A new breed of historian

“The public debate that was being had about the mission in Afghanistan in … 2006 is almost the same of what the status of the public debate on Afghanistan is today. It’s terrible,” said University of New Brunswick deputy director of the Gregg Centre Lee Windsor in regards to his book Kandahar Tour: Turning Point in Canada’s Afghan Mission.

Specializing in Canadian military history, Windsor visited Laurier on Nov. 17 to deliver a presentation on the battle for Messina.

Most of Windsor’s work revolves around Canada’s involvement in the Italian campaign in WW2; however, his interests have come to include Canadian involvement in Afghanistan as well.

“What links my interest in the Second World War together with my interest in Afghanistan is that they’re probably the two most important times in Canadian history where Canada has become part of a large multinational partnership that has gone abroad to project military, political power and even aid power for something that they collectively believe needs to be done. That’s the link.”

In 2007, Windsor accompanied a Canadian combat group, Task Force 1-07, while on duty in Afghanistan. Windsor assumed the role of an embedded historian, a task that afforded him the opportunity to “document the events of the war as they unfolded.”

“The book that we wrote as a result of that experience is less a history and more of a chronicle,” Windsor explained.

Often frustrated with some of the inaccuracies that surrounded the Afghan mission, Windsor suggested that the debate “needed an emergency transfusion of information into a public discussion that was ignorant of reality.”

“We don’t want to influence the debate over this, for or against, what we want to is to raise the quality of the debate so that at least people can be discussing the facts,” he added.

Windsor believes that the Afghan mission has become a matter of partisan politics, stating, “The people arguing for and against the mission have dumbed it down to the lowest base levels.”

“It’s a complicated mission. In a lot of respects, what I thought what we needed to do with this book is write Afghanistan for dummies,” he added.

Under the status of a soldier himself, Windsor had security clearance to access information on the mission unattainable to anyone outside military personnel. He was able to attend briefings and sit in on deployment instructions that would regularly exclude members of the press.

Windsor explained that his experiences as an embedded historian were largely possible due to his close relationship with the Task Force. “It worked because we knew people. The battle-group commander was a former student at the University of New Brunswick and we said hey, if I tagged along, this would be a great way to create a historical package.”

Given the nature of his involvement in the project, however, he said, “I don’t know if you could recreate this again. It’s dangerous.”

Presently, Windsor is continuing his work investigating NATO operations and Canadian efforts in the Second World War, in addition to the changing scope of the war in Afghanistan. His new book, Advance to kill: Allied strategy and Canadian tactics in the battle for the Gothic line, is set for publication in the near future.