May 06, 2004


Against my better judgment, I've gotten sucked into this "Greatest Canadian" contest. It's certainly an eclectic list the CBC has offered up for us to choose from... any list that puts Canada's one political assassination, D'Arcy McGee, and Sarah McLachlan on the same page is worth at least a skim through. There's a potential dinner party argument on every page, too, on who's in and who's out... singers Stompin' Tom and Leonard Cohen, but not Bruce Cockburn? And so on. And there's a lot of emulable traits in most of these people. If it promotes history, it's all good.

But, hey, this is a military-themed blog, so let's look at the subset of military people they picked:

Maj. William Barker, VC (1894-1930)
Lt. Col. William Avery "Billy" Bishop, VC (1894-1956)
Maj. Gen. Sir Isaac Brock (1769-1812)
Capt. Roy Brown (1894-1944)
Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Currie (1875-1933)
Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire (1946- )
Gen. John De Chastelain (1938- )
Kondiaronk (1649-1701)
Maj. Gen Lewis Mackenzie (1940- )
Lt. Col. John McCrae (1872-1918)
Lt. Col. Dollard Menard (1913-1997)
(Capt.) Sir William Stephenson (1896-1989)
Tecumseh (1768-1813)
Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant) (1742-1807)
Maj. Gen. Georges Vanier (1888-1967)

Interesting top 15, hmm? I've excluded those, like Gabriel Dumont, who were actually fighting against Canada, who would certainly be an interesting choice for "greatest Canadian;" as well as the two famous medical doctors who also spent time in the trenches (Bethune and Banting), Pearson (also a Flanders vet) and the military industrialists (Beaverbrook, et al.) Breaking the remainder down by type and period you get:

**4 World War One aces (Barker, Bishop, Brown, Stephenson);
**3 current-era generals (Dallaire, De Chastelain and Mackenzie);
**the War of 1812 martyrs (Brock and Tecumseh);
**the two greatest Indian warriors of their respective ages (Kondiaronk and Brant);
**three of the best-known names from WW1 (Currie, Vanier, and the poet McCrae);
**a DSO-winner from Dieppe (Menard).

Now, I know the CBC says that's only supposed to be a starter list, but it's still an interesting list, more for those our national broadcaster has chosen to leave out then leave in.

Take the aces, for instance. There's been some doubt on the veracity of Billy Bishop's 72 kills, of course, but Billy Barker, Canada's fourth-highest ace and most decorated soldier ever, certainly has a valid claim. But why aces 1 and 4, and not no. 2 and 3 (Collishaw and MacLaren)? Why so many aces, at all? Stephenson (12 kills) gets bonus points for his second career as the "Man Called Intrepid" but Roy Brown? Most historians now agree that at best he drove Richthofen into the range of some Australian AA; he didn't kill the Red Baron. Of course the psychopathic Buzz Beurling, Canada's leading ace of WW2, doesn't make the list, and probably rightly so.

Of the three current generals, Dallaire is best known for his post-traumatic stress, De Chastelain for his Irish disarmament efforts, and Mackenzie for a fine bit of soldiering in the early days at Sarajevo. There's no doubt Mac would be a soldier's choice, as he was as a general, but the other two would be questionable for this honour, to my mind.

As for the War of 1812 heroes, Brock would be the last person who would ever call himself a Canadian, and Tecumseh only resided in what is now Canada for a few brief weeks before his death, after the Lake Erie front went to crap on him. You'd be hard-pressed to explain why Brock, and not Wolfe/Montcalm, but it probably doesn't bear much thinking about. The only Canadian-born general of that war, Drummond, was a butcher; but the failure to recognize the resident Canadian victors of Chateauguay and Beaver Dams is a curious lapse.

The Indian heroes are an interesting and enlightened choice, but have we gone so far into historical revisionism that Adam Dollard is now out entirely? And no John Simcoe, either? Oh, dear.

Georges Vanier is another bonus-point case... he was an excellent Governor-General, and like the other French-Canadian soldier here, Menard, a very brave man. But it'd be hard to find a Canadian historian who didn't rate Dextraze (who succeeded Menard as commander of the FMR) as a more accomplished military leader than either of his Quebec counterparts. And picking both of them, but ignoring any of the accomplished English-Canadian commanders of WW2 (McNaughton and Simonds and Rockingham and Burns) is odd, to say the least.

And of course, there's no one from the navy at all.

So it's an odd list. Not wrong, just odd. So, later this week, we'll rank the top 15 soldiers/sailors/airmen, as I'd have chosen them. Nominations into Flitters, please.

UPDATE, Monday: In case anyone's wondering, I haven't disabled the comments system... it's just that Quicktopic seems to have broken down at roughly the 5,000-post mark. Nice to know. If the outage persists, I'll have to move to another comments system, obviously. I'm kinda busy right now, so it'll be a while in that case. If you have any thoughts in the interim that need desperately shared with the outside world... well, you can still email me.

Posted by BruceR at 07:06 PM


In my limited circle, Muslims are just as angry about this little atrocity as they are about Abu Ghraib. More, even.

An unlucky Indian was in all probability among the seven illegal immigrants from South Asia who were shot dead by the Macedonian police two years ago in a fake encounter staged to impress the United States.

Last week, the authorities in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia came clean about the terrible incident which occurred outside the capital city of Skopje on March 4, 2002 and accused former interior minister Ljube Boskovski of personally masterminding the cold-blooded killing to demonstrate that his government was also in the frontline of the so-called international `war against terror'.

On the other hand, further information on the hiding of Iraqi prisoners from the Red Cross could change that.

Posted by BruceR at 09:51 AM