A Canadian medic aiding a badly injured Afghan child; a soldier in conversation with village elders; Canadian troops emerging from primitive caves in search of an elusive enemy; a G-Wagon with its engine all but obliterated by an improvised explosive device.

The images, voices and artefacts offer a powerful and poignant glimpse of a conflict few Canadians truly understand. Canadian Forces have been deployed in Afghanistan for longer than any period in WWI and WWII, and have fought a mission more dangerous than any since the Korean War. Yet for most Canadians, the conflict is viewed through TV images of convoys moving about Kandahar and the agony of repatriation ceremonies.

Even the periodic parliamentary debates over prisoner transfers and weapons procurement explain only a portion of the mission.

Earlier this year, the Canadian War Museum opened an exhibit that will do much to encourage conversation about this engagement. From the horrific day on 9/11 through the initial deployment in 2002 and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, to the friendly fire incident of April 2002, training the Afghan National Army, and the emergence of Canada’s provincial reconstruction team, the exhibit presents a revealing look inside the mission.

Afghanistan: A Glimpse of War is based primarily on the photographic and video images of Canadian Press journalist Stephen Thorne and freelance documentary filmmaker Garth Pritchard, and includes contributions from National Defence and soldiers’ families.

While it provides images of much of the good Canadians have done – building relations with Afghan elders, reconstruction in Kabul, providing healthcare services – the exhibit is not an endorsement of the mission. Interactive stations throughout offer visitors the opportunity to leave their thoughts, including on the question of whether Canada should stay or withdraw.

As the museum’s director, Joe Geurts, explained, the display is but a glimpse of an unfinished history. If the nightly newscasts and the daily editorials can’t explain why we are at war, perhaps some of the images can. The exhibit runs through January 2008.