UP FRONT

THERE’S NO END IN SIGHT

The war on terror is in its fifth year. Its soldiers were barely teens when it began.

Peter Mansbridge September 19 2005
UP FRONT

THERE’S NO END IN SIGHT

The war on terror is in its fifth year. Its soldiers were barely teens when it began.

Peter Mansbridge September 19 2005

THERE’S NO END IN SIGHT

UP FRONT

Mansbridge on the Record

The war on terror is in its fifth year. Its soldiers were barely teens when it began.

Peter Mansbridge

ANOTHER SEPT. 11 anniversary passes, marking yet another moment in what is referred to as the “war on terror.” George W. Bush called it that just hours after the hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A lot of other countries, Canada included, followed suit, and the battle was engaged a few weeks later in Afghanistan. The war on terror now enters its fifth year, making it as long as the First World War, almost as long as the Second, and longer than the Korean War.

Each week, in a number of different U.S. newspapers and on some U.S. television networks, you can read or watch a roll call of the latest American dead as the fight continues in Afghanistan, and for the past 2lk years, also in Iraq. Unlike Vietnam, where viewers watched a parade of mostly young, black faces marking the toll, this war’s dead seem to be made up of a cross-section of colours and ages. But as in all wars, most of the dead are young, some very young. Each week there seems to be at least one 18-year-old listed. Eighteen years old. That means that on Sept. 11, 2001, those youngsters were barely in their teens—just 13 or 14. Barely into high school, their parents probably still watching out the window as they headed down the driveway to classes. Now, they’re dead soldiers. That’s how long this war has been going on, and as those fighting it keep telling us, it’s going to go on a lot longer yet.

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For the U.S. and its allies, Canada included, the conflict is marking a generation of their youth in a way no other has since Vietnam

This, as they also keep telling us, is a conflict unlike any other.

It seems like only yesterday we were getting used to being involved in wars in which very few from the side

Canada fought on died. Sometimes there were no casualties at all on “our” side. Think Kosovo, where the NATO force conducted its nightly bombing campaign at will from a sky it controlled. (Of course how many die on the “other” side, and how many civilians are killed because they’re caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, is something you’ll never see an official count on, but the estimates can be and have been horrifying.) I think many of us initially thought Afghanistan and then Iraq might be the same as those past wars. In fact, the other day, listening to some rebroadcast of an old (circa October 2001) morning radio program on your locked-out CBC, I heard a U.S. expert explaining how he thought the push for Kabul, expected any day at that time, would be quick and relatively painless—for his side anyway. It was quick, but it wasn’t painless, and Iraq, as we all know, has been neither for the countries that are involved in this conflict that seems to have no end. It’s a matter of some considerable international debate whether the initial occupation of Iraq could qualify as being part of the war on terror, but there’s little doubt it’s become that since. Everyone seems to agree now that the “insurgency” is either supported or funded or at least partly carried out by one or all of the following: foreign fighters, terrorists, al-Qaeda members—take your pick.

For the United States and its allies, this war on terror is now marking a generation of their youth in a way no other conflict has since Vietnam. As Canadians we have not been immune to it. We have lost soldiers to friendly fire and to roadside bombs, and if one is to believe the country’s military leaders, we may very well lose more as our role in Afghanistan brings new responsibilities and new dangers. The war carries on. [¡'ll

Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent of CBC Television News and Anchor of The National.

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