Why do we fight?
Supporters of our Afghanistan adventure like to point out that although Canada has a reputation as a peacekeeper, we also have a long history of warmaking. They emphasize our tendency to join our friends in hostilities, "friends" meaning the Anglosphere, i.e. the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
The war faction uses this proclivity to make war alongside our friends to justify the aggressive approach we have taken in Afghanistan, yet a close look at our history as warmaker suggests it may do the opposite. Consider, for example, our involvement in WWI.
WWI may have been the stupidest war ever fought by humankind, a massive slaughter of some nine million soldiers and millions of civilians for no great cause. It was little more than an exercise in incompetence and bloody-mindedness by a bunch of European imperialists contesting for supremacy. Canada sacrificed 65,000 young men on the alter of imperial hubris. Some historians claim this is where we came of age as a country. We would have better shown our independence as a nation by refusing to share in the foolishness of our former colonial masters.
But we didn't. And then we repeated our blunder in WWII in the Asian theatre. Fighting to crush the Nazis in Europe was justified unequivocally; however joining the conflict in Asia was a different matter. This, like WWI, was largely an imperial struggle.
In the 1930s, having an empire was de rigueur for a major industrial state. But Japan was a major industrial state and it didn't have one. More galling was that the Europeans all had empires in its backyard, on its turf so to speak. The British had India and Burma, the French Indo-China, the Americans the Philipines, and so on. The only choice piece of the colonial pie left was China, so the Japanese decided to take it. The other powers demurred, and the United States imposed an oil blockade, intending to starve Japan's industrial machine of its life blood. The Japanese attacked the blockade, by bombing the fleet that maintained it and by sending troops into southeast Asia to guarantee access to resources. The Second World War was on. Canada, not an imperial power, and under no obligation to defend the imperial powers' ill-gotten gains, should have stayed out. But we didn't and paid the price, including humiliating defeat defending Britain's colonial outpost of Hong Kong.
Other wars our friends opted for we wisely declined, including the Vietnam and Iraq quagmires. Some missions we participated in were justified, including the Korean war and Kososvo. And we tried to do right by Rwanda; unfortunately, our friends lacked similar enthusiasm.
In summary, joining our friends in their hostilities has been a mixed bag. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, with opting out entirely often the best choice. This isn't surprising. Our friends interests and ours don't always coincide, sometimes even conflict. If all this teaches us anything, it's that we should always decide carefully in favour of what best satisfies our own values and goals, both selfish and altruistic.
Maybe, as someone once said about the British, nations don't have friends, just interests.