On Saturday, the men and women who served in Afghanistan and lost their lives while fighting for the Canadian Forces, or working alongside them, will be recognized and honoured with a memorial of their own in downtown Victoria.
It’s been a long time coming, for the Afghanistan conflict was Canada’s longest military engagement.
Yet, Afghanistan veterans continue to be somewhat overshadowed in the area of memorials and remembrance, by veterans of the Korean War and Second World War.
It’s not hard to understand why: there were more soldiers lost during those conflicts, whose horrors remain as history’s examples of what to avoid, as humanity struggles to make progress.
Those veterans are also disappearing as they age and die and there’s a need to remember their sacrifices while they are still living and they can still teach us what war can do to a person.
The same can be said for the veterans of Afghanistan.
There were 135 soldiers and civilians killed during that conflict and in many ways the men and women who served are different than those from past wars.
They have either integrated back into their communities and jobs and not taken up a similar public role as their counterparts from the past. Or, they have assumed very public roles in another battle — against the government that sent them to Afghanistan in the first place, only to return with serious medical conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And because of society’s changes, and the fact that many soldiers still serve, you do not see a lot of Afghan vets on parade on November 11. That may change eventually, but for now it seems veterans from that war are not being added to many existing cenotaphs.
While a lot fewer Canadians were killed in Afghanistan than, say, the Second World War, the effects on many of those who did survive are serious and have changed people’s lives. Their health is a long-term issue facing Canadians in the years to come.
While a memorial will not change that, it is a way to recognize their sacrifices and, perhaps, even a way to ensure the conversation on how Canada treats it veterans, continues.