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Former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell speaks during a taping of Meet the Press at NBC studios in Washington on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008. (Brendan Smialowski)
Former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell speaks during a taping of Meet the Press at NBC studios in Washington on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008. (Brendan Smialowski)

Brian Topp

Re-learning bitter lessons Add to ...

In his book My American Journey, former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell writes about the Vietnam war: "Many of my generation, the career captains, majors and lieutenant-colonels seasoned in that war, vowed that when our turn came to call the shots, we would not quietly acquiesce in half-hearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand or support."

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He writes later in his book: "Have a clear political objective and stick to it. Use all the force necessary, and do not apologize for going in big if that is what it takes. Decisive force ends wars quickly and in the long run saves lives."

There is much to debate in the "Powell doctrine" - and much it leaves out of the discussion. But there is also a basic thread of common sense in it as far as it goes.

Based on bitter personal experience as a field commander in Vietnam, he urges that missions be clear, achievable, for some essential and valid purpose, and be pursued through means that can work. Otherwise another generation of troops are left to face the fate his generation did.

As General Rick Hillier's memoirs confirm, these considerations were the furthest thing from the minds of our government when it committed Canada to our current combat role in southern Afghanistan.

Indeed, Hillier confirms this commitment was made over the objections of our military commanders.

My fellow blogger Norman Spector writes that there seems to be a conspiracy of silence over these facts between the blues and the reds in Ottawa. This is no surprise, since the Conservatives and Liberals are equally complicit in the blunder that is our commitment of brave Canadian soldiers to that futile mission.

But here's betting that silence won't last.

That mission will end soon. And a full accounting of the billions spent and the lives wasted is owed - for what result?

 

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