THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 24, 2009
Jordan Michael Smith is a writer living in D.C.
For Lieutenant-Colonel Doug Martin, the idea was perfect. The Canadian military attaché wanted to set up a mock Afghan village in front of the Canadian embassy in downtown DC. There would be simulated IED blasts, armed soldiers, and Afghan actors faking critical wounds. And the blasts would first go off in the middle of the day, just in time for lunch. “I came up with it on my own,” Martin said. “It was all me--all me.”
Martin hired Lockheed Martin to transport a virtual village used by Canadian soldiers in training into the courtyard of the Pennsylvania Avenue embassy. According to the official schedule, the improvised explosive devices were intended to “cause havoc in the Village.” The Taliban was going to attack a souk and injure a civilian, who would be cared for by a Canadian medic. “It would have given people an example of what our soldiers face,” he said.
The event was part of a two-day forum yesterday and today at the embassy on Canada’s contributions in Afghanistan. “Americans often hear about coalition soldiers dying, but nine times out of ten they don’t know it’s a Canadian dying,” Martin said. “We’re so close in our relationship that it’s important for them to know what Canadians are doing.”
Martin’s vision of a besieged Afghan village in the heart of DC was nixed, however, after Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported on the event. DC residents were astonished, even slightly bemused, by the embassy’s recklessness. “The notion of bombs going off mere blocks from the Capitol and the National Mall make the recent Air Force One photo op over the New York City skyline debacle sound like a harmless schoolyard prank,” the DCist blog wrote.
Martin thinks people just overreacted. The explosions were merely going to be like a “very large firecracker,” he says. “The mock village was just supposed to be a complement to the forum, the real value of the conference is in the panels,” he says. “But the whole thing got blown way out of proportion—pun intended.” The simulated attacks had been cleared with local law enforcement, the Secret Service, the State Department, and the DC fire marshals, according to Martin.
Though he says he was disappointed the explosions were cancelled, Martin was still happy with the forum, which featured a five-minute video showing the “hyper-real” combat training Canadian soldiers undergo. The video, produced by a San Diego movie studio, showed actors pretending to launch suicide bombs and suffer chest and head wounds. Amputated limbs, high-pitched screams, and gallons of spurting blood filled the screen. “Look, the video was 10 times more graphic than the mock village was going to be, so that’s very effective,” Martin says.
Despite the brouhaha over the explosions, Martin is not deterred from bringing Kandahar life to Americans. “Pretty soon I want to hold a program on IEDs, and bring in actual IEDs. We’ll have what I call a petting zoo, where people can see and touch the different IEDs,” he says. “The only way the Taliban can kill our guys is with IEDs and suicide bombs, so it’s important for Americans to know that.”