Saturday, May 2, 2009

Going to Afghanistan

I read a story in the major Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet today about a few young soldiers that were to serve in Afghanistan for the first time this summer. One of them said this about his motives: “I go because of the money, the action, (Norwegian: opplevelser) and the experience (Norwegian: erfaring).”

Norwegian soldier in AfghanistanBeing a soldier in the Norwegian Army myself, I feel like I know these guys, even though I’ve never met them. Not only because we wear the same uniform; also because I recognize their attitudes towards service in a foreign country. Unfortunately, I’d say, these are the most common reasons for applying for service abroad.

Now, I was a little unfair in the translation of the word “opplevelser.” If directly translated, this word also means experience. But not in the same sense as “erfaring” does. While “erfaring” contains the wisdom gained and lessons learned from an experience, “opplevelser” is the feelings, excitement and actual events of the particular experience. Thus, translating “opplevelser” into “action,” comes from the assumption that those events he has in mind will fit perfectly into Black Hawk Down.

Nevertheless, I’m sorry that these are his motives. It is not necessarily that these motives are evil in and of themselves, by no means; or at least as long as “experience” doesn’t involve getting himself a dead terrorist (which unfortunately is the case way too often. I don’t know about these guys, though). But how much better would not the world have been if people fought for what they believed in, rather than for personal purposes?

Now, Norwegian soldiers are probably among the most updated on the political situation in both Afghanistan and Norway, and great effort is made to secure that soldiers know which war they are fighting. Yet, it is obvious that to us in the military, these updates are more like good excuses for continuing to build experienced officers and soldiers, than they are actually motivating people to fight.

I am not saying there are no good reasons to fight against Taliban. If somebody have this inner need to help people in need, or can tell me how much damage Taliban does, and show how passionate they are about freeing Afghanistan from this terror, I encourage them to fight in Afghanistan. But in the Norwegian Army, these are unfortunately seldom found.

Since the conflict in Afghanistan is far away in distance and has nothing but a vague relevance to average Joe, those passionate about the situation usually fight the war through what may seem like more influential platforms of non-violent engagement or politics. They can like or dislike or even direct the military, but they are not the military, and they don’t want to be.

One could also imagine that one fought because of a political obligation. As a member of NATO (and UN, who authorised the ISAF force), Norway is dependent on helping allies in their wars in order to get help if the enemy suddenly comes. Soldiers with such insight may also want to contribute to the NATO forces. But though there are a few honourable examples of these in Afghanistan, most soldiers with this attitude, as myself, are not very eager to fight, and avoid it if possible. Thus they hesitate to apply for service abroad, leaving the spaces open for those who actually want to fight.

As if that wasn’t disturbing enough before we gave them guns.

MedicThis is not a call to withdraw from Afghanistan. This is neither a call for sensible people to go there. Having said that, the only guy I really know myself that goes to Afghanistan this year, is one of the most impressive personalities I know, and I very strongly supports his decision. He has the inner urge to heal the wounded, like any true warrior of Agape should have, and he chose to do so through the military.

Read more:
Dagbladet: Slik forbereder norske soldater seg på å dø (in Norwegian)
Wikipedia: ISAF

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