June 28, 2004

And I for one welcome our new insect overlords

As of 8:24, my election prediction is probably not, as it turns out, going to be 100 per cent accurate, with the Liberals doing much better in the Atlantic than I expected. Oh, well.

I would not be totally disconsolate at even a small Lib minority, albeit the smaller the better, frankly. I think the next year in Canadian politics risks being so profoundly unworkable politically that the Conservatives' long-term prospects might even be better served as being the "should-have-wons" this time, rather than have a narrow minority of their own. The perfect (again, thinking long-term here) scenario for Stephen Harper was probably the Libs getting just under them in seats and making some kind of unseemly grab for power in tomorrow and the coming days. That would be almost certain to finish them off in any subsequent election. A slight Lib minority has some of the same advantages, at least as far as where the blame for the coming "chaos" ("political fluorescence," to my mind, but others are more timid) gets put.

UPDATE, 9 pm EDT: As much as I like it, there's no WAY this current staggered poll closing thing lasts past tonight. An hour-and-a-half of televised dead air between 8 pm and 9:30 pm? The complete moment of desperation for broadcasters with absolutely nothing new to say on air is about 15 minutes away... they could have put in an extended musical half-time show, or even a couple Seinfeld episodes... as it is they're going to have to fight to bring back any viewers they had all over again. No way the networks allow it a second time. Me? I planned ahead, and got in a nice lasagna dinner, and, um, did some blogging, obviously. Oh, well, off to organize my sock drawer now.

UPDATE: 10:40 EDT: Okay, back from throwing the crystal ball into the dumpster. Wow; that was a surprise. Oh, well... it's the second-worst-case scenario for the right... a BIG Lib minority... with the Libs and NDP together having 158 seats and climbing, a Lib-NDP coalition avoids the must-appease-separatism trap I was fixating on, and gives an actual real chance of a minority coalition that holds off another election for a year or more... but makes certain the previously-mentioned leftward shift in Canadian political life. Only a total Lib blowout would have been worse for conservatism. Federalized daycare, a windmill in every pot, and a moratorium on new defence spending, here we come.

And yes, you do have to attribute some of this to a major anti-rightist tide in Western countries, that is at least partially attributable to distaste for President Bush. This was the politics of fear and anti-Americanism at play. The man has singlehandedly created a Bizarro Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolution worldwide. Just goes to show any political movement has more to fear from failings in its own leadership than failings on the other side.

Oh, yes, and we get a new defence minister, as David Pratt's been turfed. Oh, goody.

UPDATE, 11:30 pm: Just heard Layton's "I'm king of the world" speech. Not a word about foreign policy (except a restatement of the NDP's opposition to missile defence), all new rights and handouts.

UPDATE: 10 am Tuesday: As is becoming usual, I'm wrong again: I've been consistently wrong since Friday in fact... Libs and NDPs together as of this morning at only 154... one vote shy of that ruling coalition I posited. So long as that tally lasts, the Libs will have to always keep either the Conservatives or the Separatists happy, or the government could fall. "Don't tip the boat" centrism seems the only order of the day, and we're potentially back on track (knocking heavily on wood) to a new election within a year if these numbers hold. Recounts could make a big difference right now, and, regardless, House of Commons attendance records promise to become much more interesting. At this point one napping MP could conceivably bring down a government. There won't be any free votes, but otherwise a one- or two-vote margin is a paradise for MPs that want to push constituency interests within their parties. Now the party leader HAS to listen to you, or risk your just "happening" to be out of town that day...

Posted by BruceR at 08:31 PM

Election niblets

*Hear that faint slapping "D'oh!" sound in the distance? That's Mike Harris and Bernard Lord slapping their foreheads, Homer Simpson-fashion. Even if he's not PM tomorrow, Harper has definitely won the right to contest the next election for the Conservatives. Canadians may not yet wholly trust him as PM, but even those who oppose him with their hearts and tiny, Martinite souls seem to have accepted he'll make an effective Opposition Leader.

*In addition to campaign finance reform (below), the jury for which is still very much out, it's worthwhile noting that we actually do elections in Canada, when all is said and done, pretty well. The idea this year of replacing the no-longer-tenable news blackouts, so that Newfoundland results don't influence B.C. voters five timezones away, has been replaced this year with semi-staggered poll closings, to produce a comfortable and fairly similar result. It's a reasonably graceful way of bringing the Canadian voter into the Internet age, slowly. Accusations of gerrymandering, as well, are almost never made in Canadian elections, and have not played a role in the election this time. If the fix is in, it's a subtler fix. Voting is still paper-based, as well; the chances of a Bush-Gore legitimacy crisis in this election are effectively zero, even if (as seems highly likely at this hour) the popular vote winners do not also win in the seat count.

*What genius, to turn over Iraq's sovereignty while all the terrorists were watching Peter Mansbridge's Canadian election coverage!

Posted by BruceR at 06:33 PM

Conservative identity theft

One note of interest for tomorrow morning might be the number of votes stolen by the "Progressive Canadian Party," identified only as the "PC Party" on the actual ballots. Given that the rightist alternative in Canada has for generations been known as the Progressive Conservatives, and colloquially as the PC's, I have no doubt we'll have a fair bit of "Pat-Buchanan-in-Florida" voting accidents, to local Conservatives' detriment.

The Progressive Canadians are running in 16 ridings according to their website: 3 in Nova Scotia, 1 in Edmonton, and 12 in Ontario. The Edmonton voters should know better, but I suspect there'll be surprisingly high totals in a couple other ridings. Take for instance Toronto-Willowdale, where Conservative Party Jovan BOSEOVSKI is halfway down the ballot, and PC Party Ardavan BEHROUZI is at the very top. That's a real easy mistake to make. Similarly in Oak Ridges-Markham, where Conservative Jim Conrad is up against PC fringer Bob Callow.

Aggregate ballot counts even for small parties can have a big effect now, as the 2004 campaign finance reform introduced an annual federal election subsidy, pegged at $1.75 for each Canadian who voted for you. It's possible Mr. Behrouzi, in particular, could do quite well for his party out of this (although it should have no effect on the reelection of Liberal ex-premier's brother Jim Peterson in that riding regardless.)

(NB: For the record, a party that doesn't run in all 308 ridings nationally has to get five per cent of the popular vote in the ridings they do run in, to qualify for the $1.75 per head per year; any party that gets at least 2 per cent of the popular vote nation-wide also qualifies. Four parties qualified based on their results in the 2000 election, and received $22 million this year. Critics have grumbled this subsidy, which is meant to replace union and corporate donations, as well as donations from the rich, has been a tremendous help to the Bloc Quebecois, which somehow ended up with roughly three times the money it had last election to fight this campaign. Bizarre results this time, the first election under the new rules, will reinforce the Harper Conservatives' argument that campaign finance reform should, again, be reformed.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:22 PM

Stand by for the microscope, redux

For anyone who still cares, email correspondent David T. pointed out an interesting (and damning) omission from the cockpit log of the Kandahar attack, which we first discussed in September, 2002. (Maj. Harry Schmidt recently had all charges dropped against him for the attack that killed four Canadians.)

The transcript released by the Canadian inquiry deleted one key piece of text for security reasons. That transcript was evidently later fully declassified, as a fuller version was printed and broadcast in some American media in January, 2003, as David pointed out to me. It's important because the redaction comes right in the middle of the first, while-still-in-the-air attempt by Schmidt ("Coffee 52") and his flight lead Maj. Umbach ("Coffee 51") to explain to their AWACS controller what they had been firing on.

Here is how the transcript initially read, from my post of Sept. 13, 2002, with some inline commentary I had previously made removed. The starting point is almost exactly three minutes after Schmidt's bomb exploded:

AWACS: (21:29:02) Coffee 51.
Umbach: (21:29:03) Go ahead.
AWACS: (21:29:04) Yeah, I need type of bomb dropped. Result, and, type of SAFIRE [surface to air fire].
Umbach: (21:29:10) That was a single GBU-12 dropped. It was a direct hit on euh the artillery piece that was firing. As far as the SAFIRE, Coffee 52 [Schmidt's call sign]. 51 [Umbach], what do you have on that?
Schmidt: (21:29:27) Id say the same. It was euh, sort of continuous fire, and euh it appeared to be leading us as we were flying by and then as we came back around.
AWACS: (21:29:46) Do you get a top altitude of the SAFIRE?
Umbach: (21:29:52) Negative. They were burning out before here.
Schmidt: (21:29:55) I would estimate the top at approximately 10,000 ft. And just to let you know. We split in azimuth, sending 51 to the south and 52 went to the northeast. And euh, one of the guns turned back around to the east firing at 52 [Schmidt himself], euh, as well.

Turns out that's not quite accurate. There was a significant, previously unnoted redaction in a Schmidt statement, and two of the speeches were switched. Looking at multiple transcript versions (helpfully provided by Dave T.) to clean it up, this is the fullest accurate version (changes in bold):

AWACS: (21:29:02) Coffee 51.
Umbach: (21:29:03) Go ahead.
AWACS: (21:29:04) Yeah, I need type of bomb dropped. Result, and, type of SAFIRE.
Schmidt: (21:29:10) That was a single GBU-12 dropped. It was a direct hit on euh the artillery piece that was firing. As far as the SAFIRE, multiple rounds, looked like a MLRS, to Coffee 52.
AWACS: 51, what do you have on that?
Umbach: (21:29:27) Id say the same. It was euh, sort of continuous fire, and euh it appeared to be leading us as we were flying by and then as we came back around.
AWACS: (21:29:46) Do you get a top altitude of the SAFIRE?
Umbach: (21:29:52) Negative. They were burning out before here.
Schmidt: (21:29:55) I would estimate the top at approximately 10,000 ft. And just to let you know. We split in azimuth, sending 51 to the south and 52 went to the northeast. And euh, one of the guns turned back around to the east firing at 52, euh, as well.

First, the official Canadian transcript apparently had switched Schmidt (Coffee 52) and Umbach (Coffee 51) at one point, and merged Schmidt's statement with a new query from the AWACS controller. (These errors have not yet been corrected in the online version.) The AWACS operator calls Umbach (Coffee 51). Schmidt answers for Umbach, only remembering to use his own callsign at the end. (This is probably what misled the transcriber... alone, it says all any soldier needs to know about the command relationship between these two men, and who was really in charge that night, regardless of rank.) AWACS asks Umbach, the supposed flight lead, again for clarification on the situation. This time it is Umbach who answers.

Second, and more significant, Schmidt identifies, right after bomb impact, what he thought he saw. (This part was redacted, but without a little gray box to indicate that redaction, in the official transcript, back in Sept 2002; that error has been fixed now. I understand that Dave T.'s efforts may be in part responsible for that amendment.)

Schmidt says "multiple rounds, looked like an MLRS," a multiple rocket launcher, such as a BM-21, a surface-to-surface artillery piece without capability against aircraft. But then he talks about the tracer burnout height... which can only mean the small arms (rifles and light machineguns) by people around that piece . He never says the artillery piece itself was firing at him, as that is obviously impossible if he believes it's an artillery rocket launcher. And he had to know he was completely immune to small arms at the height he was at (over 10,000 feet even after weapons release).

If this is confusing, substitute some other weapon that everyone knows can only be fired at surface targets in place of "MLRS." Like "mortar" or "tank," for instance. If Schmidt had said he'd seen a mortar position engaged in firing, with small arms tracer fire coming from it as well, would it be easier to establish the level of perceived threat to a high-altitude F-16 here? Would that substitution make it easier to understand that Schmidt at first wasn't even trying to claim that the artillery piece itself was firing at him, just the people clustered around it? (This would change later, as Schmidt's defenders' story would change to saying Schmidt thought he saw some kind of anti-aircraft gun, which would at least give some means of justifying a self-defence attack.)

So, from Schmidt's own words, we know precisely what he thought he saw at the point of weapons release. Having lost track of how close to Kandahar he was, he believed he was seeing a surface-to-surface artillery piece out in the open, bombarding some distant target of its own, the crew of which were also firing their light weapons up in the air, presumably at him. A little thought on his part would have convinced him that made no sense (it was dark, and Schmidt was far, far out of range), but he didn't take that time. Instead, he impulsively dropped a bomb on a target that even at that moment, he knew had absolutely no chance of hurting him. Hence his self-defence claim is disproven.

There is no doubt Schmidt honestly believed he saw bad guys below. The accusation that criminal charges were based on throughout was that he didn't make an even minimal effort to confirm that, or even where he was at the moment, but instead just dropped a bomb on what were then from his perspective only some unidentified small arms muzzle flashes, somewhere in Afghanistan, and then dishonestly invoked his absolute right to self-defence to justify his reckless and destructive conduct. It doesn't, he was condemned by the transcript alone, and it's a true shame that he never saw his day in court.

By the way, you also see here the beginning of Schmidt's claim that he was actually firing to protect Umbach, with the reference to the guns "turning around" to follow Umbach. This was all misperception (The Canadian infantry squad on the ground did no such thing, were not even firing in the air at all. The "MLRS" in question, it should probably be noted, was actually a shoulder-fired Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon).

Posted by BruceR at 01:45 PM

We interrupt our history session for this election

I was going to finish off the Greatest Canadian military figure series today, but it'll wait until later. Instead, I'm just going to say what I would have said at the end of the final column: the 15 people I'm listing were all great, if still human people, who did great things for this country. The one thing they had in common, I think, was courage to do what had to be done. If they were afraid, they didn't act out of that fear, but out of courage, and a modicum of hope for a better future for this country.

I would encourage all Canadians to vote today. I would also encourage them to cast a ballot, not out of fear, but out of courage, and hope for our future. I do not personally believe that voting is intrinsically good. But a vote made in the name of a positive belief, an affirmative course of action, a vision, that's never a wasted vote to my mind, no matter whose crazy nutbar vision it might be. But if you're voting out of fear, then you might as well stay home. If you're going to fail as a human being anyway, you might as well be reclining with high-carb snacks while you do it, I say.

CASE IN POINT: The Globe and Mail opinion page, today. Shorter William Thorsell: "Pierre Trudeau (saas) settled all questions of importance for this country for all time. Don't you people know that?" It's this kind of nonstop booga-booga, "let's stampede the cows again" crap that really decided my vote this time out.

Posted by BruceR at 11:55 AM

June 26, 2004

Delenda

Henley's right about "homicide bomber," of course (I always preferred "human bomb," myself.) But since we're getting rid of stupid turns of phrase, it's worth pointing out another extremely stupid one, frequently used by the same people: Cato's final sentence in so many speeches: "Carthago delenda est."

People who use this seem to take it as a short-hand for virtuous single-mindedness, of the kind we need in dealing with the Middle East now, which is appalling to anyone who knows their history. Neither the Carthaginians nor the Romans were anything to rank highly in the annals of human virtue, but the simple fact is this... the Second Punic War had reduced Carthage to little more than one city on the coast of Tunisia. They'd lost all their possessions, were entirely at Rome's military mercy, and had no realistic aspirations of a renewal, only a long decline. In a public safety sense, Carthage did not threaten Romans in any way. But Cato was a greedy and envious man, and Carthage was still commercially strong and wealthy. For purely capitalistic reasons then, it had to be destroyed, its peoples enslaved, and its ground salted. Not to protect Rome, but to elevate it. The decision to launch the Third Punic War wasn't just pre-emptive, or even punitive. It was a viciously ruthless act of genocide by what had become an amoral hegemony for purely economic reasons.

You can conclude only one of two things about anyone who uses "Carthago delenda est" on their blog or writing without a great big truckload of irony: one, they're an idiot; or two, they're exactly the kind of bloodthirsty the-globe-belongs-to-Halliburton monster that antiwar types (almost always) wrongly caricature those who favoured the war against Saddam as. Of course, those two possibilities wouldn't be mutually exclusive.

Posted by BruceR at 08:43 PM

June 25, 2004

More evidence of a profoundly unmilitary nation

The Governor-General gave out two Stars of Courage, the country's second-highest honour for bravery, today. One went to an 11 year-old who courageously went for help after a snowmobile accident. The other one went to a Canadian Forces member.

Guess which one is not mentioned in any way in the Globe's writeup?

Since no one else seems to want to mention it, here's the full citation for MCpl D.M. Pawulski, from the GG's site:

On July 18, 2002, MCpl Pawulski, then Cpl, saved the life of a fellow crew member after their helicopter crashed in a heavily wooded area of northeastern Labrador. Following the aircraft's violent collision with the ground, MCpl Pawulski managed to extricate himself from the wreckage, in spite of serious back and neck fractures. Using a satellite phone, he placed a distress call after assessing the condition of his three teammates. With the still-roaring engines posing a serious threat, MCpl Pawulski freed the other surviving crew member from the twisted debris and dragged him away from the wreckage to render first aid. In spite of fading daylight and heavy rain, MCpl Pawulski, ignoring the pain from his own injuries, spent the next two and a half hours preparing signals for a search and rescue team to locate the site and airlift them to safety. Sadly, the tragedy claimed the lives of the two pilots.

I may start printing all SC citations on this site; not that there's many of them. Some one has to.

Posted by BruceR at 05:34 PM

Good post on military deployments, this

Evan Kirchhoff's got it about right. But even the numbers he's looking at are old news.

(Which, for no real reason, brings to mind my D-Day joke I never got to use because I was ignoring you all... why did none of the other Canadian political leaders join Paul Martin in France for the D-Day celebrations this June? Because they thought they were somehow going to end up in Norway.)

Posted by BruceR at 04:45 PM

Election best guess

Everyone else is making them, so I might as well do the same for Monday's election.

Conservative: 126
Liberal: 104
Bloc Quebecois: 55
New Democrat: 22
Independent: 1

Thanks to non-proportional representation, there's still a lot of swing in that final number: we're right on the tipping point from a popular vote point of view. Libs are basically +/-20 from that number at this point: able to pick up/lose an additional 5 seats to the BQ and 15 to the Conservatives, so they could still easily end up in first-place; but it doesn't matter because the Liberal collapse in Quebec has been so total. The Quebec separatist Bloc, which can't possibly get less than 50 seats, will probably designate the next PM, because with results like these there'd mathematically be almost no other way for either frontrunner to govern (155 seats required); either party will have to make significant concessions to Quebec exceptionalism and lean even more strongly to the left in both foreign and domestic policy to keep his coalition together. Either PM will probably try to hold off on actually having a parliament for the rest of the summer. New election within 12 months.

Ironically, conservatives in this country were counting the current PM to do better in Quebec in this election, in order to have any hope of getting some of their agenda through. Now, a Monday victory for them in votes or seats will be bittersweet, even symbolic, at best.

UPDATE: I actually put some thought into this over the weekend (after posting... what, you expected more from this blog?) and, while I obviously wouldn't change a jot, if you asked me the same question today, I'd say Cons 120, Lib 109, PQ 54, NDP 24, Ind/Green 1. I think the Conservatives went into the weekend on the downtrend, but that's also going to mean a little more vote-splitting that will work out to the NDP's favour than I anticipated. (Hey, if Coyne can give two predictions, so can I; only the first one counts for the bloggers' pool, though. Um, what do you mean, 'there's no bloggers' pool?' This is Canada... there's a pool for everything. There's a pool on what time I'll show up for work, for crissakes.) Again, still a LOT of throw there; the plus/minus is still about what I said it was.

Posted by BruceR at 04:39 PM

Kandahar: the bitter end

Given that Maj. Harry Schmidt was facing a maximum of six months in jail even if he was convicted on the lesser charges he would have gone to trial on, his copping a no-jail-time plea at this stage really isn't that relevant or surprising to Canadians. Conduct such as Schmidt exhibited is a menace to his own nation's troops as well as ours; the best all ground soldiers can hope for is one condition of his non-judicial punishment will be an end to his combat flying days.

It occurs to me that Mr. Harper, now in full "play-safe" mode, may have missed a potential "Sistah Souljah" moment here. A stronger statement saying that he was disappointed with the outcome, especially coupled with the PM's rather mealy "but... but... there was an inquiry" platitudes, would have alienated no one in his base, and might have won some of the Mel Hurtig nationalists, now sitting pretty much in the Martin camp. Now I'm hardly a card-carrying member of that constituency, but I've got to say if this was the strongest statement Harper can make when an American could be listening, then I'm less inclined to waste my precious time voting for him Monday, too.

Posted by BruceR at 01:27 AM

June 24, 2004

Unreality bites

Unreality has set in over Iraq. I'm not just talking about Paul Bremer's bizarre interview with the Washington Post, which listed the lifting of import duties (!) in a country without secure borders as an indication of Iraq's bright future... no, I'm talking about the general unreality at home about what has been achieved so far, and is still achievable.

It is, of course, on both sides. Word to those who still care about objective reality: THIS is an army press release, to cover a battlefield setback. Every defeated army in history has made similar statements. There were official statements just like this after Dieppe. And no doubt Shiloh. The Persians probably released one after Marathon. What could the commander of the 1st Armoured Division, many of whose men have been held on in Iraq months after their tours were supposed to have ended, going to say different at this point? "Hey we tried to get Sadr, didn't work out, so a few of you are dead, better luck next time?"

The only thing that a writer's taking this seriously at all really indicates is that their built-in spin detector is now way... way... off...

Reality is as much an unknown quantity among many of those in the opposition ranks too, of course. In order for them to plan domestic opposition effectively, however, they really have to get one thing straight. You're. Not. Leaving. You can't. Energy needs demand American basing in the Middle East. The Saudi bases were forfeited for Iraqi ones. So the Iraqi ones are the ones you're getting. I'll say it again: You're. Not. Getting. Out. Even if Kerry wins. Hell, even if Nader wins. Two or three presidential elections from now, you will still have tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq. If you do not take that as your starting premise in this discussion (witness Lapham's latest in Harper's as an example) you are being fundamentally unserious.

At the moment, the Iraq adventure is more or less where the Philippine adventure was in March, 1900; the open rebellion has calmed down a bit, there is a parallel civilian power struggle in the offing, and the Americans are changing leadership. (McKinley didn't have Kofi Annan back then, so he had to invent the Taft Commission to fill its place, but other than that we're pretty close.) That puts us about one year from the popular Aguinaldo figure's (Sadr's?) end, a year-and-a-half from a bloody American defeat that outrages the home front and leads to American reprisal atrocities (Balangiga), two years from the "zones" policy (what they called the Philippine concentration camps) and a decade away from the end of the still-to-come Moro (Kurdish?) rebellion. If everything goes according to precedent, Iraq will be a fully sovereign nation again no later than 2050.

What, you thought it would take less somehow?

UPDATE: Wretchard outdid himself this week, writing of the seizure of eight British personnel in broad daylight 1000m down the wrong river bend into Iran, "the enemy full court press has begun... The Mullahs have rolled the dice and the only answer should be to insert them, one by one, between their bearded lips." On Thursday, the eight were calmly released with apologies all around. When will prowar bloggers start to realize that their favourite Iraq "analyst" couldn't analyse a poppyseed bagel? Every falsifiable prediction I can ever recall him making (there are so few... it's mostly just paragraphs and paragraphs of platitudes) has been wrong. You could make yourself rich betting AGAINST this guy.

UPDATE #2: The New York Times has a more balanced look at the Sadrist Revolt. Sullivan sees this as vindication of the WashTimes piece, but I'd say it was just a fair assessment of what was a well-executed military operation that did not achieve all its political aims. For evidence of that balance, note the difference in the numbers: the Washington Times claimed Sadr had a "10,000 strong army" of which "several thousand" were "killed." The New York paper says that number (excluding Sadr City itself) was roughly 3,000, and is now down to around 200 active combatants... it can be inferred through a combination of deaths, wounds, captures, and desertion. This is an entirely believable military outcome, given the time and forces involved, whereas the first numbers obviously had some hype built in. The New York paper also emphasizes the non-battlefield accomplishments, like the amusement-park building, equally with the flat-out military ones.

I'm not trying to say the 1st Armoured was "defeated" per se, just that their PR officers were going to push the media to write stories like these regardless of the outcome (as I would have in their place). In the same vein as Den Beste's "all diplomacy is successful," so too are all military operations, by definition. What happened in the Sadrist revolt was the Americans set out with a widely-stated aim, "to kill or capture Sadr," that turned out to be militarily unachievable. So their commanders changed their aim mid-op to something actually achievable -- "restore control of the country and diminish Sadr militarily"-- and ably met that new aim. To call that either a defeat or a victory is just simplistic.

There's another good piece here. I question the "1500 killed" estimate, but the Post does at least attempt to quantify civilian casualties, which neither of the others do. I suspect total active Sadrist casualties (including wounds and captures) could be in that ballpark, though. Given that the same piece describes an episode where 400 Sadrists "vanish" overnight, it's reasonable to assume that of those c. 5,000 armed men Sadr had on his side in the beginning, the majority just decided this was not a winnable fight and have dropped their rifles for the time being.

Posted by BruceR at 09:26 PM

And the 21st century belongs to...?

American F-15Cs apparently have a little trouble with Sukhoi Su-30s, when they're well-flown for a change:

The success of the Indian air force against American fighter planes in a recent exercise suggests other countries may soon be able to threaten U.S. military dominance of the skies, a top Air Force general said Wednesday.

"Other countries?" I don't think so. Just India.

Posted by BruceR at 06:51 PM

June 23, 2004

GREATEST CANADIAN MILITARY FIGURES PART 3 (#5-8)

(See previous entry.)

The open question in military historiography has always been the limits of what any one man can accomplish. In discussing Canadian military contributions that number in the millions in personnel numbers in the two world wars, focussing on the general or the battlefield hero can be deceptive. General staffs are integrated, collective decision-making organizations; so are regiments, in their own way. The influence of an individual is always tightly circumscribed.

Sometimes, of course, one person's misfortune can become his army's. That happened at Mount Sorrel in June, 1916, when a lucky shell blew away Maj. Gen. M.S. Mercer, commander of the Canadian Third Division, just before a German attack. The leaderless Canadians fought on, but the command vacuum was a huge factor. Mercer would be the highest-ranking Canadian soldier ever to die in combat.

In other cases, an individual's shortcomings can apparently have no effect at all. Canadians recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, where the Third Division again, landing at Juno Beach, drove farther inland and with fewer casualties the first day than any of the other four British and American divisions in the first wave. A notable victory, right? So why do we not pause to commemorate the division's commander, Maj. Gen. Rod Keller?

Sadly, the truth was Keller was an alcoholic who spent most of the run-up to D-Day with his married British mistress. Accused of several invasion-security violations in England, he apparently had little to do with his own staff's D-Day planning. Obsessed with his own safety while in command in those crucial early days in Normandy, he fell apart more or less immediately upon arrival. The verdict of his troops: "Keller is yeller." His corps commander, Simonds, inexplicably kept him on until August, even after Keller asked to be relieved (!), at which point an accidental bombing of Canadian lines by American B-17s wounded him, ending the suspense. In the end, however, Keller's lack of competence seemed to have been no obstacle at all on D-Day proper. Such is the irony inherent in any such list as this one... the Canadian soldier did as well as could be expected on the whole, whether he was well-led or no.

Anyway, on to #5-8:

8) Maj. Gen Bert Hoffmeister (1907-1999): If you don't count Roberts' few hours of watching his division be destroyed from offshore at Dieppe, and those generals who would be elevated to yet higher command, Canada had eight combat divisional commanders in the Second World War. Two were very poor (Keller and Kitching); three were unremarkably competent (Foster, Spry and Keefler). Three others were, in retrospect, rather good. Bruce Mathews, the Toronto executive-turned-soldier, was praised for courage and competence; Chris Vokes was the soldiers' favourite, a drinker, a womanizer, and as rough-hewn as they come (the soldiers' joke was that if you removed the words "f*ck" and "frontal" from the English language, Vokes would be unable to either give orders or communicate).

But the best of them was probably Bert Hoffmeister. A lumber company executive from Vancouver and reserve infantry major, he had gone to England with the first wave in 1939. Noticed and given a regiment by Vokes in 1942, he distinguished himself in action in Sicily the next year, and was given a brigade in Vokes' division. Vokes relied on him heavily in the bitter street-to-street fighting in Ortona that December; in March 1944 he was appointed commander of the 5th Armoured Division in Italy.

The 5th Armoured was probably Canada's best division at war's end, and certainly the one with the strongest sense of divisional identity: the "Mighty Maroon Machine," named after their shoulder patches. Hoffmeister had a lot to do with this... the British ranked him with the best of their own divisional commanders. His decision to attack early, before all the preparations had been made, in the battle for the Gothic Line in August 1944 was probably the boldest command decision by a Canadian general in the entire war, and paid off in a remarkable victory. If he had a flaw, it was that he followed the Simonds approach of leading battles from the front, rather than HQ, sometimes putting himself at unnecessary risk and cutting himself off from useful information.

"Hoffy" was selected to command the Canadian division in the planned invasion of Japan that turned out not to be necessary. After the war, he returned to private life, and the lumber business. Awarded the DSO and two bars for battlefield brilliance and courage, he died in 1999.

7) Air Commodore Len Birchall (1914- ): It's too easy to focus on generals. Canadian soldiers from Alexander Dunn (who won the Victoria Cross at Balaclava in 1856) to Tommy Prince have engaged in great battlefield feats. It's hard to point at one single act, however, that changed history more than then S/Ldr Len Birchall's sighting of a Japanese invasion fleet off Sri Lanka in 1942.

Birchall's location of Admiral Nagumo's fleet while flying a Catalina patrol aircraft in April 1942, and he and his crew's dedication to sending their radio message with accurate course, location and strength information while the Zeroes closed in on them, led to the defenders of Colombo being prepared when the air attacks came. Shot down, two of the crew were killed in the water. The rest were picked up, and Birchall was tortured in an attempt to reveal whether a radio message had been sent. He steadfastly denied it, leading the Japanese to launch their assault against a prepared defense.

As senior soldier in the Yokohama prison camp he was sent to, Birchall repeatedly intervened at risk to his own life to prevent acts of savagery against other Allied captives. Called the "Saviour of Ceylon" by Churchill when it was believed he was killed in action, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for that; but it was for his steadfast leadership in the camps that he would receive the Order of the British Empire for postwar.

6) Lieut. Gen Guy G. Simonds (1903-1974): Simonds is certainly the most controversial character in Canadian military history. Was he a genius, or a failure? The CBC TV series "The Valour and the Horror," in their revisionist mien, declared him a ruthless butcher. Bradley and others considered him the best general Canada had. Compared to Canada's other two corps commanders in the Second World War (Foulkes and E.L.M. Burns) he was definitely the best, but that's rather faint praise.

Here's what most historians will agree on: Simonds worked hard to minimize casualties, but never shirked from them. He was creative in saving lives when he could be: inventing for himself a fleet of armoured personnel carriers, among other innovations, to break through German lines. He openly emulated his mentor Montgomery, who would treat him as his protege throughout the war. His faults, unsurprisingly, mirrored Monty's own -- cold, difficult for other officers to get along with, arrogant, overly reliant on artillery -- but without that other general's human touch. He issued original and thorough plans, then watched the battle from the front lines, taking considerable risk. He led Canada's first division to see sustained combat successfully through the Sicily campaign, and the Canadian tactical victories after August 1944 in Holland and Germany, once Simonds had mastered corps command, rightly belong to him more than anyone else. After the war, as commander of the army during Korea, he ably remobilized the army for new challenges.

But the problem, though, will always be his first three months of corps command in Normandy. Simonds had three divisions of raw troops, and three unimpressive divisional commanders to call on (Keller, Kitching and Foulkes), and had never really commanded a corps in combat himself. He made three breakout attempts in four weeks; the first two were slaughters (as were similar attempts by British corps, it should be noted), and the third (Operation Tractable) failed to do the one thing it absolutely had to do: close the Falaise Gap. If the Canadians had closed that gap sooner, trapping the entire German army in France, the war in Europe would have been significantly shortened. But they could not. You can say this wasn't Simonds' fault, and you wouldn't be wrong... Simonds gave orders to plug the German retreat path, but they were inexplicably disobeyed by his personal friend George Kitching, commander of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, the only formation in a position to alter events from the British side of the gap through forceful action. (Kitching's failure here is a leading candidate for the most damaging act by a Canadian soldier in wartime... it's even more baffling when one notes that Kitching knew the Polish Armoured Division was cut off and fighting for its life in the gap, and he STILL refused to advance.*) Kitching was demoted and sent to Italy, of course, but it was too late.

The real tragedy, however, is that Simonds and Simonds alone had recently relieved Kitching's predecessor, the hard-driving Worthington, because he felt the old tanker general was too elderly for combat. There is no doubt in this author's mind that, had Worthington (or Hoffmeister, or Vokes, for that matter; see above) been in charge at Falaise, the Germans would have been trapped, Simonds would have been lauded as a battlefield genius, and the war would have been months shorter in duration, with thousands fewer dead. Simonds may have understood the mathematics of combat, but he simply never mastered people.

5) Air Vice-Marshal Raymond Collishaw (1893-1975): Canada's World War One fighter aces often rank high on any standard list of Canadian war heroes. The number one and three on the Canadian list (Bishop and Barker) are well-known (both made the CBC list that started all this). But Bishop's victories and Victoria Cross have been called into question by historians, and Barker's 50-odd aerial victories were mostly on the lower-intensity Italian front and included many observation balloons... his famous 60-to-1 duel at war's end (still one of the greatest single fighter-pilot accomplishments ever), for which he won his own VC, notwithstanding.

But Ray Collishaw was probably a better aerial killer than either of them. Unfortunately, flying for the Royal Naval Air Service in a Sopwith Triplane (wazzat?), not as many people noticed. The RNAS, unlike the Royal Flying Corps, insisted on positive confirmation before crediting any kills... in all likelihood Collishaw's actual kill number exceeded any British or Canadian ace (He believed his real number was 81). They included Richthofen's second-in-command, 30-victory ace Karl Allmenroeder (Collishaw's all-Canadian "Black Flight" and the Richthofen Jasta clashed several times in triplane-on-triplane duels.) He, too, did a crazy dawn solo air raid like Bishop's; the difference is, his was actually witnessed.

War's end didn't stop Collishaw. He fought in White Russia against the Bolsheviks, then in the Iraq and Kurdish revolts. Promoted Air Commodore and made commander of the British air forces in Egypt in 1939, he led that organization through the early victories over the Italians until 1941, at a time when the British were heavily outnumbered in the air and on the defensive. Thanks largely to his efforts, the Italians consistently overestimated the numbers of aircraft facing them. A born killer as a young man, he was recognized as a master of military deception in his middle age. There are few more rounded air warriors in any military or any era.

Next time: numbers 1 through 4 (bet you can't guess all four yet), the military figure I most identify with, and the one I'm most proud to have met (neither of which, unfortunately, are on the list).

*Kitching's defense then and afterwards for failing at Falaise was twofold: he'd just lost one of his brigadiers in action (a setback, true), and he didn't want to lose touch with his logistics. But this was the kind of moment tankers claim to live for. Simonds had correctly ordered a full-out pursuit against what for a brief moment was a beaten and retreating enemy, an order the Poles had seized upon with such alacrity they'd plunged in headlong and gotten themselves surrounded; he should have been able to count on Canada's senior tank commander in Normandy to grasp the "Tally Ho" moment, too, or at least go to the other division's aid.

Posted by BruceR at 02:01 AM

June 22, 2004

Veterans Affairs? I could live with that

Yes, I did find this very amusing, thanks for asking.

Posted by BruceR at 12:52 PM

Hayes on the Daily Show: truly appalling

Just wanted to say while I was writing yesterday, I saw Stephen Hayes' appalling appearance on the Daily Show, where he actually denied Iran had used chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War, because it suited his argument that Saddam was uniquely evil. Stewart was visibly flabbergasted. I submit that anyone willing to obscure fact that badly in public probably shouldn't be trusted on any analysis of some "Saddam-Al Qaeda connection." And it's truly disgusting that a comedy show host knows his history better than the Weekly Standard's supposed expert on the subject.

Posted by BruceR at 10:54 AM

June 19, 2004

GREATEST CANADIAN MILITARY FIGURES, PART 2 (#9-12)

(See previous entry.)

A few things come to mind in any exercise like this: for instance, there's no real place in any "greatest" list for the heroic failures, or the tragic heroes. The obvious example in Canada's case is Brig. Gen. John Lawson, who as a staff officer in Ottawa advocated against sending a brigade to Hong Kong in 1941, was ironically chosen as its commander anyway, did the best he could in a forlorn hope, and finally died with a pistol in his hand when the Japanese overran his headquarters... making him the most senior Canadian army officer to die from direct enemy fire in that war. Death before dishonour aside, that's just sad... and had no positive effects on anyone, at all.

A more complex case is Gen. Andrew McNaughton. The counterbattery genius who silenced the German artillery at Vimy, a founding force in Canadian national scientific research programs, a successful if controversial defence minister... he did so many things so well. But as the first commander of the Canadians abroad in England, he was a spectacular failure, who in the end left Montgomery no choice but to sack him. At first adored by his troops (when he only commanded the one division; you could make the case everything went downhill as soon as McNaughton got a corps), his policy of keeping the Canadians as a unified force-in-being in England, even if it meant restricting the kind of seconded and detached duties that would have led to some building up of useful battle experience, led to an army still comprised of battlefield novices even in 1944. When he wasn't engaged in high-level politics as Canada's senior political representative in Britain, he was down in the weeds, inventing new gunnery techniques personally, but he all but ignored his actual appointed job as commander of the army in the field, that being to prepare his men for battle. His able student Crerar was able to pick up the pieces after he left, but only after far too much time had been wasted.

You just have to compare McNaughton's idea (shared widely at home, it should be added) of an insular, self-contained Canadian army with the RCN or RCAF at the same time -- or even Currie's WW1 Canadian Corps -- which traded officers with the British in both directions with aplomb whenever it helped the greater cause, to realize that his far-too-strict emphasis on national self-sufficiency only hurt Canada's fighting ability on the ground in the long run. In his greatest test as a leader, McNaughton lost track of his own aim and intent, and thousands of his soldiers went into battle less ready than they could have been as a result of that. To my mind, that more than cancels out his WW1 successes, and his accomplishments back in Canada, as well.

Anyway, on to the next four in the Flit list:

12) Gen. Jacques A. Dextraze (1919-1993): "Jadex" or "Mad Jimmy" as he was known, was arguably the most-loved Canadian general of all time, at least from the troops' perspective. A rubber salesman who enlisted as a private in the Fusiliers Mont-Royal in 1939, he was commissioned lieutenant after that regiment was decimated at Dieppe. He won the DSO at May-Sur-Orne in Normandy as a 24 year-old company commander. Made battalion commander, he personally talked an 800-man German unit at Groningen, Holland, into surrender, receiving a bar for the same medal. As CO of 2nd Battalion Van Doos in Korea, he received further accolades, as a courageous, aggressive leader.

Promoted brigadier-general, he was sent to the Congo in 1963 as second-in-command of the UN mission there. With the country collapsing into genocidal anarchy and numerous isolated aid and religious organizations in danger, he organized and led a group of Canadian and Nigerian troops in a series of ludicrously risky rescue missions, travelling in light planes and helicopters, that rescued hundreds of NGO personnel through 1964. In one effort, he landed his personal helicopter to pick up 4 missionaries with rebels in hot pursuit, and was forced to hold hold the enemy off himself with his SMG until they could escape. (Dextraze's force operated concurrently with Mike Hoare and his "Wild Geese" mercenaries, doing the same thing on the other side of the country.) He received the CBE for that one.

It's been 30 years since Dextraze was the Chief of Defence Staff, but Jadex is still the one soldiers fondly recall in that role. He always led from the front and always demanded as much from himself as he did from his men.

11) Lieut. Gen. Charles Foulkes (1903-1969): I tried hard to keep Foulkes off this list, but it's impossible. He's the Organization Man of Canadian military history, the Man in the Khaki Flannel Suit... no one really seems to have liked him, but he never seems to have pissed anyone off, either (until he diplomatically won the bureaucratic battle for postwar control over the army, beating out rival and presumed frontrunner Guy Simonds). Utterly gray in his personality, cold, managerial... Foulkes was very much like his boss and mentor, Harry Crerar (#13 on this list). He apparently got along very well with the American manager-generals (Bradley, Bedell Smith, Eisenhower), too.

After the war, as head of the army through the late 40s, and head of the armed forces through the 50s, Foulkes was a key figure in the creation of the NATO military organization, frequently acting as the "disinterested-party mediator" in those councils in fine Canadian fashion. He led the Canadian military ably through Korea and UNEF. When he left the military in 1960, the armed forces were at the peak of its post-war strength. It has, frankly, been downhill ever since. But whether Foulkes' departure was symptomatic or causative in relation to that decline is an open question.

I thought to exclude him because Foulkes never really had an independent command in a shooting war. Starting your battlefield experience as head of a division in Normandy will do that. In Northwest Europe, he was always second-fiddle to Simonds, his corps commander and the Canadians' real tactical planner. Getting command of First Corps in Italy, he successfully managed its transfer en masse to Holland in early 1944, which only put him under Simonds' thumb again. There were no defeats that could be fairly blamed on him, but no significant personal successes, either. If he left a mark in wartime, it can't be found. But his profound influence on the Canadian postwar military (including, like Grant below, his weaning of the armed service from British influence in favour of American) can't be denied. To wish for the glory days of Canadian peacetime soldiering is to wish for the days Foulkes was in charge.

10) Vice. Adm. Harold Grant (1899-1965): There was a brief moment in 1945 when Canada had the third-largest navy in the world... yet hardly anyone in Canada remembers its leaders. Nelles, the Chief of Naval Staff, and Murray, the theatre commander (arguably the only time a Canadian has ever been a strategic-level commander) in the North Atlantic, were competent men both, although Murray would take responsibility for and fall from grace over the Halifax rioting at war's end.

But to this author a more impressive man than either was the fellow who took up the reins from them post-war... Harold Grant. A decorated naval officer as captain of the light cruiser HMS Enterprise (a DSO for a 1943 surface action, and a mentioned-in-dispatches for D-Day), he was knocked out of the war in Europe with a wound while supporting American troops at Cherbourg (he would receive the Bronze Star for that). When VJ-Day came, the former "captain of the Enterprise" was steaming west towards Japan as captain of the newly Canadianized light cruiser HMCS Ontario.

But it was his contributions as head of the postwar navy where Grant had the greatest influence... perpetuating the RCN's wartime expertise as a predominantly anti-submarine and convoy escort force when that was exactly what NATO wanted of us. His influence was key in detaching the RCN from Royal Navy tradition, in favour of a close interoperability with the US Navy. His insistence that the key RCN vessels henceforth be a flotilla of Canadian-built destroyers resulted in the navy makeup that persists today. Always convinced that the strength of a navy lay in its personnel, as head of the navy he successfully managed both our Korean War naval commitments, and the major naval rebuilding effort that resulted in part from his strenuous efforts in Ottawa. He has been called "Father of the Postwar Navy;" the degree to which the RCN remains the most balanced and budget-cut immune of Canada's armed services, is, more than anyone else's, a tribute to Grant's sensible and farthinking planning.

9) Lieut. Col. Charles-Michel d'Irumberry De Salaberry (1778-1829): We couldn't go much above #10 on this list without mentioning the victor of Chateauguay, the biggest victory ever won by Canadian-raised troops on Canadian soil.

De Salaberry was lucky in his start to life: the Duke of Kent was a family patron, and helped buy his way into British military service and society. As a young officer in the 60th Foot he distinguished himself during the British conquest of much of the French Caribbean in 1794-95. In 1806 he began his productive relationship as the understudy of emigre military theorist Francis de Rottenburg, intellectual font of the British light infantry reforms then being executed by Moore, and at that time CO of the 5/60th, the first British infantry battalion to be allowed to forsake their redcoats for low-visibility green uniforms. Following the unsuccessful 1809 Walcheren expedition, he ended up returning to Canada as Rottenburg's aide. There he set up the Provincial Corps of Light Infantry (the "Voltigeurs"), a gray-clad battalion of French-Canadians trained to British light infantry standards. It became the core of a tripwire advance force on the Quebec border de Salaberry would command during the War of 1812.

The problem was, the British commander in North America, George Prevost, HATED de Salaberry (they'd known each other since the West Indies), apparently systematically removing his name from all favourable military despatches. So his successful skirmish at Lacolle in 1812 was credited to another, as was his successful defence on the Chateauguay River in late 1813 that, among French Canadians at least, he will always be remembered for. Yes, the American commander was timid and apparently looking for an excuse to turn back, and yes, the ground was entirely in de Salaberry's favour, but in the end, it was still a legit victory... 4,000 Americans honestly tried for four hours to blow past de Salaberry's 500 Canadians, and failed, with only 5 Canadian fatalities ... however much Prevost would soon try to claim it for others not even present.

Next time: Nos. 5 through 8, and why Canadians celebrate D-Day without mentioning the Canadian commander.

Posted by BruceR at 01:44 AM

June 18, 2004

GREATEST CANADIAN MILITARY FIGURES: PART 1 (#13-15)

(You may want to read the post that started all this before going on.)

The premise: that it's possible to generate a better list of 15 genuine Canadian military greats than the history-challenged CBC could.

The result will be idiosyncratic, of course. Nothing to stop anyone from making their own, though. Here were my groundrules:

1) The military figures picked are not necessarily the most influential (which would tend to reward generals), or the most courageous.. but they had demonstrate a measure of both. Their actions have to have had an obvious influence on Canada's fortunes, on the battlefield and/or off.

2) They have to demonstrate a record of greatness, not just a passing moment, or flashes of greatness counterbalanced by erratic behaviour in other ways or at another time. Everyone gets lucky sooner or later, but great leaders should be living refutations of any Peter Principle, among other things. Surely a valid sign of greatness is consistency; those who are truly emulable may have average days, but never awful ones, and are never promoted beyond their ability.

3) Finally, and this will be the most contentious I'm sure, the figures on this list must have demonstrably fought for Canada. If they came after Confederation, they have to have sworn allegiance to this nation. Those who came before are obviously harder to tease out motives for, but from this viewpoint, they have to have fought out of more than a sense of professional military obligation, and in the cause of a British (or French) North America. Living here after their fighting days were over is a good start.

The allegiance proviso rules out a talented separatist warrior like Dumont; the residency proviso excludes Tecumseh. And excluding the professional warriors of other armies, who fought here because they were ordered to, excludes pretty much everyone else in the Grade 10 history book, too: Brock, Wolfe, Montcalm. After all, if we're going to call Wolfe or Brock a Canadian, there's no reason to likewise call Garnet Wolseley one, who spent around as many years here, had his own profound effect on Canadian military and political history, and visibly loved the locals more than any of the others did. But we all understand why that would be absurd, so why do we grant honorary Canadian status to the others?

So what does that leave? Well, you're about to find out. Here's the first three of the Flit fifteen, in order from the bottom:

15) Brig. Gen. Raymond Brutinel (1882-1964): Canada has had its fair share of military theorists, actually. George Denison's mounted rifles musings attracted the Czar of Russia; McNaughton (more on him later) practically invented indirect counterbattery fire. But Brutinel is less known or remembered than either of them, and that's just wrong. His creation of techniques to use machine guns in an indirect role became a key part of all the Canadian, and later other Commonwealth, attacks, in WW1 Flanders, and played a major role in the Canadian victories at Vimy and Amiens. His "Independent Force" was the first successful motorized infantry unit, using cycles, motorcycles, and armoured cars in an attempt to bring exploitation back to the World War One battlefield, and a precursor of Liddell Hart's all-mechanized experiments, or O'Connor's 1940 desert force. As a pre-WW2 mechanized warfare theorist, Griffiths and others have rated Brutinel as the peer of Fuller or Liddell Hart. Returning to his birthplace France in his old age, but still fond of his adopted country, he would play a role in spiriting Canadian war hero and future governor-general Georges Vanier out of Paris as it fell in 1940.

14) Col. James Fitzgibbon (1780-1863): We've talked about Fitzgibbon before. He was part Sgt. Harper, part frontier sheriff. A Brock protege of sorts, a physically imposing Anglo-Irish sergeant commissioned from the ranks because the general thought he had smarts, too, the-then Lt. Fitzgibbon is best known for the Brock-like act of accepting the surrender of 462 Americans with 46 of his own men at Beaver Dams in 1813, by giving them a choice between an Indian massacre and surrendering to his passing white troops. (In truth the Indians were near-exhausted and the battle stalemated before he arrived.) The act won him a captaincy in a Canadian regiment, and he stayed on after wars' end. Blessed with a flair for self-promotion, it is true, and hardly immune to corruption, Fitzgibbon also had undeniable physical courage, and became known for breaking up local riots single-handedly. Mackenzie and other reformers considered him the elitist "Family Compact's" hired muscle, and with reason: in 1837, he led the ragtag militia force that, for lack of a better verb, "defeated" Mackenzie's rebellion in Toronto. But it is fair to say that, if he hadn't been in command of the militia at the time, and defied the governor's orders about moving quickly against the rebels, that that particular rebellion would not have been snuffed out before it had really started, with unpredictable consequences for English Canada's future.

13) General H.D.G. Crerar (1888-1965): Harry Crerar's is not a well-known name, by any measure. Yet as commander of 1st Canadian Army, he was Canada's senior field soldier in WW2. He had previously won the DSO as a brilliant junior artillery officer in Flanders, where he worked with McNaughton and Brooke. A limited man in many ways, still it is largely due to his organizational efforts that there was more than a couple Canadian divisions in Europe at all. To field a five-division army, he pushed the recruitment system to the breaking point, nearly sundering the country over conscription. At times praised and at others loathed by his superior, Montgomery, he was not loved by his troops, either. Like his equally cold subordinates Simonds, Foulkes and Burns, he was respected by the men, at best. He cannot escape his share of responsibility for the early debacles of Hong Kong and Dieppe. But in the end, the Canadian army in World War Two was built on Crerar's plan, led and kept together, once the fighting had started, by Crerar. And at the end, his creation was dismantled and folded back into civilian society under Crerar, and postwar command left in the able hands of Foulkes, his protege/doppelganger. He's more a Brooke or Marshall-type figure than a battlefield commander like Monty or Bradley, but he was estimable in his own right, and certainly had a profound influence on Canada's land force performance in Europe, and since.

Tomorrow: entries 9 through 12.

UPDATE: "Tomorrow" on Friday can sometimes mean Monday, it seems.

Posted by BruceR at 07:57 PM

THAT'S REASSURING

"In the minutes before the arrival of a hijacked airliner, the lives of tens of thousands of Canadians could depend on rapidly scrambled U.S. combat jets and a desperate telephone call to an Ottawa cabinet minister to secure a timely "shoot-down" order..."

"U.S. combat aircraft at bases in Syracuse, N.Y., and Swanton, Ohio, would probably be the closest fighters to Canada's largest city in case of an urgent threat."

--Globe and Mail, today

Posted by BruceR at 10:00 AM

June 17, 2004

WHAT YOU WILL NEVER HEAR ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE CURRENT ELECTION

We have all been reminded. It's official.

All Canadian Forces members in Ontario at least, have been formally reminded to obey both the spirit and the letter of Queen's Regulations and Orders section 19.44, and instructed to remain scrupulously neutral in the current federal election. And I quote:

"A commanding officer shall ensure that any activity that takes place on a defence establishment, including a base or unit, under his command does not affect the actual or perceived political neutrality of the Canadian Forces..."

Never mind those pedants who would suggest that the law technically only applies to Regular Force members, not reservists, and only to activity in Canadian Forces installations. Don't you buy that for a minute. For the last month, and for the next two weeks, I am to have no political opinions of any kind, and a good thing for me, too. I wouldn't want to get into trouble.

For, you see, if that QR&O did not exist, I might be tempted to say that, regardless of their performance pre-election, the shameful display of gutter-politics, fear-mongering, vote-buying and outright lying we have seen from one party in particular in this election would, in any just country, lead to them not only being denied Ottawa, but being denied service at donut shops for at least the next four years.

No, anyone who wanted to know how low this party I'm referring to has sunk, and continues to, would have to go to one of those other, better Canadian blogs, like that Andrew fellow's, or Paul whats-his-name, or C-squared, as we called him in his gangsta rap days. But you won't hear any of that non-neutral talk from me, no sir. Wouldn't be prudent.

Better if I just stick to the facts. Actually, it's better if we all did, as impossible as it may seem. For instance, the fact that the difference between the Liberal Party's proposed defence spending increase ($600 million more) and the Conservatives' ($1.7 billion, but only after five years) hardly seems to merit all the fuss it's received. As we've catalogued here in posts past, neither increase would do much to increase Canada's military deployability abroad, enhance domestic security, or stave off the suggested demise of one or more whole armed services in a decade or so. The idea that with such paltry sums at issue, that either of those parties could be stigmatized as the party that wants "tanks and aircraft carriers" is surely not possible in a rational nation. Which we all know this one is.

The gag on my opinions does prevent me, lamentably, from discussing the various party's energy policies, an area I actually know something about, for once. How I'd love to go on about how unfavourably one party's unique ideas on a national public windmill utility compare, on a total dollar basis, to the massive cost overruns at the Darlington nuclear power plant we once were all excised about, even if Darlington does generate more power for the price, or how they would vastly dwarf, both in total price and cost-per-kilowatt added capacity, the recent Pickering retubing cost-overruns that helped bring down the Ontario Conservatives. Oh, well.

I will say, though, that this election has crystallized one thing for me. It should be safe for me to say this, because all parties seem to believe it to varying degrees, but as nice as our Charter of Rights may be to read and hang on the wall, the idea that any expansive judicial opinion loosely based on it, by an distant and appointed jurist, must always and forever outweigh any decision made by the people and those they elect, simply because it's a "rights issue," and regardless of the merits of the case or its popular support or lack thereof, is not only perverse, it's profoundly un-Canadian.

At times it seems our country is gradually slipping into the status of a secular theocracy, where a few bewigged quasi-mullahs tell us what to think and what to believe. But is that really a country worth defending? My private hope that one, just one, of the leaders vying for our vote today might not subscribe to the new orthodoxy of autocratically-determined diktats-from-on-high, might want the people to someday have a voice again, but fears to say so more explicitly than he absolutely has to right now because of all the scaremongering going on, is probably too much to dream for. Isn't it?

ONE MORE THING: Non-Canadians watching only need to know one thing about the Canadian election. The only reason this election is close is because a vast plurality of Canadians still haven't decided which candidate will most screw over the future prospects of yon Mr. Bush the most. Bush-hatred is the elephant in the corner of this election, and is the reason Conservative support is far softer than the polls would indicate, and the reason the most likely outcome of this election is still an unworkable minority-position stalemate for one of the two leading parties, leading to a second election next year. Canada-U.S. relations has always been an election issue, as it should be. But it's never been THE ONLY election issue. Whoever wins, the "Screw Bush" vote will be in the majority June 28, as it is in nearly every other country in the world at present.

Posted by BruceR at 11:41 PM

I SUPPOSE I SHOULD EXPLAIN WHERE I'VE BEEN ALL THIS TIME

Apologies to all (or at least, any left) for my recent hiatus. Thanks to those who wrote, concerned, as well. And while this isn't meant to remark a complete return of any kind, you all deserve a little more explanation as to the transition than I've given.

As some of you no doubt have figured out, I'm at IT resource for the University of Toronto, among some other things. And it was part of my job, this spring, to look at the way the public affairs office was doing web communications on the university news site, www.news.utoronto.ca. Some things the site did quite well, others it could do better.

I realized that if I was ever going to elevate that site to a higher level in a reasonable amount of time, I had to commit completely to the site, almost treat it as my own for a while. Knowing the workflow of this kind of office pretty well, it was obvious to me that using a weblog (a massive, controlled weblog, but still a weblog at its core) was the obvious solution. Plus the idea of using a weblog backbone to shape internal news content, while tempting to many, had also never really been fully implemented, at least not in this sector. So that was the challenge.

I'm reasonably happy with News@UofT 2.0, which started rolling out two weeks ago. In addition to being the first ever Canadian university public affairs weblog, it actually has some fairly cool features:

**full Netscape 4.7 compatibility (U of T is still remarkably NS4.7-dependent, even though most sites (and most blogs) break in it. This one does not. The biggest problem is any kind of three-column liquid layout is almost impossible in NS4. I think our solution, of a fixed-800 layout in NS4, with an overlapping stylesheet making it liquid in all other browsers, is actually rather ingenious;

**full integration with the U of T search engine, allowing rather precise searches by byline, among other things, and the U of T central events listings;

**compliance with the Ontarians With Disabilities Act, W3C level 2, and the university's own web best-practice standards (which I helped write, so I was kind of stuck with);

**extensive use of XML, with category-specific news feeds, which we hope to export to any and all sites that want to add them (they are refreshing the column to the left on Flit, to start with).

While it may use Movable Type, and work internally like a blog, obviously it's not going to read much like a blog. So On the seventh day, we created a little blog-within-a-blog for ourselves: we call it Pause/Break, and it's going to be part guilty-pleasure, part discussion space for people with an interest in universities, IT, or university IT, and partly (we hope) a source of intelligence, to help us all see the latest thing coming down the pipe a little farther off.

I've never asked for money for this site, nor would I, it being a test-bed and all, but if anyone who reads this thinks they'd like to grant a favour, a drop into Pause/Break and the posting of a blog-comment to get the audience over the shyness hump would certainly be appreciated.

So what does this mean for Flit? Well, I'm going to be over at the News site, and Pause/Break a lot now. There's lots of stuff about the nexus between higher education and computers that I've been looking forward to discussing, and the rest of the staff have promised to chip in as well, so I think it will be buzzing there fairly shortly. I hope it will be stimulating and fresh enough that at least some of the readership here will want to add it to their blog reading lists, eventually. I'll still post the personal stuff here, but the rate is likely to decline, I suspect. I'm also going to be closing off Flitters, the discussion board... I simply don't have the moderating time anymore. I'll come up with another method for reader feedback shortly, but in the meantime, I'll more than happy to discuss your thoughts with you one-on-one via email. I'll keep the old Flitters posts up as long as the Quicktopic people let me, but I won't be linking to that thread anymore, and I've asked TM to do the same on his end.

Anyway, that's where we are. Thanks again to everyone for their patience. Coming up shortly: why I can have no public thoughts on the federal election, and my long-promised list of the 15 greatest Canadian military figures.

NOTE: I should also offer a profound apology to my real-world loved ones and friends, who I fear I have also been ignoring in like style recently (they know who they are, I hope). Seriously, apologies. It wasn't you, it was me.

Posted by BruceR at 09:11 PM