Archive for March, 2012

A Savage Read

I vividly remember sitting down with my copy of Hiroshima, time not on my side, and spending the whole night getting through it. It was a little slow-going at certain parts of the book, but not even that could have prepared me for The Savage War.

I simply don’t think it’s an appropriate choice for a book to be read for school, and especially in a program as hectic and stressful and CreComm.

Is the book packed full of interesting insights and information? Yes. But I feel like the content just doesn’t lend itself very well to a book.  Maybe a documentary, or a blog, and release chunks of information every week or so, complete with accompanying photos.

But sometimes I would sit down with this book for two hours, scratch and claw my way through 50 pages, and then struggle to remember what I read. And there’s a reason why: Wall-o-text.

That’s almost entirely what this book is. Wall after wall of quoteless, acronym-packed text.

People don’t read acronyms.  When you read something that references the “USA”, you don’t read it as “the United States of America”. You don’t even really say “USA” in your head, you see the letters and know what it’s referring to.  In The Savage War, there’s probably upwards of 100 different acronyms, and keeping track of all of them is virtually impossible. So when I would read about ANP’s and ISAF’s or whatever else, my eyes just glaze over. I can’t remember what this, the 43rd acronym in five minutes, means, and it just causes your brain to check out.

“At meetings in Kandahar and Kabul, senior Kandahari leaders — including Governor Asadullah Khalid and presidential brother/provincial kingpin Ahmed Wali Karzai — have suggested that NATO’s ISAF is ‘unwilling to take the fight to the Taliban,'” said the cable written on August 28, 2006.

“In front of ISAF officers, [Canadian] officials and key tribal elders in Kandahar, AWK reportedly said that ‘the coalition kicked out 20,000 Taliban [from Afghanistan] and now ISAF can’t even get rid of Taliban from two districts.”  (Page 101)

Did you read that exerpt word-for-word? Didn’t think so.

And sometimes the paragraphs in this book were like little books themselves. It’s a mental block when you flip a page and are staring at two pages with maybe a paragraph between them, and not a quote in sight. It begins to feel like you’re reading a textbook after a while.

Like I said, the information within is interesting, of course, but can just be a little overwhelming at times. There were moments where I felt like I needed to have eaten, sleeped and breathed the war in Afghanistan for the last 10 years of my life just to know what was going on, or what the author was referring to.

Probably my favourite part of the book was this quote:

During that first interview, Ahmedi trotted out a well-worn phrase: “You have the watches, but we have the time.” (Page 50)

It’s a reference to how the Taliban always think they’re so many steps ahead of any countering Canadian or American forces, and yet, as is also mentioned in the book, they have almost no proper battle training, and just empty their rifles and then get shot.

Reading The Savage War didn’t have all that much of an effect on me. I found certain things interesting, and it’s always interesting to learn about inside goings-on of a war, especially from a Canadian aspect, but there was just too much that prevented me from really getting immersed in the book, or even holding my attention.

As a journalist, I think what I learned from reading the book was that we need to really give a lot of thought on what medium to use to tell our stories. I recently released a documentary called Bright Lights: Inside Indy Pro Wrestling. I could have written their stories, inside of filmed them. But sometimes stories are just too lengthy and fact-filled to put on paper. They need to be shown.

Which prompts me to compare The Savage War to a video documentary we watched called Desert Lions. There’s a part in the film where the narrator is describing how the Afghani soldiers can simply be frustrating to have under your command, because of the differences in their culture. From there it just cuts to footage of a Canadian soldier tryign to tell an Afghani soldier to go get his weapon, and it perfectly depicts exactly what he was talking about.  I found this method a much more effective way of story-telling than writing detail after detail in a book.

Overall I just think I didn’t have the time to properly enjoy this book with everything else going on in school. It was a tough read that takes a lot of concentration to really catch all of the details, and when you’re reading on a deadline, this can be hard to do.  I didn’t enjoy it, but perhaps under different circumstances, I might have.

Aboriginal Racism

This week in Journalism class, it was all about Aboriginal issues.

We were visited by Aboriginal journalist, Colleen Simard, and also went to the University of Manitoba to see the exhibit Where Are the Children?

The exhibit features a number of historical photographs, which detail the impact and shocking legacy of Canada’s residential schools.  Residential schools existed to basically eradicate all traces of Aboriginal culture.  Children were taken from their families, and would be forced to adopt a “civilized” Canadian lifestyle.  The schools were known to be extremely aggressive in forcing these children to forget their heritage, and for not taking great medical care of the children either.

It was eye-opening to see that something like this took place in Canada, and quite frankly, a little embarrassing. Canada is a place where oppressed people flee to for freedom, so how schools like these were so prominent at any point in our history is a little mind-boggling.

But it’s no secret that Aboriginals continue to face an uphill climb in Canada.  One of, if not the biggest issue that continues to plague Aboriginals today is simply trying to escape the stereotypes and racism surrounding them.

Often coming from troubled childhoods and upbringings on reserves, yes, Aboriginals can find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and we hear about it. But so does every other race. It’s a mankind thing, not an Aboriginal thing. And it’s certainly no reason to simply look at a Aboriginal person and make up your mind about him/her just based off of what you read in the newspaper the day before.

But still, Aboriginals are discriminated against and stereotyped, even in the last places you would expect them to be.

An article on the CBC was released in December 2011 that details the stories of Aboriginals who faced harassment and racism in the RCMP and the police force, which almost resulted in a suicide.

Part of me knows that it’s important to raise awareness about racism, and reach people at a young age about the issue, but another part of me knows that there will always be racism in every corner of the world. It’s inescapable. I think it’s more important for people to simply be aware that they’re likely going to face it in their lifetime, and to be prepared to overcome it.

Overall, the trip to Where Are the Children was an eye-opening and educational experience that gave a glimpse into just what kind of a past Aboriginals here in Canada are coming from.  I appreciated hearing from some people who had been directly affected by the schools, and came away with an understanding that not even a “spic and span” country like Canada is without its blemishes.