them and must be treated like infants by the government? I truly find such a sentiment repugnant. Also, if a soldier lacks autonomy in regards to which battle they will and will not fight, they are a pawn.

  2. Posted by: Noam Finkelstein on Nov 14, 2009 @ 3:07pm

    This comment has been removed due to terms of use violation.

  3. Posted by: Noam Finkelstein on Nov 14, 2009 @ 3:11pm

    This comment has been removed due to terms of use violation.

  4. Posted by: Noam Finkelstein on Nov 14, 2009 @ 11:20pm

    I see I've been censored. You've just proved my point.

  5. Posted by: Pete Richardson on Nov 17, 2009 @ 11:47pm

    "As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields" - Leo Tolstoy

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