Countless Afghan Deaths

ZNet | Afghanistan

by Linda McQuaig; Straight Goods; September 15, 2007

It’s often noted that each death of a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan erodes public support for the war. What is infrequently noted is the way, with each death, the Canadian media seems to ratchet up its support for the war.

On one level, the media’s approach seems understandable. Canadians are deeply moved by these deaths, and the media accurately records this grief.

But something else happens in the process. There’s an almost irresistible inclination to suggest that the death hasn’t been in vain.

Late last month, Canadian soldiers Mario Mercier and Christian Duchesne were killed in Afghanistan. Both men were fathers of three children, making their deaths particularly heartbreaking.

The only possible comfort is the notion the men died for a worthy cause. To suggest otherwise seems to dishonour them.

The agony of each death can only be tolerated if it’s deemed to be for a cause worthy enough to send more soldiers to their deaths.

The problem is that each killing then provides fresh momentum for continuing the war.

In order to honour the dead, the war is elevated to a noble cause; criticism of the war is discouraged.

This partly explains how the US stayed in Vietnam until some 57,000 American soldiers were killed.

A similar process is underway in Iraq.

One way to prevent this pro-war momentum from setting in here would be for us to demand that the casualties we inflict on Afghans also be treated with some attention and respect.

Instead, our government and media celebrate the number of “Taliban” we kill, without any understanding of who these individuals are and whether they are simply local villagers fighting — as Afghans have done throughout their history — to resist foreign armies. Whether we admit it or not, we are a part of a foreign army over there.

More surprising is the disrespectful way our government and media treat even Afghan civilian casualties.

There’s been minimal coverage here of the repeated pleas from Afghans — including President Hamid Karzai — for an end to the US and NATO bombings that have killed countless Afghan civilians. (And they are literally countless; we don’t bother counting them.)

As part of the NATO force over there, Canada is surely complicit in these war deaths.

Yet our media tend to make short shrift of them, even raising doubts about whether they really take place. Last week, the CBC reported that Afghan elders “alleged” that up to 18 civilians were killed by coalition troops in Helmand province.

The CBC quoted a NATO spokesperson who charged that the civilian casualties were being deliberately exaggerated by the Taliban for propaganda purposes.

But how do we know NATO isn’t playing down the casualties for propaganda purposes? How does NATO even know who’s being killed in its bombing raids?

Incidentally, that same day the New York Times reported that in a telephone interview, Afghan elder Hajji Agha Muhammad said the air strikes had killed 12 civilians, including six children ages 3 to 6 (and injured an additional 12).

Surely, this is not a story to be passed over quickly — as the CBC did — with a brisk denial from NATO. If true — and why should we assume that “Afghan elders” are lying? — it is a story of immense importance, and not only because it raises questions about the prospects of us ever winning popular support in Afghanistan.

More importantly, it raises questions about whether what we’re doing over there is really all that noble — or even justifiable.

Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator. She is the author of All You Can Eat, It’s the Crude, Dude, and her latest book, Holding the Bully’s Coat: Canada and the US Empire. You can reach her at her eddress below.


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