Remembrance Day – For the Soldier War Protester

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

In a past life I joined the Canadian Forces, I was a ‘reso‘, which means that I was in an officer stream where I went to school and served part time on weekends, holidays and during the summer. The idea is to server for four years, get your education subsidized and then become an enlisted officer.

I joined for the same reason as a lot of others. My family didn’t make much money, it was a free education. At the time I wanted to be an engineer, all things tech were sexy, and the military had the most tech. Joining the military in Canada was a bit of a joke at the time. Canada has not been involved in a ‘war’ to my generations knowledge since the second world war. We were peacekeepers, two of our three operating subs were in the West Edmonton Mall as display items, and I was pretty sure going in the Canadian Military was still using the Ross Rifle.

On a more personal level I wanted to make up for the fact that when we came to Canada as north Irish immigrants we were seen as terrorists, I wanted to prove my patriotism. My mother’s father (French Canadian) had wanted to join during the second world war, but was denied because he was not physically fit (epileptic). I thought he would be proud of me. Not that he was actually alive at the time. It was all very naive.

I made it through my basic training and lasted about 2 years before I left the military and switched my degree to political science, now funded by student loans. I remain listed in the Canadian Reserves (you never really leave), but short of conscription I have no obligations to join up in the current campaigns.

When Iraq looked imminent I slowly got involved in the anti-war movement. Then I dove head in. I was on the student blockades at York U. I was on the team of organizers that was arrested when the administration decided the permit they signed was not worth the paper it was written on (we were released a few hours later when it was obvious we did have a permit). It was a big shift from soldier to war protester.

I never told the people I protested with that I had been Canadian Forces. I didn’t want to become some cliche spokesperson.

The thing that shocked me the most as an anti-war protestor was the anger of what I can only describe as pro-war protestors. Whom, I still fail to understand. I’m sure these pro-war protestors thought they were supporting the troops, but I would be surprised if any of them had ever met the troops, or a soldier.

I still had some unique access to people in the Forces through my personal relationships. I used these connections to write my masters research paper, which was on the construction of a militarized masculinity as a heroic figure in our culture. When I talked to members they spoke to me freely about their opinions on Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the members I talked to were against both campaigns. One officer I spoke to said that 60% of the troops this officer had, had already expressed that they hoped the Canadian government would not send them into Iraq. Nevertheless, soldiers are soldiers. They do understand the commitments they’ve made, and they would go, if they were asked.

If Iraq or Afghanistan had happened while I was still a reso I don’t know that it would have been as easy for me to walk away. I’m almost certain that I would be in Afghanistan right now.

I know is seems counter intuitive to be a reservist and to be a war-protestor. But, there are lots of us. I’m sure there are people who would hate us for it. I think that’s part of why I do it.

I protest war, Iraq and Afghanistan particularly because they are political wars. I know there is a time and place where militarism is needed. War will mean our soldiers will die, and our soldiers accept that. The problem is that our political administrations accept that too easily. When we decide to pay for a political cause in blood, then I want to know that there is an iron-clad reason that we are sending people to die. I want to know that we have exhausted every single other diplomatic option before we write the check in numbers of bodies. I was not convinced of this with Iraq or Afghanistan.

Being against the war does not mean that I do not support our troops. I think we do need military funding to get our troops the equipment they need to get the job done. I think we do need to get our troops our as soon as possible, bearing in mind that we now have an obligation to the citizens of Afghanistan.

I know that the soldiers who have been in Afghanistan are in conflict between a desire to get out of a personal hell and a reluctance to see NATO troops leave because they know what will happen to the people and the country. A country where they have seen pain, suffering, hope and pride in a way that does not exist in a developed nation like Canada. I know our soldiers are doing the best job they possibly can in terrible circumstances. I know our soldiers screw up sometimes, make bad judgement calls, and questionable actions. I know that I can’t second guess these as I am not there.

What I can do is put pressure on our government to get our soldiers out of this situation. To put pressure on the government to use more diplomatic avenues and less military ones, to send more aid, more food, more infrastructure. And, most importantly to think more next time before they pay with lives again.

I am a soldier. I am a war protestor. These are not mutually exclusive identities.

On remembrance day (and everyday), I remember Mark a boy from my street, he died in Afghanistan, I remember 3 others who are in Afghanistan, and I remember my civic duties to do the best that I can to make our government THINK before paying with our lives.


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