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Opinion: We mustn’t participate in ‘criminal follies’

Dear Editor – Thanks to Rob O’Flanagan for his thoughtful and eloquent column, “Too many things make me sick of war” (Guelph Mercury, Nov. 15).

I’ve been thinking about war myself lately, in part because Nov. 10 was the anniversary of my father’s death — and in his last days nearly 20 years ago, my father’s thoughts often returned to his service in the Second World War and to the deaths of his three closest friends at Dieppe and in the Normandy campaign.

My father was in uniform for 10 years — six during the war, and before that four years at the Royal Military College of Canada. His only brother served in the Royal Navy as an MTB (motor torpedo boat) captain in the English Channel and the Mediterranean. A decade after the war, still suffering from what we’d now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he committed suicide.

A much-loved honorary uncle on my mother’s side also served in the Royal Navy from shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War until its end.

My two grandfathers each spent more than 10 years of their lives in uniform. One served in the British army before the First World War and in the Canadian Corps during that war. The other, who was an important presence in my childhood, narrowly escaped the fate of his best friends, all of whom died in the Gallipoli campaign or on the Western front. He re-enlisted in the Second World War and directed the Royal Army Medical Corps hospital system on the Burma front.

My two older brothers and I also graduated from the Royal Military College; two of us were reserve entry officer cadets, and therefore free on graduation to pursue careers in government and academe. My eldest brother’s time in the Canadian army included service with the UN peacekeeping force on the Gaza Strip.

What does this enumeration of the men closest to me by blood and affection add up to? Among other things, it means that eight men in my generation and the two preceding ones — none of whom thought of the military as a career — spent a total of more than 60 years in uniform during the early and middle years of the last century.

Some of that service — I’m thinking of the First World War — was no doubt deluded. But none of it involved the flagrant illegality of the present war in Afghanistan, or the very particular horrors of a war that pits civilian insurgents against a foreign army of occupation.

The American invasion of Afghanistan was a direct violation of international law; the ensuing occupation is likewise illegal.

The deaths of almost 100 young Canadians in such a cause, and the grievous injuries suffered by many hundreds more, should horrify us all. These losses, together with the still more appalling losses being inflicted upon Afghan civilians by the occupying forces, are the legacy of the George W. Bush regime’s now wholly discredited policies.

Canadians must refuse any further participation in these criminal follies.

8430 Michael Keefer (RMC ’70), professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph

Published in Guelph Mercury on November 19th 2008


  • 3584 Archie Beare

    November 25, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    It is regrettable that some, perhaps few, feel as Michael Keefer and the Guelph Mercury writer he quotes.

    The UN sanctioned, NATO endorsed operations in Afghanistan are a long way short of being “illegal” and to state that it is, is an insult and disservice to all of our troops who have and will serve in Afghanistan.

    I am fortunate to be able to support the training of our troops at the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre at CFB Wainwright, manning a computer station that monitors the weapons effect system. To besmirch those outstanding Canadians is an injustice that should result in an apology by Keefer.

  • George Kinloch

    November 26, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    International law is reasonably clear on what constitutes an illegal war, and it is difficult to find a reading of the law which would make the invasion legal,no matter which organization of nations might sanction it. It is because Keefer values the lives of our soldiers that he finds the squandering of their lives an insult. There is no hint, in his letter, of denigration of the lives of our soldiers, quite the opposite. He owes no apology. But an apology is owed to the tens of thousands who, like so many members of Keefer’s family, lost their lives in fighting for a world in which we had the rule of law. World War II, after all touted itself as being the “War that would Really End All wars”. To see how far we have deviated from the democratic principles that prevailed in the 30’s and 40’s I recommend the series of films produced by the American signal corps entitled “Why We Fight”.

    G.A. Kinloch

  • Sean Henry

    November 26, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    Mr. Keefer displays the ignorance and misplaced sentiments of many of his fellow Canadians. They are not to blame in their own right. From the beginning the government has not made it clear that Canada’s national interests are at stake in the war on terrorism being waged in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The mission is to defeat the Taliban and other Islamic radicals to prevent the re-establishment of a haven and training ground for terrorists. To achieve this end it is also necessary to rebuild Afghaistan into a functioning state. In this respect those Canadians who have died in Afghanistan have been defending Canada and their fellow citizens in equal measure to their forefathers in previous wars. Wars are an unfortunate aspect of human existence, but wishing will not make them go away. A review of history shows that societies and nations that lose the will to defend themselves soon fade away. Finally, the military operations in Afghanistan were approved by the UN and NATO and the allied forces are there at the invitation of the Afghan government. It is not an illegal war and the troops are not occupiers. These definitions are spread as disinformation by misguided members of pacifist organizations.

    Sean Henry

  • 4135 George W. Hosang

    November 29, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Rob O’Flanagan, in his Guelph Mercury Nov. 15, 2008 article certainly reflects the opinion of many who despise war and who wish it would go away, even just disappear instantaneously from the human consciousness. He seems to display, however, a total ignorance of history. For example, if the British and all those who came to their aid had not mounted an effective opposition to Hitler and Nazi Germany, we probably all would be speaking German today because he was getting pretty close to having intercontinental military capabilities. Further, he probably needs only to spend an evening or two in the police station in a large city, perhaps even his own, to witness the antagonism of one civilian to another and the action that the police have to take to restore order, and most likely in repeated cases. His thoughts are nice but unfortunately terribly – and even dangerously – naive in my opinion.

  • JJ Smith (16142)

    July 7, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    As a lawyer and law academic I appreciate Professor Keefer’s well reasoned opinion piece. But his conclusion that the 2001 invasion and continuing occupation under the aegis of a NATO mission is, regrettably, incorrect. Chapter 7 of the UN Charter applies to make here the use of Security Council sanctioned force entirely legal. And, for greater effect, NATO is the invitee of a democratically elected government, whatever its present frailties may be. The use of force in generally proportionate ways and the presence of foreign armed force in Afghanistan is, to the contrary, entirely legal and manifestly correct under the new world order put in place in 1945.

    Better, perhaps, to address continuing illegal occupations that threaten the arrangement of sovereign nation-states, including the cases of Palestine and Western Sahara, to name two in which CF personnel have served under UN mandates.