We struggled a bit with whether to include the image of the Twin Towers impact in ‘The Path to War’. It remains so raw to me, and personal, that I felt we should be extraordinarily cautious about using it. We try to avoid using images of people dying, and to me that’s what that horrible moment is. Editor Geoff Matheson argued that without it, the documentary would lose its raison d’être. He felt that the suppression of the image by various media (especially American, but also our own) had dulled our revulsion. The sacrifice of our soldiers and the emotional response of Canadians needed to have meaning, he argued, so the initial attack that launched a ‘Path to War’ needed to be re-lived. Director Mike Sheerin supported Geoff’s strong argument, but in deference to my sensitivity agreed to move the issue up the chain and leave it for Executive Producer Gordon Henderson and Global TV executives to weigh in on. Everyone agreed with Geoff. They had forgotten how brutal September 11th had been, and their shock at seeing the images again rekindled their memory. For accuracy and context, I agreed the moment was required in the film.
As Mike dug through the Global National archives to find the newscasts which drove the narrative, I was also struck by how long Canada has been engaged in the conflict. The ego-centric side of me noted how young I was when it began, and how many of our reporters have since left the broadcast. I’m sure the men and women of our Forces are also surprised at how much time has passed when they realize from photographs that their children are growing up much differently than they did: with parents at war. It is entirely possible for the rest of us living in Canada not be aware of it because we have not been asked to sacrifice. Many troops have had multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, with shortened times in between to re-connect with families and try to shake off their experience. By this point, many of them are war-weary. As it seems is the country.
The Dawe family was very generous with their time in helping us tell this story. Global National’s Jas Johal and Jeff Stephen first met Matt on patrol in Kandahar and were instantly impressed by him. Jas kept the raw footage of Matt, and after his death I sent that to his father knowing that they would be grateful for any image of their fine young man. I learned from Mike Sheerin that the footage was later shown to Matt’s older brothers, who like their father, serve Canada in the Forces. Watching Matt on patrol helped them appreciate their younger brother as a soldier, and as older brothers seem to do, they admitted they had underestimated his abilities.
“A Path to War” reveals that the decision to commit us to Afghanistan was born of the best of intensions. But along the way decisions starting having more to do with politics and the competition of agendas. We still have no way of measuring whether we’re making a lasting difference in Afghanistan, and we keep walking the Path.