Tugging at the heart strings…

Today I received one of those e-mails that get forwarded many times that are designed to tug at one’s heart strings to cause something to happen in support of an idea or an issue or an action. I don’t often read them because they cater to emotion rather than logic and reality. But this one was forwarded by a person whom I trust and respect–so I read the message.

It was a heart warming and good story of a Sargent in the Canadian Armed Forces who was accompanying a fallen comrade, killed in Afghanistan, home to his family. The person telling the story in the first person is moved by the whole idea and is requesting that we, the general public, participate in a movement to show support for the Canadian Forces personnel stationed in Afghanistan by wearing something red every Friday. Hence the title “Red Friday”. The intent is for a ground-swell of support for the military across Canada. It is attributed to an employee of the Workers’ Compensation Board.

It was a good story! It succeeded in its intent–to involve the reader in the emotional turmoil surrounding the Canadian Forces presence in Afghanistan. But there was something about the whole thing that bothered me then and is still bothering me. Let me explain.

  1. The language of the story wasn’t Canadian. I am not aware of fallen soldier’s bodies being returned home on commercial airlines by a single NCO. There is considerably more flag waving and attention given to the return of our dead.
  2. The phrase “…and are voicing our love for God, country and home… ” is not a Canadian phrase. While I am not a linguist and have nothing other than instinct on which to base my comment, it is a phrase more commonly associated with American politics: e.g. …God country and the American way… Canadian’s don’t normally talk of God and country in this manner. Although I do note that Prime Minister Harper is using that phrase more often in his public appearances.
  3. The whole of the message was attributed to an emloyee of title with the Workers’ Compensation Board thus lending an air of authenticity to the whole thing. The message has been sent by an individual, in authority, in a Government institution. It must have weight. I checked! The person who apparently originated the message does exist in all the details reported in the email.
  4. But the message goes on to request the recipient to pass the message on to all and sundry; to help create a movement, aground swell of support for our members of the Armed Forces deployed in Afghanistan. To not forward the message lays the guilt trip–“IF YOU COULDN’T CARE LESS — THEN HIT THE DELETE BUTTON”. So what is one to do if you don’t agree with the message but sympathise with the loss of a life?

I did some checking and the message originated in the United States in 2005 and has gone through a number of iterations until its present form today relating to the Canadian Armed Forces. You can find the details at http://www.snopes.com/politics/war/redfriday.asp . So here we have a rehash of a movement that started in the States in 2005 to involve the American public in supporting the involvement of the American Military in Afghanistan. Surely we don’t have to borrow ideas to show support for the Canadian Military. Are there ways we can show support that is more meaningful than wearing a red piece of cloth once a week or hanging a ribbon-shaped ‘fridge magnet’ on our cars.  How about writing a letter to some of the soldiers you know currently serving at home and abroad. Afghanistan is not the only place in the world where Canadian Armed Forces are currently serving. Whereever our military serve there is danger. Many of the youth I taught are currently serving in areas of conflict and I pray for their safety frequently.

But sometimes I wonder what all the “To Do” is about. Here we have a group of Canadian citizens who have chosen a particular career–the Armed Forces. It is a career choice that involves a high degree of risk and the possibility of death. One choosing a military carer has to consider those options when serving for it is the nature of the military to be involved in conflict. Governments have a military to be deployed in actions that are hazardous to one’s health. I deliberately emphasize the verb ‘to choose’ because we do not have the draft in Canada.

Our government has chosen to place our Armed Forces into Afghanistan where there is increased risk of death for those serving. But that is the nature of military and govennments and soldiers. So, we have a group of people who have chosen this work and now that they are doing their jobs there is a movement to have all Canadians acknowledge the action in some way. The reality is not all Canadians agree with the action of the government. But I digress. There have been 85 Canadian military deaths in Afghanistan specifically in the 5 years Canada has been involved in this action. On average 17 deaths per year is the count to date. Each one of those deaths is a tragedy for the families and friends of the fallen.

I look at that number and other numbers come to mind. According to the World Health Organization’s Mortality database there were 1,034 deaths in Canada in 1997 and 30,49 deaths in the US attributed to firearms. The Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics for 2001 from Transport Canada report 2,778 vehicle related deaths. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports 43,000 motor vehicle deaths in the US in 2005.

Each of these deaths is a tragedy and yet little is done to curb the root causes here at home. The dead don’t get flag draped coffins or parades or people lining overpasses as the funeral cars travel the route. In fact the practice of pulling to the right and stopping when a funeral procession approaches is mostly ignored these days. These numbers make me wonder why Canadians are not equally upset by the annual figures of equally senseless deaths here at home; particularly when the numbers are significantly higher than the deaths attributed to a military action in Afghanistan.

Back to my dilemma! With all these thoughts stirring in my mind along with my own political views about the Canadian Armed Forces presence in areas of conflict, how shall I respond to the e-mail? I think I will make time tomorrow to write a letter to each of the men and women from my community currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. I think I’ll go and visit my friend Jack, one of the few remaining WWII veterans still alive in our community. I think I’ll send a donation to MADD while I’m at it.  I’ll have to see what is can be done to make a statement about the sale of firearms in Canada. As for the e-mail–well, I don’t think I’ll wear red this Friday.                            GRB

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