November 13, 2012

Telling Truth to Youth

I was taught two lessons this last week. Firstly, everything is connected. This may seem like a sophomoric statement, but the extent of it's accuracy is amazing. The second is a reinforcement of my belief that every Canadian is entitled to being treated with adult intelligence. And that's a great part of raising awareness on strategic issues. "Kids" talk like "kids" because we talk to them that way. You change your end of that, and all of a sudden they impress you.

I was invited to speak in a grade 7 classroom at Beaconsfield High School about the Afghan conflict on the 9th of November, and placed it within the context of remembrance day considering the date. My gracious hosts had given me two broad mandates: to explain why we are there, and why it is so difficult to give these people schools, hospitals and governance.

The first of these great questions is in itself a feat. And a sampling of these students' answers read like a sampling of polling data. "To give them democracy." "Because of 9/11." "To help them with their rights." It turns out these - and many more answers - were self-fulfilling prophecies throughout our engagement in Afghanistan, but to treat this talk seriously was to tell this classroom that we are in Afghanistan because in 1949 we were afraid of the Soviets. That's why we joined NATO, and that's why Article 5 of the Washington treaty was invoked on 9/11. An hour and a half later in my 15 minute lecture, we had discussed the European settling of African borders, asymmetric technology in warfare, the human element in war, a quick bit about Afghan history and some current statistics, elements of Democratic Theory, Corporal Jason Patrick Warren of the Black Watch RHC and the importance of remembrance in a long-since peaceful society.

The second question, partly addressed by my now counterinsurgency-quagmiresque answer to the first, threw in stories of one thousand honor killings, why people around the planet don't think like we do, and why some don't like us. I didn't dare go too much into a religious divide rant after my discussion of the Russians as our "enemies" in the Cold War got one student's hand in the air with the remark "My father's Russian". Nevertheless, this giant unstructured mess of a presentation not only gave me hope for civic education in the next generation of Canadians, it left me wanting more time with students to talk about all of these notions, and others such as the variable value of human life around the world, why we should be proud that there is so much red tape here (it exists in that space where in other countries, the red is of a more visceral character), and oh so many more topics ranging from democracy to strategy.

Thank you BHS for being such great hosts, and for educating such remarkable and courteous Canadians.

We Will Remember Them.

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