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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dead Soldier's Mother Asks Us to Support Troops

Here's one of those difficult situations that can cause much confusion. The Toronto Star recently reported on the funeral of a soldier killed in Afghanistan [Support troops, dead soldier's mother asks Canadians]. Here's what was printed in the newspaper.
The mother of a soldier recently killed in Afghanistan beseeched Canadians on the day of her son’s funeral to support the country’s troops in Afghanistan.

Shortly before an honour guard piped the flag-draped coffin of Pte. Lane Watkins into an open field today, his mother Wanda read a family statement that suggested people should be extremely proud of the military’s efforts in a country that desperately needs Canada’s help.

"We don’t want any family to experience the terrible pain of losing their son or daughter, but if Canada and NATO abandon the Afghan people, the sacrifices Lane, our family and others have made will be for nothing," Watkins said.

"They deserve your respect. In supporting them, you’ll make our loss much easier to bear."
It's statements like this that make supporting our troops more difficult [What Does the "Support Our Troops" Ribbon mean to You?]. While we can all understand Wanda Watkins' grief, she conflates supporting our soldiers with supporting the mission. Since this is a common mistake, it means that any overt support for our soldiers—such as putting a yellow ribbon on your car—will usually be interpreted as support for Canada's role in Afghanistan.

I do not support the mission in Afghanistan and I urge the Canadian government to withdraw as soon as possible. Does this mean that I don't support individual soldiers who are carrying out the role assigned to them to the best of their ability? No it doesn't. They're are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing and they deserve our respect and support because it's a dangerous job. As a matter of fact, they deserve even more support, and sympathy, because they're involved in a messy situation that they don't necessarily agree with.

Ms. Watkins wants us to stay in Afghanistan because otherwise her son will have died in vain. Unfortunately there's no way to avoid the obvious. If we eventually recognize that it is a mistake to be in Afghanistan then we will not have achieved "victory" and it will be difficult to justify the sacrifice of her son and the dozens of others who have died. To be blunt, they will have died in vain because we made a mistake by sending them into a dangerous situation where victory wasn't possible.

We cannot let such passionate appeals dissuade us from withdrawing if that's the best course of action. What would be the point of staying in Afghanistan if more lives will be lost for no gain? How many have to die in vain before we call it quits?

[The image is from The Royal Canadian Regiment Kit Shop]


  1. We cannot let such passionate appeals dissuade us from withdrawing if that's the best course of action.

    It isn't.

  2. Here is my contrary passionate appeal and comment on the ribbons. "Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV" by the Asylum Street Spankers.

  3. "Ms. Watkins wants us to stay in Afghanistan because otherwise her son will have died in vain."

    That's a sad realization of the sunk-cost fallacy. It's spectacularly bad reasoning to keep pouring resources into a losing investment, but for some reason we're psychologically predisposed to stick with what we've paid for whether it's good for us or not. It's why people hold on to failing stocks in hope of a turnaround, when it would make more sense to sell and reinvest in something better.

  4. Aaron beat me to it. While the argument from sunk costs is not always fallacious, valid uses of it are so rare as to make the judgment that it's a fallacy the default.

  5. It is, Wolfwalker. It wouldn't have had to be, if the mission there had not been in the hands of George Bush. If it had been a Democratic US president, we'd be concentrating on there instead of Iraq, the fighting would be over (I mean, this is longer than WWII now), and the Canadian mission would be the usual Canadian speciality: training cops. But that's not happening, and hasn't been happening for years now, and won't happen. So the mission is not possible, and the best way to support troops when their mission is no longer possible is to pull them out of there.

  6. Perhaps you should invite the "seekers of knowledge" (Taliban) to Canada.
    No education for Women over the age 8.
    No Work for women.
    No Medical Treatment for women unless chaperoned by a male.

    Not to mention comfort and aid to people that murder innocent victims.
    So if the mission in fghanistan is to keep the Taliban out it has been highly successful.

    The country has been a combat zone for almost 30 years. To expect that a few years of military supported rule stabilizes the country...think will take many years for Afghanistan to have some semblance of goverment leadership.

  7. Just how many more 911's are we to tolerate in our own back yard?

    They are willing to blow themselves up to get their mission accomplished.

    Might as well be there than here.

    Paseite Libertatem Scientia

  8. I must repeat ...
    "we" are completely in the wrong in Iraq - we should not be there, and the sooner withdrawal takes place, the better.

    Contrariwise we must remain in Afghanistan.
    The Taliban are unspeakable, and cannot be allowed to flourish or even continue.

    They diplay the most extreme form of religious bigotry, backed by brutal force that is presently on the planet - they make even the "governments" of N. Korea and Sudan look nice.

  9. During the recent debate at Toronto's city council about including the yellow ribbons on the city's emergency vehicles, one city counsellor pointed out: The yellow ribbon is an American symbol. Canadians already have a symbol that indicates support for our troops: The poppy.

    I agree heartily. The yellow ribbon means "Support the mission" and has connotations of American, Bush-style patriotism. Canadians who want to support our troops should display a poppy.

  10. I fail to see any real difference between our mission in Afghanistan today and the Soviet Union's mission there during the 80's and 90's. I wonder how many people today who support the mission believed the Soviet Union's rhetoric back then. Because it's virtually identical.

  11. tingey, the most brutal force in Afghanistan today is NATO and its Afghan allies, not the Taliban.
    You have only to read what virtually every rights organization in Afghanistan (e.g. RAWA) says about our mission to modernize that country to realize that that goal is not the same as the military means employed to attain it. We will almost certainly leave Afghanistan in worse shape than we found it.

  12. If it had been a Democratic US president, we'd be concentrating on there instead of Iraq,

    Some Democrat leaders are calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

    There was a time when Afghanistan was considered a center of learning and culture in the Islamic world. But that was before the Soviet invasion and thirty years of war methodically destroyed the national and cultural infrastructure. The sad fact is that today Afghanistan is simply not able to defend itself against a determined, aggressive, well-funded conqueror -- which is exactly what the Taliban would be if they were allowed back in.

    As for those who believe that the NATO forces are the problem in Afghanistan today: such claims make absolutely no sense on their face, and the fact that "international human rights organizations" make such claims is a primary reason why I consider those organizations to be proven liars without any credibility whatsoever, on any subject whatsoever. Please do not waste your time quoting enemy propaganda in an attempt to convince me otherwise. Anyone who could believe for an instant that that any western-born and -trained and -led soldier would regularly act in ways that rival the Taliban's routine murderous brutality, or that any western-trained commander would allow it, has clearly sacrificed their reason on the altar of their ideology. I do not waste my time listening to the insane, much less arguing with them.

    And to those who wonder how long it will be before we can leave, a simple exercise in history: how long did it take England to transform itself from a monarchy to a stable, functioning democracy? What about France? Germany? Japan?

  13. "Anyone who could believe for an instant that that any western-born and -trained and -led soldier would regularly act in ways that rival the Taliban's routine murderous brutality, or that any western-trained commander would allow it, has clearly sacrificed their reason on the altar of their ideology."

    Your puffed-up jibber-jabber suits well your denialism. Incidentally, the "Taliban" are no longer a single group or entity. It's more of an amalgam of different forces, some of them enormously popular with the people we're "helping". You have only the vaguest idea who's fighting who there and why, don't you?


    Deny for all you're worth, friend, but the only thing we've demonstrated to those poor people with our modern superiority is the havoc it wreaks compared to the "taliban."

  14. Ah yes, we had to destroy the village in order to save it- haven't I heard that one somewhere before? Even Karzai has been complaining repeatedly of late about the large number of civilian casualties from NATO operations. (It's always like that with air strikes no matter what those deluded by talk of "precision" bombing would like you to believe.) I don't know about the Canadian media, but you hear very little about this in the US media. No surprise there, of course.

    Does ANYBODY still remember that the Afghanistan mission was originally sold as a focused effort to capture and bring to justice bin Laden and his cohorts? How'd that work out?

  15. Hey Larry, remember your post last week about "how to recognize propaganda?" Well, serendipity has provided a perfect test case for you to practice on.

    A few days ago The New Republic posted an article on its website under the name Scott Thomas, which described three cases of truly atrocious (and in one case outright illegal) conduct by United States soldiers in Iraq. If you have a subscription to TNR you can read the full article here; if not, Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard excerpts the relevant parts. Don't read all of Goldfarb's piece yet, just the excerpts.

    Next, take a minute to consider your feelings afterward.

    Then go read the rest of Goldfarb's post. And his follow-up piece. See also some of the milblogs that he links, like this one and this one. Be sure to read through the comments too. Think very carefully about the three stories and their subjects, and the emotional reactions they trigger in your head.

    When you're all done, what's your reaction?

  16. Wolf, are you sure you fully understand what wars like the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq do to civilians even in the absence of any misconduct at all by troops? I don't think you do. Your Weekly Standard-reading crowd is in deep denial about the subject.

  17. Canadians,
    Your cops are assholes.
    Recently the chilean soccer team in Canada in the sub-20 world championship was brutally beaten, tazered, and sprayed with pepper gas in what is from any point of view a brutal and fascist overreaction.
    According to a latino reporter ( that witnessed the events, a chilean player runningnext to the teams busin a section of no-fan-access garabbed him by the arms and tazered him before he could explain he was a member of the soccer team. Racism? Oh no of course not. It's OK to tazer some latino. Uh-oh See, THESE were the latinos you are supposed to be PROTECTING. Ooops! (Stupid fuckwits)

    Of course this brutality caused the inmediate reaction of other members of the soccer team who quickly approached the scene only to be received by the cops with more brutal violence, pepper gas, tazering, fist-punching, and plenty of floor-kiciking. I guess the cops were expecting the rest of the team to be all smiley about it. It seems they didn't like their attitudes. So they beat, sprayed and tazered them, too.

    There is plenty of bodily evidence on the players of the brutality of the police, who in turn of course did not suffer as much as a scratch.

    As all this happened the cops stopped any journalists from dcumenting the events and actually rounded them all up and kept them behind a fence . They handcuffed the players like criminals and witheld them within the stadium for 3 hours before letting them go. Gee I wonder why they let them go. Didn't they savagely attack the police or something? where are the charges agaisnt the players? Oh yeah that's right. They did nothing.

    The abuse has been evident to anyone. The President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, has issued an official complaint and has called it by its name: unjustified violence.

    Maybe the Canadian government won't do a thing or care a bit but Chileans incuding all the journalists present there are going to find this one pretty hard to forget (those kids led us into the last 4!)

    Oh, yeah, and to all canadian cops: you can suck my latin balls.


  18. wolfwalker asks,

    When you're all done, what's your reaction?

    Boredom. Some people behave badly no matter where they're located and other people make up stories at the drop of a hat.

    I don't find it surprising that there are American soldiers who don't behave like saints just as I don't find it surprising that there are Iraqi insurgents who won't be going to heaven.

    I don't find it surprising that some people might make up false stories about American soldiers in order to advance their own personal agenda (propaganda). I don't find it surprising that some people might make up stories about their enemies for the same reason.

    The difference between you and me is that you believe all of the stories about the enemy and discount all of the negative stories about the "good guys." Your world is black and white and mine is many shades of gray.

  19. sanders comments on a melee involving Toronto police and the football team from Chile after they were defeated 3-0 by their rival Argentina.

    The incident is getting good press coverage here in Canada [Melee a global dust-up]. As usual, there are two sides to the story. The Chile side is getting widespread coverage in the Chilean press leading to comments like ...

    Canadians, Your cops are assholes.

    from sanders. Not only does he condemn an entire nation and an entire police force on the basis of what has been written in some newspapers, he also wants to turn this into a racist issue. That's an excellent example of how propaganda works and of how easy it is to inflame passions by pushing the right buttons.

  20. Whatever. Excess force WAS used. That's clear.
    And don't be naïve.regardless of whta the chileans may have been doing. Race can certainly be a factor when it comes to unnecessary brutatilty. In my country, that's the way you treat an animal, not a person.
    My intention is not to condemn the entire nation, but those brutal cops, which I sincerly hope someone will account for. Now, if the entire Canadian nation acts partisan , they should have no problems to sweep this under the carpet as if they are as just nice and decent as they make themselves to be, no matter whta happened.
    Can we expect a decent investigation? Seeing Larry's attitude, I'm losing hope.

  21. Now, if you read all papers, chilean or canadian, it becomes clear that physical violence did not break out when some chilean players verbally confronted the referee (who quite demonstrably did a bad job, by the way). This had nothing to do with the violence, though the Canadian cops have tried to make it look like they were defending the referee (BS) there was clearly no brawl at that point.
    In all accounts the violence broke out later, next to the bus of the chilean delegation, involving some cotanct with a fan; according to the canadian police a chilean player was in a dispute with a rival fan and they were stopping him. According to players, and journalists that calim to have been present, he was approaching friendly fans when the cops grabbed him to move him out of there and endeded up tazering him (probably at an illegally high voltage since he pased out for 20 min).
    There are more reliable accounts of first hand reliable witnesses with the compete story and savory details which I guess constitute the basis for the official note sent by the chilean president to Canada.

    In any case, the point of "who started" seems quite petty to me, because the brutality that ensued from the police is just not justified in any of the possible scenarios.

    This is just unacceptable in ANY country. It is certainly not the standards of the chilean police.

  22. Wrong answer, Larry. Wrong twice, actually.

    Mistake #1: you shouldn't believe either side of the TNR-article controversy just yet. The right conclusion is "I can't tell who's telling the truth, but the responses raise a lot of questions about the TNR article that need answering."

    Mistake #2 is the same mistake you charge Sanders with: stereotyping. I don't see the world as black and white -- but you have to assume I do and attack me based on that [wrong] assumption. If you do anything else, you have to admit there's some possibility that I'm right. Which is something I don't think you can do.

  23. Anyways, I apologize for bringing this up here, but I'm pissed off. I needed to get it of my chest... at a canadian blog haha.
    The courts can resolve bout the incident. There is plenty of evidence and witnesses.

  24. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the consequences of withdrawing NATO forces from Afghanistan be civil war between the various warlords, the likes of which haven't been seen since one faction of warlords (i.e. the Taliban) took over? Wouldn't the consequences include the return of women to second-class citizens, to be treated as chattel and subjected to rape and honour-killing sanctioned by whatever misogynistic religous nut that happens to be around? I fully understand the perils of believing in Western superiority, to enter into a hostile foreign country and assert power, but there are good arguments for it. The other morally untenable option would be to leave Afghanistan to implode and keep being a failed state for decades. One cannot be so callous to their potential fate, while living in and celebrating enlightened laws and freedoms, without some hypocrisy.

    I will concede that there are also very good reasons to leave Afghanistan, like if nation-building is patently impossible, but I have yet to be persuaded that such a situation exists.