What constitutes a combat death? The Canadian media talked about the “the first combat deaths since Korea” when Canadian troops started getting killed in Afghanistan. I tend to think that getting your head taken off by an anti-tank rocket counts as a death in combat. That’s what happened to Daniel Gunther of the Van Doos back in 1993 while he was serving as a peacekeeper in Bosnia. Of course, combat suggests having the chance to fight back and that’s not something Gunther had the chance to do. But then the bulk of Canadians killed in Afghanistan have died as a result of roadside bombs and they didn’t have a chance to shoot back either.
It’s quite possible that the bulk of Canadian journalists don’t even know about Gunther. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the Canadian government lied about how Gunther died in order to avoid going off-script when it came to peacekeeping missions. The deliberate murder of a Canadian soldier would upset the plot line – instead it was claimed he was killed accidentally by some stray shrapnel. Secondly, until Afghanistan, most Canadian outlets didn’t care about the country’s soldiers. Stories I wrote for the Edmonton Sun would appear a year later in the Toronto based media as if they were new. News is like fish, it doesn’t keep well. We used to joke when Sun Media’s own Ottawa Bureau used to send military stories which began “Sun Media has learned…..” that “Yeah, from reading a year-old Edmonton Sun”.
And are combat deaths somehow more important that training deaths? Years ago, in an effort to do something different for Remembrance Day, I did an article about training deaths. Few people realise how dangerous training can be. The old “train hard, fight easy” doctrine comes with a price. The number of training deaths suffered in the UK during the Second World War was long a state secret.