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Sorrow, Pride and Optimism

Many Canadians are shocked by the recent casualties in Afghanistan; some are afraid that the mission is going wrong and that we will take more and more casualties fighting an unwinnable war. Even more Canadians are unsure about why we are in Afghanistan. They never understood why Prime Minister Chretien sent us there in 2002 and why he sent us back again in 2003; they didn't understand why Prime Minister Martin moved us from Kabul to Kandahar; they don't understand why Prime Minister Harper secured parliament's approval to extend the mission until, at least, February 2009 – they, too, mourn the loss of Canadians and ask themselves: “Why?” Other Canadians cannot, will not accept that the days of traditional baby blue beret peacekeeping are gone or, at least, there are few useful tasks for Canada in the missions which remain – they mourn but their sorrow is tinged with anger at recent losses and the current governments' decision to eschew traditional UN peacekeeping in favour of peace making, a politically correct euphenism for fighting.

A few Canadians understand why we are fighting in Afghanistan. They know that Canada has real enemies who wish to destroy much of the Western society we Canadians have helped to build, sustain and defend. Recently a very senior officer told a group of fellow serving and retired officers, people who already understand why we fight, how he feels, right now, about the Canadian Forces. The Ruxted Group was taken by his remarks and shares his views. He told his audience that he had three, mixed emotions: sorrow, pride and optimism. We hope we have captured the thrust of his remarks as we restate them, in our words.

Most Canadians share a sense of deep sorrow at the losses we have taken in Afghanistan and in other peacemaking, peace enforcement and traditional peacekeeping missions. Their sorrow, grief indeed, is felt just as keenly by military people. Members of The Ruxted Group have lost colleagues, friends and members of their tightly knit regimental families. Sorrow is a natural, healthy emotion but sorrow does not, naturally, lead to despair or defeatism. Rather, even as they mourn, soldiers direct their skills, knowledge and energy towards the mission at hand. They redouble their efforts to accomplish the mission assigned to them by the people of Canada – the mission they understand even if many Canadians do not. They will not, as John McCrae wrote nearly a century ago, break faith with those who die.


Our sorrow is deeper because we are so proud of the men and women who serve Canada in the Canadian Forces. We are in awe of their courage, their discipline, their selflessness, their unfailing good humour, their robust durability and their willingness to die for their cause, their country, their fellow citizens and the members of their regimental families. Our pride is not confined to this or that regiment or branch, nor is it confined to the army, alone. We are proud of the compliments recently paid by our allies to our warships – our sailors are the best in the world, they are doing wonders with often inadequate resources. We are proud of our aviators who are putting ancient Hercules through something akin to aerobatics as they fly the deadly skies of Afghanistan.


Despite our combat losses things are getting better, in Afghanistan and in Canada, too. We are beating the Taliban and their allies - they are brave, clever, resourceful and flexible but we are learning how to fight them and how to win. Successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, have moved to reinvigorate the Canadian Forces; we have and continue to commend the Martin/Graham team and the Harper/O'Connor team for pushing necessary budget increases through cabinet and parliament. Much more needs to be done – although many Canadians will be horrified, we note that $20 Billion is not a lot of money, not after the damage which the Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien regimes did, over and over again, to the Canadian Forces. But, attitudes are changing. Canadians and their political leaders are increasingly conscious of the need for robust, ready, effective armed forces and they are increasingly willing to spend the money necessary to have them. The military, itself, must seize this opportunity. Military leaders, master corporals and admirals alike, must ensure that they make the very best possible use of the resources available; they must do the best they can and be the best they can, and they must set an example for all military members so that the forces project to Canadians and the rest of the world the best of our country and our pride in it and in ourselves.

The Canadian Forces reflect to Canada and the world all that is best about Canada. We grieve when our men and women are killed and wounded but our sorrow is tempered by a fierce pride in our military and we are optimistic about the future.


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