In Vain

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Written by Jared Martin

Soon our parliament will make the decision whether or not to extend Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan. After 6 years Afghanistan somehow has not become an oasis of freedom and justice from which democracy can spread, like a happy mould or a joyfully contagious virus of liberty. Stephen Harper and his Manley Report like to think that if we just stay there long enough and strong enough, the local Afghans will learn to stop hating Christians and white people, stop resenting America, start respecting women and abandon racism while embracing the joys of diversity. Some level-headed people will argue that, while perhaps invading Afghanistan wasn't the best idea, now that we are there we have an obligation to stay until it is stable, and we cannot fail the Afghan people by leaving their country in shambles.

A soldier on the CBC radio said that he wanted us to stay in Afghanistan and "finish the job", because that way "my buddies didn't die in vain." What is death in vain? Those American soldiers who died in Vietnam unsuccessfully trying to stop communism, did they die in vain? The American soldiers who were killed liberating France in WWII, did they not die in vain?

And don't the "jihadists" say to each other, "We cannot stop fighting and allow these foreigners to reshape our country, or else all our fellow Taliban and mujahideen who died fighting the British and Russians and Americans and Canadians over the last 100 years, they all died in vain."

After the fifth year in Vietnam some people thought, "We have to beat the Communists, or else all our boys lost in the last 5 years died in vain." If the Americans had decided to just stay and grit it out in Vietnam, I think they'd probably still be fighting there today. After 6 years and 60,000 casualties the US left Vietnam, it became all Communist, and the world did not end. The much-feared "domino effect" whereby the whole world would become Communist after the fall of Vietnam never happened, probably because countries are not dominos.

People who think that stability, freedom, justice, equality, and democracy will come to Afghanistan if we just stay there long enough are either ignorant of history, or are simply ignoring it. Some people say that our war will be successful because "Afghanistan is not Vietnam", ignoring the fact that when Russia invaded Afghanistan, the resulting mess was called "Russia's Vietnam". The Afghan people are resilient enough that, with the help of their country's rugged geography and a few American-supplied weapons, they were able to fight off the full strength of the Soviets. The Taliban are armed with world-class guerilla training and tactics supplied by an American government that thought, "if you bomb Russians, you're a freedom fighter, if you bomb Americans, you're a terrorist".

The biggest reason why the Taliban will not disintegrate and disband is opium. Since the NATO invasion the Afghan opium crop has exploded, as it turns out that fundamentalist Muslim tyrants are less tolerant of drugs than the invading democracies are. NATO troops are not systematically destroying the poppy fields, because every poppy farmer unemployed is a new recruit for the Taliban. The revenues from drug production are always controlled by organized crime, and in Afghanistan the bumper opium crop goes to fund warlords and Taliban. FARC rebels in Colombia continue fighting today, and their communist rebellion fueled by drug sales and kidnappings has been sustainable for over 40 years. So now the War on Terror is complicated because the "terrorists" are drug dealers, and if the War on Terror goes as well as the War on Drugs, well then peace and sobriety may become very rare indeed.

We should not stay in Afghanistan because this war is likely unwinnable, once you consider the violent past and drug-dealing present of the country. The longer we stay there the more Canadians will die "in vain," and even the unlikely existence of a peaceful democratic Afghanistan could never erase the vanity of their deaths.

Jared Martin

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