April 14, 2005

Dallaire, contd.

Serving colonel Mike Capstick takes the National Post to task in a letter for their anti-Dallaire piece this week (see below)... it's not a strong showing. It's subscription-only online, but the gist is below the fold:

This column can only be described as an unwarranted and bizarre personal attack on a Canadian military professional who was placed in an untenable position by the international community.

Unwarranted? The man was made a senator this week. At what point would it be warranted?

Gen. Dallaire is one of the few major figures to emerge from this tragedy with his honour intact. In addition, he's the first to admit to the failure of the UN mission and has taken on an inordinate share of the responsibility -- more than can be said of the world's leaders.

I'm not sure we needed someone to "admit" to the manifestly obvious failure of Rwanda. There is no doubt Dallaire is more contrite than nearly everybody else involved. That makes him a good person, even an honourable one, not a model leader or soldier.

I was not in Rwanda with Gen. Dallaire but I have served with him and can attest to his deeply held values and humanity. In addition, I have commanded Canadian soldiers on operations and it is clear to me that the authors have no understanding of the true nature of command in military operations or of the realities of warfare on the ground.

The empty argument from authority above is difficult to credit, when the critics in question used only Dallaire's own words in his own memoir to portray what they saw as his failures.

Gen. Dallaire and tens of thousands of Canadian men and women have performed their duty with honour at home and around the globe. Messrs. Koch and Weissenberger, and the National Post, owe Gen. Dallaire an apology for this character assassination disguised as commentary.

I personally don't feel offended by an honest re-evaluation of Romeo Dallaire's last mission... outside of Col. Capstick, I don't think many soldiers do. Dallaire certainly gets full marks for his self-examination and contrition, at least insofar as his actions relate to the Rwandans (making amends with his own soldiers seems still a bit of a blind spot). If we want to promote an honourable or good man to the Senate solely on that basis, then he's certainly on the nominee list. Just don't elevate him as a "military hero", which means something somewhat different.

To be fair, Canada's always had a soft spot for heroic martyrs, over and above military leaders. It's in a line with remembering Dieppe and Hong Kong, not the Liri Valley or Falaise Gap. You can trace a line back from those military disasters, through Riel, Poundmaker and Big Bear, through Brock and Tecumseh (the only things we remember from our 1812 war of independence, and who both died futilely in temporarily lost causes), through Adam Dollard (a military idiot who fought to the end) to the beatified Brebeuf and Lalemant, the Huronia martyrs.

There's a lot to compare between those Jesuits, captured from amongst a slaughterhouse scene of hacked-to-death Christianized Huron, their converts stripped of the power to defend themselves from their vicious neighbours by Western diseases and their newfound faith, and Dallaire. The Hutu depended on an impassive alien deity for their salvation, too... the UN. The difference was Dallaire was allowed to walk away, to be consumed by inner demons for surviving the unsurvivable. Watching Dallaire walk around African charnel-houses on TV summoned schoolbook memories, in me at least, of Fr. Isaac Jogues. Jogues, his fingers eaten or burned off after 13 months of brutal Mohawk captivity, was ransomed and allowed to return to France. He returned to the same tribe in 1646 to continue to work for their souls, and was killed shortly after.

Posted by BruceR at 05:14 PM