My 87 year old father-in-law is a World War II veteran. He was a navigator in the RCAF, flying 32 bombing missions over Germany, once making an emergency landing in Belgium, and once, when an engine caught fire over the Irish Sea, bailing out and parachuting onto Snowdon. But those days are long past. Because he is now increasingly unable to take care of himself, J and I last year started trying to find him an acceptable home for when he can no longer live on his own. Naturally, we consulted Veterans Affairs, and we were happy to discover that although the VA now only administers one veterans hospital in the whole country, that institution happens to be located on the island of Montreal (in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue) and is easy to get to from our place. When we contacted the hospital we were told that the waiting time for J's father would be about a month, and so we were content that moving him in wouldn't be difficult if and when it became necessary. Months later, J decided to confirm the details of the procedure for having him move in to the hospital, and she was told that the waiting time was now two years. Two years?!
Normally, you'd expect a gradual decline in the number of veterans making use of such facilities. There are no more Canadian veterans of World War I, and the numbers of World War II veterans is obviously dropping, so why the sudden bulge in patients at Ste-Anne? The answer is grimly telling. As J was told by the administrator at the hospital, there has been a wave of veterans coming back from Afghanistan to become patients at the hospital... mostly psychological cases.
Since 2001, about 15,000 Canadian troops have been stationed in Afghanistan. There have been 85 deaths of Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan (including one acknowledged suicide)
and about 300 wounded. The vast majority of these casualties have occurred since 2006 when Canadian troops were deployed in the Kandahar region, taking on active combat missions. In a CBC report from November 2007
:A recent military survey of returned soldiers found that nearly 400 of the 2,700 who had served in Kandahar may have come home with mental health problems.
All of which gives some sense of the scale of the impact of our participation in this war. Nothing of the impact on Afghanistan, however. In fact, there has hardly been a serious study of the number of civilian casualties of the War in Afghanistan
. Marc Herold, a professor with the Departments of Economics and Women's Studies at the University of New Hampshire, has conducted a study
attempting to gauge the number of civilian casualties due to US bombing in Afghanistan for the period October 2001 to May 2003, finding between 3100 and 3600 deaths. This is, by his own admission, a minimum figure, and undoubtedly a very low estimate, only counting media-reported deaths directly caused by the bombing and purposely not including related but later deaths or deaths due to the repercussions of bombing, also not including civilian deaths caused by other military operations, notably, ground operations. In a 20 May 2002 article in the Guardian
, Jonathan Steele reports estimates of about 20,000 civilian deaths directly and indirectly due to the US bombing. And that figure is only for the first 8 months of the war.
Finding the number of so-called Coalition deaths in Afghanistan is easy. Finding the number of Coalition wounded is a little harder - that's an impact of the war that doesn't have any mainstream media marketability, apparently - and finding the number of Coalition troops with psychological scars is harder still. As for the psychological scars of Afghanis... we'll never know, and we'll only be able to get a very small idea of the scale of such damage as we view - from our safe vantage point - ongoing developments in the country... its further decline into misery, war, hunger, narco-business, increases in small-time terrorism, the increased power of Islamic fundamentalism, the worsening of conditions for women... Rulers make victims, and victims make more victims, until there's either no one left... or the process is put to a stop.