He arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan 10 days after two Canadian soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. His first time out of the camp was terrifying, and came with the realization that he had absolutely no control over the situation surrounding him. It was January of 2004, three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Francis Laparé, 35, who graduated from the master’s of building science at Ryerson in 2013, served in the Canadian military for 14 years. He recalls his two tours in Afghanistan from the 69th floor of the Scotia Plaza on King Street, where he’s now a project manager at Dream Unlimited, a commercial real estate company.
Wearing a blue suit, he looks out over the city as the November sun begins to burn off the morning fog and Lake Ontario can be seen more clearly. It’s a breathtaking sight, and a far cry from the war in Kabul and Kashmir, where he fought as an infantry officer in close combat situations.
The poppy over his heart stands out in stark contrast against his suit, a reminder of friends who did not come back from Afghanistan.
“Listening to ‘[In] Flanders Fields’ resonates a lot with me. I have a lot of friends who came back in boxes or dismembered. A lot of the guys I went to military college with, so we were like high school friends,” says Laparé.
Afghanistan was Canada’s longest war. Between 2001 and 2014, when the last of Canadian soldiers were called back from overseas, 158 soldiers were killed and over 2,000 more were injured.
But on Remembrance Day, Canadian veterans from the war in Afghanistan are sometimes forgotten by younger generations, who tend to think of First and Second World War veterans when commemorating those who served.
Laparé believes this is because of the complexity of the war in Afghanistan.
“It’s very difficult to explain to people what you were doing and who you were fighting,” he says.
The mission was complicated because it was a counter-insurgency, meaning Canada was fighting to create a stable and secure environment so the government could rebuild the state and provide people with necessities such as water, roads, and schools, Laparé explains.
The Taliban did not occupy any one city in particular. Instead, they caused casualties and spread fear across the nation. The army wasn’t fighting the Taliban directly either, Laparé says. They were fighting the poorest of the poor who were given a small amount of money by the Taliban to set up a rocket or roadside bomb.
When he arrived in Kashmir for his second tour in 2009, five years later, he was shocked and dismayed to find the situation much like he had last seen it.
“My second tour was very difficult. In my first one I thought, ‘Hey, it’s the early days, this is going to get better and we’re making progress.’ Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that no progress was made. But when I came back, I couldn’t believe we were not any further ahead in terms of the allegiance of the population and the support of the new regime,” Laparé says.
Laparé says he left feeling unsure what the tangible outcome of the war would be, and he believes that is another reason people tend not to think of the war in Afghanistan.
“Why did Korea become the forgotten war? Because it ended in a stalemate,” he says.
The number of people affected by Canada’s mission in Afghanistan is also much smaller than either of the world wars.
David Mackenzie, a history professor who specializes in international relations, says that nearly every Canadian was affected by the Second World War.
“You still have millions of Canadians who have some direct connection to the Second World War.” he says. “So it practically affected every family in Canada.”
Laparé says there were maybe 3,000 Canadian soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan at the peak of the war. While a whole generation was impacted by the Second World War, this just wasn’t the case for Afghanistan.
Hayley Jones, a fourth-year photography student at Ryerson, says that when she wears a poppy, she instantly thinks of Flanders Fields and the First World War. She also remembers her grandparents’ experiences during the Second World War. She tends not to think of the more recent wars in Canadian history.
Emily McClellen, who is in her first year of aerospace engineering at Ryerson, also thinks of Second World War veterans on Nov. 11.
“I think it’s just a tradition to think about the world wars. The war in Afghanistan is more recent. I think we’re still remembering it, but because Remembrance Day is a traditional day, that’s why we remember the older wars,” she says.
Laparé understands why people think of Second World War veterans on Remembrance Day, and doesn’t compare his experience to theirs.
“There is no relationship between what they endured and what my experience was. Were there hardships? Of course. Was it drastically different than what most of my generation experienced? Yes. But there’s no comparison to what [Second World War] vets experienced,” he says.
On Nov. 11, Ryerson will be remembering those who fought for Canada’s freedom. The ceremony will take place in the north end of the Kerr Hall Quad at 10:50 a.m.