The reporter’s voice on CBC Radio in Calgary sounded on the verge of tears, while breaking the news of the death of Calgary reporter Michelle Lang in a bombing in Kandahar province of Afghanistan on Thursday. And in the newsroom of the Calgary Herald, co-workers wept to hear of the loss of their friend, who perished with four Canadian soldiers that day.
Nobody’s grief is of special value in war. For every report of casualties, there are families crying somewhere, and Afghanistan is no different than Somalia, East Timor or any other place where people take up arms to settle differences. There is more than enough grief in this world for any population to bear, more than enough casualties, more than enough tears.
Whether the parent of a soldier, an office colleague, the spouse of a bystander or the child of someone who vanished in an instant, in grief we are all the same.
The very fact that a large and growing number of Canadians happen to know friends, or have now or sometime in the past had family members in a war zone like Afghanistan, ought to sensitize us to the human cost of war, and cause us to question the violent nature of humanity that leads us to war. Even in Canada, even in Red Deer, the grief of war is near to us.
This year just begun is supposed to be the last full year that Canada will be an active participant in the Afghanistan war. Sometime next year, the schedule calls for the troops to be returning home.
People will ask if the sacrifice has been worth it. In fact, a majority of Canadians don’t even believe Canadian leaders know what a military victory in Afghanistan would look like. Nobody’s ever seen one.
So if so few people even seem to know what it is we’re trying to accomplish, it’s natural to question why we’re even there in the first place.
Right now, it sure looks like it won’t be soldiers who bring an end to the conflict there. If anyone can do that, it will have been people more like Michelle Lang.
If the word “Rwanda” has any resonance for Canadians, it’s not strictly because a Canadian general made a deal with the devil there. It’s that we heard about it that made the difference.
There are atrocities committed in hidden places every day on this planet. If a child dies in some forgotten hellhole, and no reporter brings us the story, does her mother cry any less?
Only the light of day can bring an end to the night. Newspapers carry the reports and photos of the Canadian fallen, and people question if it meant anything.
The answers aren’t to be found here. So there are a few intrepid types willing to go to the places where the answers might be found.
Last week, the first Canadian journalist — an Albertan — died in the Afghan war. Late last year, a Canadian journalist’s life — also Albertan — was spared amidst the civil strife of Somalia. These are people who help ensure that crimes cannot stay hidden, which is society’s first step toward justice.
We don’t even fully know what we’re trying to win in Afghanistan. And maybe next year, when the troops start coming home, we’ll still be asking if anything was gained.
But the answers won’t come from the soldiers or the politicians who sent them. It will come from the journalists who bear witness to the changes of this world — or the parts of this world where there is enough freedom to even allow a witness.
We’ll know that the forces gained nothing in Afghanistan if, when the troops finally pull out, reporters are restricted or banned from seeing what happens next.
One death does not weigh more than another. But one death or 100, freedom hangs on the ability to know that tyrants and terrorists cannot hide themselves forever. For that, Michelle Lang made the same sacrifice as any professional soldier. We honour her in the same way.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.