The federal government will be faced with tough choices as it decides how best to modify the most prominent symbol of Canada’s military sacrifice to honour the men and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan.
A proposal to add an eternal flame and to etch the dates of the Afghan conflict into the sides of the National War Memorial has been put on hold – at least until the 1,000 members of the Canadian Forces who are part of the continuing training mission in Kabul return home.
But some veterans argue that singling out those who died in Afghanistan for special recognition on the memorial does a disservice to the more than 100 Canadian peacekeepers who have lost their lives in various other conflicts.
For that reason, the Royal Canadian Legion said Thursday that, instead of specifically acknowledging the toll in Afghanistan, the monument should be dedicated to all of those who died “In the Service of Canada.” That’s the same inscription that is found in the Seventh Book of Remembrance, which records the names of all of the Canadians who died in military action since the Korean War.
“We think that an inscription that covers the sacrifice made in all wars or missions would be acceptable to most people instead of etching the individual wars or missions,” said Patricia Varga, the Legion’s dominion president. “It would also pay homage to those that gave their lives in the past for Canada or those who may give their lives in the future.”
The memorial, an imposing granite and bronze structure that stands just east of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, was dedicated in 1939 to the Canadians who died in the First World War. It was updated in 1982 to include the Second World War and Korea. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added in 2000.
But there have been no additional changes to pay respects to the more recent combat deaths, including the 157 Canadian fatalities that have occurred in Afghanistan.
Peter Stoffer, the NDP veterans affairs critic, agrees with the Legion that a more general recognition of all Canadian military sacrifices would be appropriate.
“We lost 250 people in South Africa, they’re not remembered anywhere. We lost 20-something people in Bosnia, they’re not remembered. We lost nine guys in 1974 over Syria,” Mr. Stoffer said. “Lots of people, unfortunately, have paid the ultimate sacrifice in various conflicts around the world and if you are going to remember 157 in Afghanistan then it’s only right that you remember everybody else at the same time.”
While there is a separate Peacekeeping Monument that sits a few blocks north of the war memorial, it is at the war memorial that Remembrance Day services are held and where Canadians congregate to pay tribute to military heroes, said Mr. Stoffer.
But do the soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan not deserve special mention on the memorial in the same way as those who died in the two World Wars and Korea?
Mike Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy who served in Cyprus, said he believes the name of the Afghanistan war should be etched in the granite – and there should also be a direct mention of the peacekeepers who gave their lives in the service of Canada.
“We’re talking about our history and our heritage,” Mr. Blais said. “This is the national monument, this is where we go to mourn the dead, exclusion is not an option.”
Canada has been contributing to world peace with the blood of its soldiers since the United Nations was formed, Mr. Blais said. “It’s just that it’s been down played because it hasn’t been a war.”
And in Afghanistan, he said, the stakes have been much the same as they were in Korea. “We were there under very difficult circumstances and did a did an extraordinary job and it should be recognized.”