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Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army

by Christie Blatchford

Stating the obvious: you either love Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford or you loathe her. To those in the former group, she is the shoots-from-the-hip, tough-as-nails scribe of the people with a heart of molten gold. To the latter, she is a self-compromised reporter with an execrable writing style and a tendency toward emotional vampirism. It’s worth noting that Blatchford likely doesn’t give a fig about either opinion. This, of course, is the greater part of her appeal.

At three separate times in 2006, Blatchford was embedded with Task Force Orion, the 900-member Canadian Forces (CF) combat deployment based in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Her dispatches coincided with a dramatic rise in combat operations in the area – operations that ultimately cost the lives of 30 Canadians, but successfully reversed Taliban gains in the province.  

Fifteen Days is a continuation and expanded version of the columns she wrote from Afghanistan. The book’s 15 chapters correspond, for the most part, to the 15 days between March and November of 2006 on which a Canadian soldier died. The chapters, interspersed with accounts of Blatchford’s own experiences, detail the lives and deaths of these soldiers, and the wide wakes of grief that followed.

The book is written in Blatchford’s inimitable, well-worn literary drawl, with the usual excessive self-deprecation (she calls herself “a dopey reporter”) and sudden florid prose (“the wrong side of that grim ledger”), now embarrassingly punctuated with soldier’s argot (“[It] wasn’t until May that 9 platoon really got into the shit”).

As the subtitle suggests, the book is filled with tales of camaraderie, honour, duty, and sacrifice. At its best, the book is a brutal and necessary reminder of the awful cost of war, and of the true nobility of those who are prepared to fight for what they believe is just.

Blatchford’s portrayal of the men and women of Task Force Orion is as unfailingly flattering as that of the enemy is disparaging. Heartstrings are yanked, tears are shed for the honoured dead, and patriotic fervour rises. It becomes very clear that Blatchford loves the soldiers she writes about.

But therein lies the problem. As a representative of a news organization, even as a columnist – even as a Blatchford – there is danger in her utter bias toward the soldiers, and by implication her total acceptance of Canadian policy in Afghanistan. Some readers will lap up her writing as objective fact, and not as the adorations of an infatuated reporter. At the other pole, sadly, there will be those who will dismiss Blatchford’s book entirely, thus missing its important underlying message. A more subtle journalist would have used a sparer pen and revealed patriotism’s quieter, less cloying side.

It is important to realize that Fifteen Days is not, and does not claim to be, a review of the broader issues confronting Afghanistan and the Canadian commitment there. Little or no information is provided on the origins or strategic agenda of the Taliban, nor its connection to the global narcotics trade. Nor are we informed about Pakistan’s role in the conflict, including its complicity in Taliban recruitment, safe havens, and supply and trafficking routes.

Similarly, there is no information on American and NATO influence on Canada’s commitment, nor on the impact of Canada’s minority federal government. From the perspective of the CF, there is no information on the overall strategy on fighting the Taliban, nor on how mission success is defined. Those whom we have placed in positions of authority have chosen to spend the lives of Canadian citizens, and these are the important issues that we as Canadians need to be aware of in order to make informed decisions.

It is appalling that five and a half years after the initial Canadian deployment, and one and a half years after the beginning of proactive combat operations, this is the first book on Canada’s war in Afghanistan to emerge from a major publisher. That it is a human-interest compilation, and not an analysis, is testament to the abject failure of Canadians to engage with the commitment and the enormous, perhaps insurmountable, challenges involved. Blatchford’s passion muddies the water at a time when we should be coldly calculating the facts.

There’s nothing wrong with loving the men and women you’re writing about. No doubt the soldiers love Blatchford back. It is important that we understand their sacrifice, but to understand it fully, we require something more than Blatchford’s viewpoint – which is limited, and not so metaphorically, to what she sees through the viewport of a troop transport.


Reviewer: Michael Clark

Publisher: Doubleday Canada


Price: $34.95

Page Count: 304 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0-385-66466-0

Released: October

Issue Date: 2007-11

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs