Victor Enns on Afghanistan Confessions
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Sunday, September 28, 2014
Filed under: Read My Book
Afghanistan Confessions, a collection of deeply imagined poems, relentless and genuine, gives voice to soldiers seldom heard in the rhetoric of a call-to-arms, in video clips from embedded journalists, or when most of us look away when they come home.
Canadian troops arrived in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, though with a much larger presence following 2006, served as fully committed war-fighters until 2011, and in training and support roles until 2014. Stationed in Kandahar Airfield (KAF), Canadian soldiers led the fight in southern Afghanistan, maintaining Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s) “outside the wire,” in the heart of Taliban territory, seen by most observers as the most dangerous place to fight in the country.
This was the first time since Korea that Canadians at home were seeing our soldiers as war-fighters, boldly upsetting our dearly held notion, since Lester Pearson’s Nobel in the 1960s, of our forces as blue-helmeted peace-keepers.
Few of us will ever have to shoulder the burden of taking another human life, or seeing the death and destruction common to all wars. As thought provoking in subject as they are accessible to read, Afghanistan Confessions challenges assumptions Canadians may have about the conflict, and the thousands of soldiers that fought Canada’s longest war.
I was never a soldier, but men of the Canadian Forces have been talking to me since 2007, though actually for only a few weeks in 2008 when interviewing members of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) based in Shilo, Manitoba, on return from a research visit to Kabul in May of 2008.
During the time I was working on this collection I established an email correspondence with Neil Maclean, a career soldier, introduced to him by another writer and a running partner in civilian life. Maclean agreed to serve as a sounding board and as a technical advisor making sure I was using proper Canadian slang and military parlance, and referring to military weapons and equipment correctly.
The soldiers I interviewed had their own ideas of why they were there, inside or outside the wire of Kandahar Airfield, probably different motivation for each of them. Only a few are raised in the collection including classical notions of giving and getting glory, seeking adventure, doing a professional job, supporting a family. There were many others given in interviews from a need of structure and love of routine, to the camaraderie and the tight loyalty of a fighting unit, and service to Canada.
This collection is dedicated to my mother Susann Enns, raised in conservative Mennonite southern Manitoba in the 1930s. Mennonite fundamentalists did not believe in educating women beyond what they need to know for Kinder, Kirche, und Kueche.1 Girls were usually taken out of school after completing Grade Eight, more education than most Afghan girls receive even now.
While these poems stay in an imagined Afghanistan, our soldiers do not. The damage continues at home with many returning veterans suffering PTSD and some taking their own lives. Even career soldiers are getting war weary. As Neil Maclean, who served three tours in Bosnia before going to Afghanistan, texts after checking the galleys of his afterword – “In Germany, transitioning to the Middle East. This will be my third war. Getting a little old for this.”
- URL: victorenns.ca/heres-what-im-saying-about-my-new-book/#more-3159