This First Person article is the experience of Bruce Moncur, a Canadian reservist who fought in Afghanistan. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers …”
Those words were written by William Shakespeare, in his play Henry V. Almost half a millennium has gone by since those words were put to paper by way of quill, and yet they are still applicable today. I am proud to be part of a fraternity of 40,000 Canadians who deployed to Afghanistan in our country’s longest war.
It was a war that saw 159 Canadians pay the ultimate sacrifice. When the demons proved too much to handle, more took their lives. Over 2,000 were physically injured, and many more suffer the mental wounds of PTSD. Our casualty rates were higher than the British and Americans.
I was 22 when I was injured. My “Alive Day” is approaching its 15th anniversary. I am now the same age as my platoon warrant officer was when he died. I think about all I have lived in those 15 years, and all that those who paid the ultimate sacrifice have missed.
That platoon warrant officer would have welcomed his first grandson. The parents of another soldier just moved out of the last house he knew them in, and grappled with that.
Feelings of futility
As time went by we have lost touch, left the military, started families … and yet we still keep tabs on social media.
The Canadian Afghanistan War Veterans Association has more than 4,000 members. I have seen some recent posts on the message board expressing the frustration and feelings of futility with what the war has proven to be. Amongst a community with no national monument or a Victoria Cross, we have been reduced to watching all our sacrifices wiped out in less than a fortnight.
I’ve witnessed the Taliban fight up close. During Operation Medusa, I watched 400 dug-in fighters ambush two Canadian platoons. As we moved into the trap they set, a green pen flare was fired into the air to indicate that we had walked far enough into the U-shaped ambush. The trap was sprung. A five-hour firefight ensued that required a Canadian retreat after 25 per cent of us became casualties.
Not one of us could deny the Taliban’s skilful implementation of a battle plan first used by Hannibal in the Battle of Cannae.
After taking over control of the capital, Kabul, on Sunday, the Taliban has managed to seize nearly the entire country of Afghanistan in a little over a week. Our war now has had the same outcome as the 19th-century Afghan wars involving the British and the 20th-century wars involving the Soviets.
The Taliban bided their time. Twenty years could break the resolve of many, but not them. Part of you has to admire that tenacity, until you see them take their vengeance.
Helpless to the bloodthirsty retribution paid out to those allied to our cause, we lament and they die. They live in utter fear while, in the waning weeks of August, we still have barbecues and enjoy the safety of being Canadian.
We will not have to answer for our actions. Anyone paying attention to the situation in Afghanistan since we left the country seven years ago has seen it teetering on a trajectory pointing to this conclusion. Yet it doesn’t make it any easier. I have literally bled and almost died for this cause, and have seen many pay a higher price, and for what?
We will always have each other
We Canadian band of brothers might have had our pensions slashed. We might be missing a national monument and been accused of asking for more than our country can give. But we will always have each other.
But I won’t allow myself to dwell on this. I can’t go down that rabbit hole again. After a decade of asking why I went when I was not taken care of by my government, I can’t ask that question again.
I just think about the 42,000 soldiers that still put their boots on every day and remain on the front lines; fighting COVID in First Nations, in hospitals in Quebec and in care homes in Ontario; fighting fires across the nation, as climate change ravages our forests. They can still stand proud as they continue to keep their heads held erect, necks touching the back of the collar, eyes steady, looking their height and straight forward.
If you are having a difficult time with the recent developments in Afghanistan, please reach out. Call a battle buddy. You don’t need to be alone. We band of brothers.