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Facing the reality of 'war'


Canada is at war.

That is a phrase many Canadians--spared the horrors of two world wars and the Korean conflict--never thought they’d ever hear in their lifetime. Nor could anyone have dreamed war was on the horizon as we headed to work last Tuesday morning.

Sure, Canada hasn’t actually declared war on any one country, yet, but listening to the prime minister, defence minister, foreign minister, and others, it’s crystal clear that Canada is, in fact, at war. And while true that this first war of the 21st century will be fought like none other in history, make no mistake about it that it is a war.

War, by its very definition, means fighting. And fighting means casualties, which, in turn, means Canadians once again will be burying their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, neighbours, and friends in defence of our freedoms.

It also may mean giving up some of our cherished freedoms, or enduring economic hardships, for as long as it takes to defeat the enemy.

It will be a long fight, and perhaps very bloody, because declaring war on terrorism is global in scope. It’s also hard to pinpoint the “enemy.” The obvious targets are Osama bin Laden and his followers holed up in Afghanistan, but an attack there may spark armed resistance in at least some parts of Pakistan.

Then there’s groups like Hamas and offshoots of the PLO, which means fighting in the volatile Middle East, not to mention other groups supported by such countries as Iran, Iraq, and Libya.

But what about the IRA battling British rule in Northern Ireland, and the Tamils fighting for independence from India in Sri Lanka. The ETA fighting for an independent Basque region from Spain, or various other groups still wreaking havoc in Europe for this cause or that.

Are these groups terrorists? Well, of course, that depends on your perspective. Clearly one person’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter.”

Compounding the problem further is that how a country defines “terrorist” or “freedom fighter” depends on which way the wind is blowing. You can bet that the Afghan rebels we now are bent on destroying enjoyed Western support, including from the United States, when they were fighting the Russians in the early 1980s.

And last, but not least, does declaring war on terrorism include domestic groups, like those behind the Oklahoma City bombing in the U.S.? What about here in Canada if groups advocate violence to gain Quebec independence, or native fishing rights, or scrapping gun control?

Stripped of all the rhetoric and patriotism, particularly when it’s directed at a particular individual or group, all this is what the “war on terrorism” will entail.

It is a war worth fighting. But it is one that cannot be fought half-heartedly, and it is one Canadians had better be prepared to carry through over the long haul.

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