Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dishonouring a Reluctant Hero

I hate how some Canadians are reacting to what Cpl Anthony Boneca apparently had to say about his last tour in Afghanistan. I hate that it divided his friends and family. And that his Dad felt he had to defend his son's reputation by issuing a statement.

But what really ticks me off is the jingoistic nonsense coming from those who portray it as some kind of left wing media plot to smear the honour of the dead corporal. And question the morale of our soldiers over there. I understand what this soldier is saying. And I'm sorry he lost his friend. I just don't think he needs to defend him.

Anthony Boneca doesn't need any defenders. He did his duty, he signed up for two tours in Afghanistan, he never let his fellow soldiers down, he fought bravely, and died fighting for his country. He may have been a reluctant hero. But he's a hero anyway.

So nobody should try to cover-up what he said. Or try to make it sound like something shameful. Or turn it into a partisan political issue. Or try to make it all rah rah rah. Armchair generals and chickenhawks talk like that. Heroes don't. They can say what they want.

Having said that, I should also add that I've never met a soldier with any army anywhere who didn't bitch. I think it's a way of coping with boredom and tension. Soldiering and bitching go together like ham and eggs. Or whatever that yellow shit is they serve in their cafeterias. So put that into the mix.

But I found it interesting that Boneca complained about being exhausted and about what he called the "Kandahar weight loss program." And that Christie Blatchford in an excellent pay to read Globe report came across evidence of the same thing:

"These soldiers are near exhaustion or would be if they stopped long enough to notice. Many have lost between 25 and 35 pounds since arriving."

Maybe I'm wrong. But to me it just might be more evidence of what I've warned about all along. We're trying to do too much with too little. The coalition doesn't have enough boots on the ground to protect rebuilding efforts properly. And still go after the Taliban. And it's been that way since the Americans invaded Iraq and all but forgot about Afghanistan. What good is it if we control the day, if the Taliban control the night?

The British have been having quite a debate about their military in Afghanistan.. And they're doing something about it. But we can't even send our Afghan force more helicopters let alone more troops. I know we've got a great bunch of soldiers out there. I know you can push them pretty hard. But you can't win a war like this one on pride and guts alone.

If you don't believe that, read this story. It's long and quite opinionated. But since the writer knows Afghanistan and was almost killed there a couple of weeks ago, I figure she's earned the right to that opinion. Just like our dead soldier....

In the last weeks of his tragically short life Anthony Boneca desperately wanted out. He apparently felt that he had somehow been misled. That his reserve training hadn't prepared him for the rough combat of Afghanistan. I don't know if anything can prepare you for something like that. I don't know if other reservists over there feel that way. But Boneca did. He took a bullet in the neck. So his views must count for something. To treat them as something shameful, dishonours him and our country.

While supporting our troops we need to keep asking questions about why we are fighting that war, and how we are fighting it. Jingoism and Afghanistan are a bad mix. And the surest way to turn a noble mission into a bloody mission impossible.

But we can worry about all of that later. The mournful sound of the bagpipes is drifting over Trenton again. I see that Anthony Bonseca has finally made it home. We should just thank him for his sacrifice, and celebrate his life. I know I will.

Because for me reluctant heroes are kind of special.

And somehow very Canadian too...


  1. Simon

    some fair points there. To be honest I would be happier if all the Americans just went to Iraq and left Afghanistan to the Canadians and other NATO countries given their propensity for bombing first and asking questions later, even in operational areas nominally under international command. A NATO command led by a Canadian with no US land force content (we would probably still need them for air support) might be able to mould the mission away from US objectives which don't have Afghan or fellow coalition personnel's best interests at heart.

    I agree that Cpl Boneca's death should not be a rallying point for tory bloggers.

    Also, neither should it be for left wing bloggers. It was odious for instance that on Le Revue Gauche Boneca was described as a "war resister", putting him in the same category as people like Jeremy Hinzman when clearly Boneca was not, something which seems to have agitated a lot of people on boards, including those who knew and served with Boneca.

  2. Hi Mark

    Yeah I agree with you neither side should make political hay out of a soldier's death. And to call Boneca a war resister is absurd. I also think you have put your finger on what I consider to be our major military problem. The fact that the way we operate doesn't always mesh that well with the way the Americans do. And can be counter productive in the kind of war we are involved in. We need to be more air mobile not just to limit the dangers of IEDs. But also to be more effective militarily. And two I believe that the close air support the Americans are providing is not always graduated enough.i.e. when we need a couple of cobras or a warthog we get a 500-lb bomb from the roving B-52 du jour. In a place full of mud huts that's not necessarily what we need. And can cause unnecessary civilian casualties. I agree it would be interesting to see an all NATO force fighting in Afghanistan that could properly integrate all of the elements we need to prevail. But I must say I'm a bit disheartened to hear reports that Spanish troops won't be leaving their base. And the Germans won't lend anyone their helicopters etc. But anyway, the point I was trying to make, apart from paying tribute to Boneca, was that we need to be really smart about how we fight this war -- if we want to win. And must be very careful not to slide into the Iraq model which is clearly not the way to go.

  3. seems to me that before we figure out synergies between american and canadian forces, that our government not send our troops ill-equipped. this is tantamount to an immoral disgrace. reminds of the ross rifle scandal.