|A still from a film shot on November 11, 1918|
Today is a stat holiday, Remembrance Day, and the malls are sure to be swamped with those getting a head start on their holiday shopping.
I posted nothing on Remembrance Day. I watched no televised spectacles at national and provincial cenotaphs. I avoided the gathering of world leaders in Paris.
For Remembrance Day I watched Peter Jackson's brilliant documentary, "They Shall Not Grow Old." My daughter asked what I thought of it and I replied honestly that I don't know. Then she asked if it was good and I told her it was brilliant, just really hard to digest.
On November 11th we stage these elaborate ceremonies supposedly to honour our war dead but we do a miserable job of it. Wearing a poppy, showing up at a cenotaph, some young men in uniform, a piper or two, perhaps a fly past, the thinning ranks of the Legion, a moment of silence and then we wrap it until next year. When it comes to honouring our dead, that's pretty thin gruel.
Our young men and women just went through a war, of sorts. We lost more than 150 men and women, mainly to improvised explosive devices and small arms fire. Yet we don't honour their deaths enough to have an honest discussion of why they were sent to their deaths, what they sacrificed for, and who should be held responsible for it all.
We need to have that conversation. Somebody has to explain what we sent them there to do and why we never gave them a chance to succeed. Those soldiers didn't fail. Our leadership, political and military, failed them. We sent them to a war when we weren't in it to win.
No one, it seems, sat down and figured out what would be needed to tame and secure Kandahar province for the central government. Counterinsurgency doctrine holds that it is the most labour-intensive of all forms of warfare. You must secure the towns and villages and the people from the coercion and predation of the insurgents.
The French in Algeria and again in Indo-China and the Americans in Viet Nam demonstrated that you can't defeat a determined insurgency with a garrison force that retreats behind the wire at night, ceding the contested population centers to the enemy except when you show up.
For a province with the population of Kandahar, something in the order of fifteen to twenty thousand combat troops would be needed. We sent a contingent of two thousand, later bumped up to 2,500, out of which we might on a good day field a maximum force of twelve hundred for daytime assaults.
Failure was pre-ordained which makes the loss of those 150+ lives obscene. Sure we killed a good many more of them but, at the end of the day, we left them in possession and control of the field.
If we want to honour those dead, we can start by ensuring that we never send those like them into a war that we are not prepared to win. We have to understand that wars that are not fought to win are fought to lose. They give rise to quagmires, perma-war, of the type that now plagues the Middle East.
Make no mistake about it. There is going to be an immense amount of conflict in the decades ahead. Climate change alone guarantees that. We'll see a spread of failed states and the sort of "new wars" they engender. These are wars that combine state actors (military forces supporting civilian governance), quasi-state actors (regional militias) and a bevy of non-state actors (tribal warlords, drug lords, rebels, insurgents and even organized criminals) each pursuing its own agenda and marked by shifting alliances. If we cannot win we must not drop our soldiers into these quagmires.