Courtesy (St. John's) The Independent Friday, January 26, 2007
By Rick Mercer For The Independent
Poor Noreen Golfman. She wrote in her Jan. 12 column (Blowing in the Wind ..
) that her holidays were ruined by what she felt were incessant reports
about Canadian men and women serving in Afghanistan. So upset was Noreen
that, armed with her legendary pen, sharpened from years in the trenches at
Memorial University's women's studies department, she went on the attack. I
know I should just ignore the good professor and write her off as another
bitter baby boom academic pining for what she fondly calls "the protest
songs of yesteryear," but I can't help myself. A response is exactly what
she wants; and so I include it here. After all, Newfoundlanders have seen
this before: Noreen Golfman, sadly, is Margaret Wente without the wit.
I am so sorry to hear about the interruption to your holiday cheer. You say
in your column that it all started when the CBC ran a story on some "poor
sod" who got his legs blown off in Afghanistan.
The "poor sod" in question, Noreen, has a name and it is Cpl. Paul Franklin.
He is a medic in the Forces and has been a buddy of mine for years. I had
dinner with him last week in Edmonton, in fact. I will be sure to pass on to
him that his lack of legs caused you some personal discomfort this Christmas
Paul is a pretty amazing guy. You would like him I think. When I met him
years ago he had two good legs and a brutally funny sense of humour. He was
so funny that I was pretty sure he was a Newfoundlander. You probably know
the type (or maybe you don't) - salt of the earth, always smiling, and like
so many health-care professionals, seemingly obsessed with helping others in
These days he spends his time training other health-care workers and
learning how to walk again. That's a pretty exhausting task for Paul ...
heading into rehabilitation he knew very well his chances of walking again
were next to none, considering he's a double amputee, missing both legs
above the knee.
At the risk of ruining your day Noreen, I'm proud to report that for the
last few months he has managed to walk his son to school almost every
morning and it's almost a kilometre from his house. Next month Paul hopes to
travel to Washington where he claims he will learn how to run on something
he calls "bionic flipper cheetah feet." The legs may be gone but the sense
of humour is still very much intact.
Forgive me Noreen for using Paul's name so much, but seeing as you didn't
catch it when CBC ran the profile on his recovery I thought it might be nice
if you perhaps bothered to remember it from here on in. This way, when you
are pontificating about him at a dinner party, you no longer have to refer
to him simply as the "poor sod," but you can actually refer to him as Paul
Franklin. You may prefer "poor sod" of course; it's all a matter of how you
look at things. You see a "poor sod" that ruined your Christmas and I see a
truly inspiring guy. That's why I am thrilled that the CBC saw fit to run a
story on Paul and his wife Audra. I would go so far as to suggest that many
people would find their story, their marriage and their charitable
endeavours inspiring. Just as I am sure that many readers of The Independent
are inspired by your suggestion that Paul's story has no place on the public
Further on in your column you ask why more people aren't questioning Canada
s role in Afghanistan. I understand this frustration. It's a good question.
Why should Canada honour its United Nations-sanctioned NATO commitments? Let's have the discussion. I would welcome debate on the idea that Canada should simply ignore its international obligations and pull out of Afghanistan. By
all means ask the questions Noreen, but surely such debates can occur
without begrudging the families of injured soldiers too much airtime at
Personally, I would have thought that as a professor of women's studies you
would be somewhat supportive of the notion of a NATO presence in Afghanistan
After all, it is the NATO force that is keeping the Taliban from power. In
case you missed it Noreen, the Taliban was a regime that systematically
de-peopled women to the point where they had no human rights whatsoever.
This was a country where until very recently it was illegal for a child to
fly a kite or for a little girl to receive any education.
To put it in terms you might understand Noreen, rest assured the Taliban
would frown on your attending this year's opening night gala of the St. John
s International Women's Film Festival. In fact, as a woman, a professor, a
writer and (one supposes) an advocate of the concept that women are people,
they would probably want to kill you three or four times over. Thankfully
that notion is moot in our cozy part of the world but were it ever come to
pass I would suggest that you would be grateful if a "poor sod" like Paul
Franklin happened along to risk his life to protect yours.
And then of course you seem to be somehow personally indignant that I would
visit troops in Afghanistan over Christmas. You ask the question "When did
the worm turn?" Well I hate to break it to you, but in my case this worm has
been doing this for a long time now. It's been a decade since I visited
Canadian peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and this Christmas marked my
third trip to Afghanistan. Why do I do it? Well I am not a soldier - that
much is perfectly clear. I don't have the discipline or the skills. But I am
an entertainer and entertainers entertain. And occasionally, like most
Canadians, I get to volunteer my professional time to causes that I find
As a Newfoundlander this is very personal to me. On every one of these trips
I meet Newfoundlanders who serve proudly in the Canadian Forces. Every day
they do the hard work that we as a nation ask of them. They do this without
complaint and they do it knowing that at every turn there are people like
you, Noreen, suggesting that what they do is somehow undignified or
I am also curious Noreen why you refer to the head of the Canadian Forces,
General Rick Hillier, as "Rick 'MUN graduate' Hillier." I would suggest that
if you wish to criticize General Hillier's record of leadership or service
to his country you should feel free. He is a big boy. However, when you
dismiss him as "Rick 'MUN Graduate' Hillier" the message is loud and clear.
Are you suggesting that because General Hillier received an education at
Memorial he is somehow unqualified for high command? We are used to seeing
this type of tactic in certain national papers - not The Independent.
You end by saying you personally cannot envision that peace can ever be
paved with military offensives. May I suggest to you that in many instances
in history peace has been achieved exactly that way.
The gates of Auschwitz were not opened with peace talks. Holland was not
liberated by peacekeepers and fascism was not defeated with a deft pen. Time
and time again men and women in uniform have laid down their lives in just
causes and in an effort to free others from oppression.
It is unfortunate, Noreen, that in such instances people like yourself may
have your sensitivities offended, especially during the holiday season, but
perhaps that is a small price to pay. Best wishes for the remainder of
2007; may it be a year of peace and prosperity.