National Post Canada's invisible military (National Post, Nov. 5, 2003)

National Post - Wednesday November 5th, 2003

Canada’s Invisible Military     

Barbara Kay, National Post

Published: November 5th 2003

I know doctors in droves, businesspeople in bevies, teachers in multitudes, and as for lawyers I know all the world and his wife. In the Armed Forces I have exactly one close friend. But on November 11 I won’t be standing in the (probable) rain to honour doctors or lawyers, I will be there for unknown soldiers–who died, or may die, while I live on.

Canadians love peace so much they believe it comes to those who wish for it. We’re eloquent mourning the fallen – our heroes are victims, not victors - but we prefer that Canadian warriors, when not being killed or laying wreaths, remain mute and invisible. No cabinet minister has a military background. Jean Chrétien is indifferent to military needs. His Minister of Defence is weak in military history. Small wonder serious morale problems pervade our Forces.

Unlike in America, Canadian politicians don’t choose military bases for important speeches. The Armed Forces frequently serve as photo op decor for the Governor-General, but tellingly not for vote-seeking politicians. Politicians buff their image attending barbecues and pancake breakfasts, not sharing K-rations with soldiers. I assume, sadly, they are reliable barometers of voter preferences.

Attitudes are shaped by the virility-challenged in our liberal elites, mushy on anarchists and tough on guarantors of order. In 1970 the War Measures Act was vilified by [begin italics]québecois [end italics] commentators. But while it rages elsewhere, terrorism here died a-borning, thanks to our military. To this day liberals won’t publicly admit the potential horror of unchecked FLQ terrorism, felled in its murderous trajectory by a principled show of raw power.

Soldiers protected my family then, and I’m their biggest fan. So why don’t I know military professionals? Because there is no public forum where our paths might cross, and because, in general, military culture is looked down upon by influential Canadians.

In schools Remembrance Day should be what educators like to call “a teachable moment”. In all my years of schooling, no WWII vets – still young in those days - ever came to spark our patriotism, to share their combat stories, or discuss war history, theories and strategies. Students are introduced to other career environments. Why don’t they go to bases, meet soldiers, see new weapons technologies, and assess career potential in the modern military?

Only one youth organization, the Cadets (, purposefully links kids 12 to 18 to military culture and opportunities; but that’s because they are sponsored by the Armed Forces themselves. The once military-friendly Scouts prefer social activities and “adventures” nowadays.

Houses of worship could invite live speakers from the Forces instead of commemorating those fallen in old battles. Mine never has. Book clubs flourish amongst our most literate and engaged demographic. I’d wager few or none of them invite military historians to speak, along with the usual academics, journalists, and literary critics. There are excellent ads in movie theatres commissioned by the Forces themselves. But there is no Canadian-made movie or documentary that celebrates the positive effects on youth of a military education. Nor are there books that explore Royal Military College culture.

David Lipsky, a former reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, recently published Absolutely America: Four Years at West Point. Lipsky came for a story, and ended by staying at West Point for four years. Of the cadets there, he says: “…of all the young people I’d met, the West Point cadets…were the happiest.” He found the Academy was “a place where everyone tried their hardest. A place where…most people looked out for each other. A place where …intelligent, talented people [said] … that money wasn’t what drove them. A place where people spoke honestly about … trying to make themselves better.” West Pointers believe in honour, bravery, duty, and if necessary, self-sacrifice. Not typical students – rather a cut above.

RMC cadets are surely similar. Why aren’t these young adults models for the coming generation? It’s pure snobbery, although egalitarian Canadians would hotly deny it. Peaceniks of delicate sensibility unconsciously assign homeland defense to a rougher caste of Canadians: soldiers’ children, blue collars and rural unsophisticates.

My former babysitter, ambitious and disciplined, but necessarily self-reliant, had no money for a university education. Chrissy started in the reserves, then worked up through the ranks. She has been relocated frequently, sometimes goes months without seeing her family, has endured untold tedium and petty injustices, but is now a university-educated Lieutenant with a desirable profession (Health Care Administration) for later civilian life. The hardships were “no worse than in any other corporation”. The Armed Forces, Chrissy says, “gave me security and the venue to excel”.

Chrissy’s son wants to attend RMC ( Funny thing: RMC isn’t even ranked by quintessentially Canadian Macleans in its annual Universities issue. Call it Militaphobia: it seems to be “inclusive” Canada’s cup of tea. Pity.

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