Let's Face Reality
Mar 15, 2007

Debate is currently raging in the West, about the supposed failure of the nations participating in the war against terror to safeguard the rights of captured terrorists and Al Qaeda or Taliban prisoners. Arguments range from the universality of human rights to the applicability of Canadian law as they feel it should apply to the soldiers that have participated in the operations. It appears to be a pathetic attempt to put the realities of war under some sort of emotional microscope in order to justify their daily histrionics.

March 2007– Afghanistan Engineers from 2 RCR Battle Group supported by an explosives-sniffing dog and handler search for Improvised Explosive Devices in a village, and on the surrounding roads close to Forward Operating Base Gundi Ghar in western Kandahar Province.

These protestors seemingly excuse the actions of ­terrorists and their agents, who have killed, bombed, raped and tortured ­innocent civilians while conducting their campaigns of terror in the Middle East and elsewhere, yet they readily condemn the armed forces of many nations that are attempting to establish a workable societal framework with a code of law and a degree of security.

It seems strange that while the Western militaries abide by the guidance of the international laws regarding armed conflict, most of these terrorist groups do not. It is well documented that they have no compunction about using children to carry explosives, to use civilians as shields for their armed ambushes or the stealing of food and other goods by threatening to leave the village in ruins. Whether in the Former Yugoslavia, the Middle East or the Far East, these insurgents have broken every rule and violated every standard of human decency that these protestors are arguing our troops must adhere to, without exception.

There is an old maxim that simply states that your enemy will teach you how to defeat them. As soldiers in the past have discovered through battling with their enemies, there is a need to find the level of violence that will shock the opponents, make his casualties so high as to impinge upon his ability to sustain the fight and to shake his self confidence.

As Canadian soldiers have found in previous wars, there can be no sentimentality when dealing with a ruthless enemy who does not share your common values.

It is a mistake (and downright foolish) to believe that because you have “superior” ethics you will overcome all obstacles.

These “enlightened” protestors should remember that it was the soldier that secured their rights – rights that would have been denied them had German and Japan had won the war. And, yes, similar “human rights groups” in the Allied countries, and many of the neutral nations, argued these same things – right up to the time when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941!

Soldiers on the battlefield, whether in Europe or Asia, knew the hard truth. Many casualties were sustained by the Allies while their troops were carrying out humanitarian tasks such as transporting wounded allied and Axis troops to hospitals. Often installations such as Unit Aid Stations, Field Hospitals and rest areas were deliberately targeted. Every kind of atrocity was visited upon allied prisoners by the Japanese and German armies. Ranging from being tortured to death to decapitations to malnutrition and ­beatings.

Despite protestations by those who say that we should set a “higher standard” it is supercilious for them to make such a suggestion to those in danger, since these arguments are always made from the safety and security of their firesides. They need to walk a mile in the shoes of the soldier sailor or airman who is “in harm’s way” before they issue such instructions.

I know of no person who has been in combat who has not been profoundly affected by the experience. For many it will become a burden that they will carry for the rest of their lives. Of all the citizens of a nation, it is the soldier, sailor and airman who pray most earnestly for peace – because they have seen the alternative.

This is not to suggest that mistakes are not made, they are. Do innocent people die? Of course they do. Is it regretted? Of course. But a mistake or bad judgment does not constitute a reason to load more regulations, programs and responsibilities on all soldiers on the frontline. If he has to make a decision in a split second to save his own live or the lives of his section, he should not have to stop to ponder if his course of action is the right one. Such a delay is not permissible on any battlefield.

From this vantage point, it is time for the Canadian public and some of the more ignorant idealists to realize that because we live within a nation that is blessed with good government, an excellent legal system and a society that has morals and values of the highest standard, many nations do not. The world beyond our borders is a cruel, heartless place where human life is cheap, ignorance abounds, and there are people who believe that you should be killed if you do not subscribe to their values.
Major Rob Day is a military historian and serving officer in the Air Force, working in Strategic Planning at NDHQ.
©  FrontLine Defence 2007