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Legion Magazine – July/August 2003 « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

Legion Magazine – July/August 2003

This column is largely about the strains between the governments of Jean Chrétien and George W. Bush because of the war in Iraq and how the warfare itself must influence what Canada may try to do about a military presently in poor shape.
It is true that touchy issues within Canadian-American relations, particularly dealing with trade, have bothered Canadians since well before Confederation. There have been previous, rough episodes in dealings between prime ministers and presidents going back to Wilfrid Laurier’s years in office.

Take the animosity between John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy that flared after the Cuba crisis, or Lester Pearson stirring Lyndon Johnson with criticism of the Vietnam war, or of Pierre Trudeau’s capacity to annoy both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan with advice on their international policies. We survived, or remedied jointly, or grew out of those contretemps. Now in the last year of his third mandate as prime minister we have Chrétien aggravating Bush and his team by failing to align with “the Alliance” invading Iraq.

The priority which the Liberal government gave in support of a position taken by the United Nations Security Council on Iraq as against the American determination to invade in order to ferret out weapons of mass destruction was supported by two of the position parties in the House. It certainly seems to have been modestly popular with Canadians, particularly in French Canada, going by a series of opinion poll results. The plumping of Canada for multilateralism ahead of standing alongside its longtime allies and defence partners earned considerable currency in the popular news sources of both Canada and the U.S., helped along by strong criticisms of Canada’s decision by the American ambassador to Canada and by public remarks by Liberal politicians about alleged inadequacies of President Bush.

One absent element in all the foofaraw was surprising although no one I saw or heard said so. Why no uproar or open grieving that Canada wasn’t standing beside Britain as she did so thoroughly in the two mighty wars of the 20th century? Clearly that has become a truly passed element in Canadian loyalties.

Much of what develops between Canada and our neighbour in this hassle is fairly sure to be contained. This is particularly so if the Americans lose confidence in the reconstruction of Iraq and the emergence of a pluralistic democracy over a Muslim theocracy. The early omens for success ahead since the gunshots faded have not been good. It was amazing how quickly the easy victory sweep of the American and the British forces was eclipsed, gained as it was with relatively few military casualties and surprisingly low civilian casualties considering the volume of bombing. Firstly, orgies of uncontrolled looting by Iraqis flourished as resistance faded, and this wrecking was followed by mass demonstrations replete with clever, camera-kind signage and group chants demanding an end to American occupation.

As the enormous difficulties in carrying through a positive transition period for Iraq became clearer within a month or so of Baghdad’s capture, the more it seemed to a lot of Canadians, whether or not they had been for or against Chrétien’s multilateralist approach, that the most sensible component for a transition to a viable democracy in Iraq would be involvement by many countries directed or sponsored by UN agencies. Canadians and their governments have been doing such repair in many strife-torn regions since the Suez crisis of the mid-1950s. One doubts, even as one prays there will be a strong turn to multilateralism by Bush and his team, given their pride and the bent to impatience with poor results in America. And he, with what I think is truly religious idealism, is committed to using a democratic Iraq as an opener to a plan of greater challenge; that is the settlement of the tragic Palestine-Israel disagreements and an eventual acceptance by Muslims and Arab states of Israel’s permanence in what they have considered their region of the world.

It is hard to imagine there are many among Canadians of high school age and up who are not aware of the terrible vehemence both against or for Israel’s survival as a durable, accepted state in the Middle East and the immense support Israel has had from the United States (and to a lesser though substantial degree from Canada and Britain) since its emergence as a state after WW II, helped along by the impetus which Jewish suffering in the Holocaust gave to Zionist ambitions for a Jewish homeland set in and around Jerusalem.

Compared to the Israel-Palestine dilemma, a clear rapprochement of the Canadian-American differences which hang on Jean Chrétien’s multilateralist choice should be easy, perhaps not by Chrétien but almost certainly by Paul Martin, his likely successor.
After some reflection on the likes and dislikes, the long history of ethnic and religious and economic hatreds among the peoples of the world, one appreciates that something plain like Canada-U.S. relations in 2003 should be readily amenable to settlement after some determined civil discourse; this in contrast to the maelstrom of hatreds and terrors which the American administration has to wrestle with in the Middle East and give so much to in lives, energy, and dollars.

I rate myself, perhaps conceitedly, as having much in common with fellow anglo-Canadians in their 70s and 80s, and so I often jump to some broad conclusions. Our neighbours’ activities, say from politics to sport to health to entertainment, have fascinated me and our generation, but I have never wanted to be an American citizen or have Canada set on a merging course with the U.S. On these two points I’ve sensed lots of company. Certainly the anti-Americanism which has recurred in our history since the days when United Empire Loyalists were still with us has not appealed to me, although I’ve thought I understood why it continues and occasionally bursts into the open, particularly over trade issues. Righteousness is so tempting when neighbours are so open and noisy and openly full of themselves and we are so relatively muted and so readily judgmental.

It is hard to find a Canadian region or a field of production, particularly of natural resources, for export trade that has not had difficulties of some sort in selling into the United States, much of it created by congressional politicians.

Of course, the gaping tear in Canada-U.S. relations in 2003 did not stem from export and import trade matters but from a blunt disagreement on defence policy and global responsibilities. And there we badly need an open, thorough debate about defence policy and its fit with our international relations policies. Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham is spending the spring and summer traveling the land to talk with Canadians about global relations, and this may be fruitful, although an early impression was that given the seriousness of the problem too few were coming forward to take part, particularly to discuss the best Canadian military for a sensible foreign policy. This needs to begin with a thorough acceptance that as a strong fighting force our military is now figuratively bankrupt, victim of political indifference and too little spending.

But even more to the point than past budget cuts has been the chance our military missed to see and take part in an operation of astounding speed, detail, precision, and force. Since the Vietnam disaster the U.S. has focused on a capacity for rapid, devastating operations. It means a military intent on information gathered by sensors channelled through space-based communications. This gives U.S. generals real-time battlefield intelligence while reliable precision-guided munitions slam into enemy forces before they engage U.S. forces. The results come in forces which are many orders of magnitude more powerful than the similarly sized forces they face. Light units whip heavy units. Enemy armour and guns are whacked before they have targets.

If you have listened closely to Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s defence secretary, you have heard him trumpeting a revolution in warfare, and clearly, aside from some British efforts, the forces of other nations, even the Chinese and the Russians, haven’t got far on this new warfare.

What does Canada do in light of the revolution in warfare? Our forces are so neglected: short of troops, stuck with obsolete and worn-out equipment, and overtasked the past decade with too many “in and out” terms in places like Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Cyprus.

In short, we haven’t the people who have worked on plans for the new warfare, and most of the orders required to modernize the Canadian forces will take years to fill and cost us far more than the federal government has been spending annually on the military.
Sometimes the prospect for replenishing a highly technical, very usable military seems so desperate I think we’d be better to buy defence and our contributions to global missions from other countries. And as I’ve argued in previous columns, it seems apparent a majority, or close to it, of adult Canadians would readily accept a military conception that is ceremonial and capable of homeland security and disaster aid but not gunned or geared to function as attacking and killing units in foreign wars.

Whatever we do, let us hope it will be well thought out. Ever since Lester Pearson won the Nobel prize for his contribution to stopping the British and French, in concert with the Israelis, from seizing Suez, there has been something like a longing faith among a widening number of Canadians that we should lead the globe towards peace wherever it is in doubt. This is not something I savour, but as a populist at heart I accept it would accommodate a genuine penchant among many Canadians, and the current military has too many good people in it to be left in its present shabby shape.

* * *

In 1998 the regimental association of the South Alberta Regiment issued a somewhat belated, fulsome history of the unit, written by Donald Graves and produced by Robin Brass Studio Inc. of Toronto. I thought it the finest of all the Canadian regimental histories in the high quality of its text, fonts, photo reproduction, and artwork. Two years later the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Association published its magnificent illustrated history written by John Marteinson and Michael McNorgan.
Now I have in hand another Robin Brass book which is even more striking. It too is about armour and battle, mostly in Italy; some of it to do with WW I is about the regiment as infantry, and for the century before that about it as cavalry. It is the senior Canadian militia regiment, and its colourful story is in Second To None: The Illustrated History Of The Governor General’s Horse Guards, also written by Marteinson, a teacher at Royal Military College who served 35 years with the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.
The introduction by Hal Jackman, a former lieutenant-governor of Ontario, opens with a warm and true sentence: “There is a mystique, a fundamental ethos in a Regiment that captures the mind, the heart, the very soul of all who have the privilege and honour to serve in it.”

When I first started to write about life in politics I was befriended and helped along by a hero to me, the late Gregory Clark. He was a very small man but a giant as a humorous journalist and national celebrity. Darned if I didn’t find out from this book that Clark had pulled my leg for years about his role in his regiment in WW I. He had such a bag of harrowing, to blithe, tales of his survival through months of shot and shell through the twin graces of his tininess and his minuscule status in his outfit. At this late date I realize that Clark was guying my stuffy self-regard as a rank-less volunteer through WW II. Not only was Clark an acting major, he earned a Military Cross. Meanwhile his regiment was losing 839 men, killed in action, and had 1,450 wounded.

Source: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, LEGION MAGAZINE

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