New Zealand recently had three of its soldiers killed in action from a roadside bomb in Bamiyan province, Afghanistan. Among the dead was the first female of the New Zealand armed forces to die in combat.
It is worth keeping in mind that for nations with small armies and smaller deployed contingents , injuries and deaths have a greater impact than in larger ones. The chances that you’ll know, or served with, the affected soldier(s) is higher and so it things can get personal quickly.
Three items worthy of note around the whole thing.
First, check out part of the funeral procession for the soldiers after they returned home.
I’m a believer in the role of ritual to help soldiers deal with trauma and watching the Kiwis perform their Haka seems to not only be an act of respect for the fallen but a way to work through emotions of loss and pain. Our military funerals, by contrast are all about suppressing emotion. Now, having gone through it several times, I recognize that the military precision and stoicism is also about conveying respect but there’s no outlet for soldiers collectively and formally express their grief.
The New Zealanders seem to hit the perfect mix of doing both in their ceremony. That doesn’t mean I advocate us learning the Haka as that’s not our culture but certainly in our great melting pot there some cultural traditions we can draw upon other than those incredibly repressed puritans.
Many of the veterans interviewed described their tribes’ purification rituals for returning soldiers, including sweat lodge ceremonies, talking circles, and the Hopi practice of giving their returning soldiers new names. Those who had undergone the rituals said these ceremonies helped minimize the effects of PTSD.
Second, after the deaths an activist/filmmaker named Sumner Burstyn wrote an ignorant post on her blog to the effect of ‘That’s what you get for joining the army and killing innocent people.’
I won’t go into the whole controversy here (although Simon does a good job of covering it from a closer perspective) but this does demonstrate an unfortunate tendency of some on the left side of the political spectrum to divide the world into black and white, good guys and bad guys, and simultaneously demonstrate intolerance in the name of sympathy. In this case (and similar that I’ve seen first or second hand) it comes from insulating oneself from anything to do with the military. This, I’m convinced, leads to distrust and ultimately dislike of the military, both as an institution as in terms of individuals. Like any prejudice, it becomes easy to label people when you don’t have to go through the hard work of actually getting to know any of them as individuals.
I’ve often remarked that for those concerned about abuses of the military (perceived or real) would do their cause the most benefit by joining it. It both provides a valuable opportunity to learn the culture and system and (perhaps more important) can give you the chance to influence individuals and the culture. Walling oneself off from the military just cedes the field to your opponents risking the creation of a self fulfilling prophesy. Think the military is filled with crazy hate mongering killers? Well, the best way to ensure that it does look like that is refusing to actually serve yourself. And maybe you’ll find out that there’s more diversity, thoughtfulness and integrity than you imagined.
Finally, in the wake of all this, the Kiwis announced they’ll be pulling out their contingent early…April of 2013. This is a difficult time for the coalition. If you know you’re going to be pulling out of a conflict and are not confident that the Afghan government is legitimate or going to last very long, it’s hard to muster the commitment to stay to the end of the 9th inning.
I don’t really have a good way to wrap up this post and perhaps that’s the best…a bit ambiguous and unsatisfying.