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Legion Magazine – November/December 2001 « Douglas Fisher



Legion Magazine – November/December 2001

In the March/April issue of Legion Magazine I asked readers interested in our current defence policy and its assignments and programs to send me their views on “a sensible military” for Canada.

What sort of military ought we to have to take and fulfil both peacekeeping and peacemaking missions for the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Commonwealth? How vital today is a Canadian military that has been trained and equipped to fight across the range of modern warfare?

In all, there were some 30 responses by e-mail, letters, and calls, all from males, most of whom were veterans of WW II, and many of them have played a part in militia or reserve units. There was not a wide diversity of views. Only two correspondents called for the phasing out of the military as we have known it, one in favour of a force designed for policing, welfare, and social rehabilitation work abroad, the other wanting merely border patrols and civil defence guards.

Only one correspondent recommended going with the flow of pacifism, ready to settle for ceremonial and border patrol services. For our defence he would count on our juxtaposition to the greatest miliary power in the world.

Although no one who replied took exception to women in the military forces, none believed females should be in close action roles in land forces. A number of critics lamented the lingering consequences of:

(i) the “unification of the services” instituted under defence minister Paul Hellyer in the late 1960s;

(ii) the bilingualism policies the Forces initiated and pushed hard in the same period;

(iii) the closing out of so many long-established army militia units across the land that had been a focus in several score communities;

(iv) the concerted legislation in recent years which increased the cost and complexity of gun-control legislation and hedged the use of guns.

Repeatedly unification and the priority given to bilingual personnel were taken as having suborned the traditional esprit in each service generally and, more particularly, of units, ships, and squadrons within each one.

As we move into the 21st century, opinion polling indicates that the percentage of Canadians who speak French in their homes is slipping slowly but it is in the 23 to 24 per cent range. One in every four! This makes understandable the federal imperative to raise and train a fair share of French-speaking personnel. It seems clear, however, from the witness of letters that a close adherence to bilingual targets for the military have put a low, and often aggravating, cap on promotions for many unilingual Anglos in the Forces, and efforts to mitigate this are not seen as having been adequate.
Let me give you samples of the opinions that came in.

Ron Spurgeon of London, Ont., wrote: “I’d suggest some type of strategic planning for the military and the government. It is a bit bizarre that our prime minister would arbitrarily decide—as he is wont to do: ‘Gosh, let us send troops to (wherever); they are in need of help.’ An afterthought, of course, must be ‘Do we have enough resources?’ Any decisions on troop deployment should not be done in haste without all the facts.
“Why not send other than military people into situations abroad beyond the obvious ones which require military training. I do not know much about our reserve forces but surely it is more important than trying to maintain a large, full-time military. Why could we not just rely on the United States for protection and possibly contribute to their military costs?”

Douglas Stallard writes: “We need to maintain a military trained and equipped to fight, away or on our own turf, and right now we don’t have one, nor do we have the reservoir of committed people to call upon to fill their requirements. We are depending upon the Monroe doctrine, rather than the pride of our own people.”

Bernard Finestone is an honorary lieutenant-colonel for the British Columbia Dragoons, a regiment he served overseas with in WW II. He writes:
“The army is currently experimenting by contracting out base maintenance and service supply in the Balkans, and the judgment as to the value of this expedient is being debated. As being among the one million Canadians who fought in the war you and I helped ensure the current younger generation might grow up ignorant of the real nature of the world and of wars. For our reward we must cope with the ignorance and try to educate young persons that ignoring history means repeating its mistakes.”

Yvon Ouellet retired from the army in 1989 after serving 22 years, most of it in the Canadian Airborne Regiment. He was shocked in 1992 “by the revelations of bad behaviour of troops serving in Somalia in 1992, and the realization that a new generation of ill-educated and immature individuals had been accepted in the service. Some were even placed in command/leadership levels, where everyone was covering their tracks and passing the blame on to someone else. Since screening candidates is considered discriminatory, the results were inevitable.”

Robert Matheson of Edmonton has been the honorary officer of the Loyal Edmonton Regt. for the past decade. Since a brief stint in the army reserves early in WW II (before spending four years in the Royal Canadian Air Force) he’s had a keen belief in the worth to Canada of a strong reserve system. He argues that: “It was our citizens’ armies that won the two world wars when hundreds of thousands of very young men took relatively short training courses and were thrust into battle on land, sea and in the air. We don’t need nor can we afford huge permanent force establishments with the big bureaucracies. We can’t afford to send 40 year-old men and women with children away on short military missions at huge costs of maintaining families, even their transportation costs.

“I say we need a regular force of about 8,000 to 10,000 with not more than 15 top-level officers—Britain has 14 for twice the number of personnel—and a civilian component of less than 10 thousand, but with a reserve force of 50,000 to 60,000. Regulars should be the fully qualified training instructors and educators needed to train our reservists. The number of civilians at National Defence is now scandalous for the work they do, and the part they play in our defence should be drastically cut. Of course we need a ‘new military’. We need to get rid of all political ties, attachments and political correctness, including bilingualism, We want, need and should expect, the most effective defence force for the lowest expenditure possible. Every other consideration must be totally rejected. Right now Liberal connections and political correctness are the only real considerations driving our defence policy and it has to stop.”

R.B. Medley of Hamilton was a gunnery officer in WW II and he describes his dismay at “watching the gradual deterioration of Canada’s armed forces.” He believes much of this came from “the ridiculous amalgamation of all forces. The loss of identity of those individuals serving in the units had to have a demoralizing effect on those who were proud to be in them.

“Lack of government funding has reduced our Forces to nothing more than tokenism, and the federal government has created a shameful legacy for our Forces by making them a political football. We no longer train armed forces to be a fighting force. The roles they are mostly engaged in overseas now could just as well be handled by a police force. The lack of equipment is shocking. Helicopters that are on their last legs, second-hand submarines, and mobile equipment long past its replacement time. When Canada begins to recruit and train personnel to form forces which are more than watchmen we will be regarded by the rest of the world as a society capable of looking after ourselves as well as other people. It is disheartening to continue reading of the sad state of our Forces. From a proud place at the end of WW II we have come down to third-world status.”

K.C. Mesure of Orangeville, Ont., is very direct in his critique: “This Liberal government, past and present, has fragmented our military and demoralized the rank and file with imposed political policies which appear to be directed at eradicating the warrior culture so necessary to a proud, effective, fighting force. They are clearly more concerned with social engineering and the full integration of females into combat roles. This is driven by the large voting bloc women represent.

“The government must recognize our military limitations. We cannot send troops to combat zones without modern equipment. Fiscal restraints have meant our military cannot be effective in any confrontation roles. Either fully fund the military or reduce them to a police force, in which case, women could be a fit.”

Mark Lockyer of Oshawa, Ont., formerly of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, agrees with my argument that we should train police, social workers, and electricians for peacekeeping work.

He says: “Our military forces have been stretched thin and now some of the results of peacekeeping are showing up in so many being shocked or stressed, from generals down to privates. What’s bothering me most now is the sharp reduction recently in aerial surveillance of our coasts, opening us to more smuggling of drugs and people. We should spend our money on our coastlines instead of wasting our resources in someone else’s country.”

A former gunner, Dave Havard of Smithers, B.C., writes: “As world populations go, ours is still small, widely scattered, and from my small-town viewpoint, I get the impression we do too much, spread our effort thinly, and cannot really justify putting millions into sophisticated weapons, planes, submarines, etc. It looks to me like window-dressing.

“What I suggest comes from my experience as a young soldier out of high school. I was impressed at how quickly recruits became a disciplined body, ready to take orders given. Why not put the emphasis on manpower training, similar to the old basic training we all endured, but including time learning survival in the wilderness? Make it compulsory for a year or two, right after high school or at age 18. We would have individuals ready and accustomed to taking orders should the need arise. Side benefits would be getting teenagers out of their parents’ hair at a stage when they misunderstand each other. The youth would gain both the tolerance and the smoothing of rough edges engendered by basic training.”

J.W. MacDougall of Kentville, N.S., had a succinct conclusion: “What we need essentially are a coast guard and enough forces for civil defence. We should not send forces overseas again. It is a waste of time and money.”

May I close my report on the mail about the kind of armed forces we should have with my reiteration of the basic needs: l) A small permanent, mobile force with a core trained and equipped for fighting, to the death if need be; 2) A considerable reserve for each of the three elements, where possible based where they have already been; 3) A regular training system for well-paid, short-term recruits, say six to 10 months in length. Amen!
Next issue I will concentrate on new books. This time I mention just two I believe would interest heavy readers with a historical bent.

Guns Across The River: The Battle Of The Windmill, 1838, by Donald E. Graves, published by Robin Brass Studio Inc., Toronto for The Friends of Windmill Point, Box 775, Prescott, ON K0E 1T0. For this wonderfully illustrated book, the blurb on the cover is true. This is “The stirring account of the forgotten ‘Alamo of the North,’ the 1838 American attack on Prescott, Canada, told by a master historian.”

The second book was also produced by Robin Brass Studio. Family Of Volunteers: An Illustrated History Of The 48th Highlanders Of Canada, by George W. Beal. This is graceful, yet as pithy as a regimental history needs to be.