April 23, 2002

SPEAKING OF WHICH... Random reflections


Random reflections from the funeral today:

Couldn't have asked for better April weather for Toronto. Thanks for that, Big Guy. Great turnout from the public. Could have been a few more Toronto soldiers there (don't get me wrong, there were a lot, but there could have been still more), but I know the message about when and where the funeral was had only gone out to them the morning before, and it's hard to turn that stuff on, even in 24 hours.

You can always tell the guys who they bring back from foreign deployments for these things, as opposed to the home-stationed soldiers, it's the Indian-brown tans. I should talk. After 8 hours of standing outside on a cloudless day in a beret, I look like I'm half-full, again. I swear I could get a sunburn in a snowstorm, though. I saw a ghost the other day; he told me I looked kind of pale.

The media (which were my problem today) were GREAT. I really mean that. My colleagues and I made sure we treated them like adults, and they responded with a beautiful and reassuring decorum. Everyone is afraid the reporters are going to ruin stuff like this, but they're also afraid if they don't show up. For whatever reason, maybe because I've spent time on both sides of the journalist/PR divide, I have rarely experienced serious problems with journalists disrupting ceremonies, or ambushing dignitaries, or getting run over by the procession, the way everyone else (particularly the MPs) is always worried about. A little politeness, a little preparation, a modicum of initiative, and a bit of situational awareness on the part of the media officer is all you need, and these things go just fine. Maybe I'll return to this later, with some suggestions for handling big media events, if anyone's interested.

Having heard more about Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, I'm even more sorry I didn't have the pleasure of knowing him. Until his untimely death, he was practically a poster boy for what so many of us always hoped Canada's army could become. A black immigrant kid from literally the worst, most drug-ridden neighbourhood in Toronto, he joined the local reserve unit for a summer, and stayed. The guy was a tank, famously finishing a race with a broken foot; he was also enough of a gentleman to win the love of a corn-fed Alberta blonde. The army was his way of getting out of what in the States would probably be called the "projects:" when the army reserve proved too small for his ambitions, he went for the full-time gig, joining the Patricias. In Bosnia and then Afghanistan, he did his duty; and then he died, leaving his poor father, who he loved and looked after, horribly alone.

You've got to understand one thing. The other three Canadians who died, they were no doubt good men, too, but they fit more of the general pattern. The Regular Force has for generations recruited the desperate young (and generally white) Canadian men from rural Canada: the second and non-inheriting sons of farmers and Newfoundland fishermen, or those vaguely more romantic souls who can't stand the idea of a career in a Sydney coal mine, or the iron mines of Wawa... or those from the neck of the woods where I grew up. That's their staple: that is, maybe, how it will always be. But the army, for whatever reason, despite all the money spent on anti-discrimination initiatives, has never really penetrated as a career option into the awareness of the urban poor, or the recent immigrants from countries of a different hue.

Any study of Canadian Forces ethnic mixes normally only gets politically acceptable numbers if it factors in the big city reserve units, who, because that is all they have to recruit, have that particular market a little more figured out. There is no comparison between the lists of names parading any night in a polyglot Toronto or Vancouver armoury and the more traditional English and French last names one sees in the nominal rolls of a unit like the Patricias. My colleagues have spent a lot of time trying to think of new ways to make those ratios a little better: we know from history what happens when only one portion of a country's population makes up the majority of its soldiers.

That's why Cpl. Dyer's death is so tragic, for me. I can feel for Sgt. Leger's wife, just off a miscarriage, planning to try again for a kid when he came back, now never will; and I grew up far north of here knowing girls like young Pte. Green's younger fiancee, whose freshman-senior relationship has now gone horribly horribly wrong. But Toronto's contribution... he was so... so... Toronto... you know? Something someone said or did years ago reached an inner-city kid, sparked Ainsworth Dyer's inner soldier, and he gave years of great service to his country in return. And more importantly from my point of view, we helped him become something much, much more than he might otherwise have been. No doubt surprising everyone, including himself, soldiering got Cpl. Dyer out of the cycle of despair and crime that so many of his schoolmates and neighbours succumb to... and then, after enough years had passed to instil a sense of cosmic whimsy, it took it all away from him, and him away from us, forever.

I'm listening to Dire Straits again. I always do when these kinds of things happen, I guess. If this kind of thing had ever happened to me, I hope someone would have the sense to throw out the Anglican Hymn Book and play what I'd want people to hear:

Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

Posted by BruceR at 11:45 PM



The Commons voted 166-58 in favour of declaring the Canadian horse as the country's official national horse.
-- The Globe and Mail, on what the government was doing while I was helping the army say its final goodbyes to Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer.

Posted by BruceR at 10:53 PM



Three must-read pieces today, while I was working:

"Remember Anthrax?", in the Weekly Standard, outlining David Tell's countertheory of the anthrax attacker;

"The Real War on Terrorism," an interview with intelligent freelance war correspondent Robert Young Pelton, in Salon;

and, also in Salon, "Kinda Sorta Buried Alive," about how "reality entertainment" has finally gone over the edge into actual criminal behaviour.

Posted by BruceR at 10:22 PM



The one big canard that's floated in the press a lot these last few days is the Afghanistan deaths are the first "combat casualties" the Canadian Forces have suffered since Korea. Sometimes this is qualified by saying that of course, over 100 Canadians have died since 1950 on peacekeeping missions (you can find all their names here). How these are somehow less combat casualties than what happened south of Kandahar is conveniently assumed knowledge.

It's true that at least some of those peacekeeping deaths are accidental in nature; road accidents, suicides and the like: let's disregard those. Let's also disregard the significant number of those fatalities that were due to mine strike, as those could be interpreted as just a consequence of policing a former war zone. Heck, let's also pass on the 1993 death of Cpl. Daniel Gunther, when his TOW missile vehicle was attacked and destroyed by a Serbian RPG; that, along with numerous non-fatal combat injuries from firefights were covered up by the Canadian governments of the time. Leaving those aside, there are still at least two previous instances of non-accidental fatalities on Canadian foreign deployments, both from 28 years ago, in 1974:

* Paratroopers Gilbert Perron and Claude Bergeron, killed by snipers while serving in Cyprus during the Turkish invasion of the island in that year;
* and, more relevant to this recent instance, the death of 9 Canadians when a Syrian SAM battery shot down their marked UN transport plane over Damascus.

Funny. We say we'll remember their sacrifices. But we always forget.

Posted by BruceR at 01:51 AM