Monday, March 30, 2009
Highway of Heroes
While I was away last week, Canada lost four more soldiers in Afghanistan. I was working long hours, and did not have much time to read the papers or listen to the news. I was aware of the deaths, but I am ashamed to say they did not register with the usual heart wrench I feel at such news.
Today it registered, hard, and I cried for the senseless loss of those four young soldiers. And for the men and one woman that have already died in this Canadian mission. It was a video I saw for the first time on Rositta's blog that hit me.
Now, I don't normally get political on this blog, other than to occasionally curse politicians or bureaucracy, but that's just sport. And I am not really going to get political now. But I will say that I do not support Canada's mission in Afghanistan. It is a combat role, not the traditional peacekeeping role of which Canadians can be so proud. And more importantly, I don't believe combat can solve the complex situation in Afghanistan. I don't pretend to have the answers to solve the strife in that country, although if you have an hour or two and would like to discuss it with me I have plenty of ideas and opinions.
Regardless of my opinion on whether our troops should be there, I have nothing but respect for the individual soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Their dedication to duty, bravery, and belief in the work they do, makes me proud. (And they have done some good work on a grassroots level, just not a long-term solution level.)
What made me cry were images of the soldiers coming home on the Highway of Heroes. For those who are not Canadian, let me explain. The bodies of dead soldiers from Afghanistan arrive home by plane at the Armed Forces base at Trenton Ontario. There, they are met by their families, dignitaries and government officials. From Trenton their hearses travel 170 km. to the coroner's office in Toronto, accompanied by their families in limousines. The route is closed to all other traffic as they pass. As soldiers began making that last journey along highway 401 a few years ago, more and more people started to gather along the highway and overpasses to show pride, respect, and sorrow for the fallen, and support for their families. Local police and firefighters joined in. Now, virtually the whole route, which takes an hour and a half to drive, is lined by people saluting, waving flags, crying, or waving in tribute.
I am proud that, despite the fact that there is little support in Canada for our continued combat presence in Afghanistan, we do not hold it against our soldiers. They deserve only our respect. And I hope the journey along the Highway of Heroes (now officially named) gives the devastated families some comfort, in knowing that they are not alone in grieving their sons' (and one daughter's) sacrifice.
Here is the video. The Ontario Provincial Police created this tribute, and it is the OPP "Voices in Blue" that sings in it. Maybe the fact that I have a 22 year old son makes this more poignant for me. But I bet you too will not have dry eyes by the end, no matter how you feel about the war in Afghanistan.