By Michael Nickerson
General Jonathan Vance is in need of a hug. Seriously, the chief of defence staff is in need of some support, or as he put it recently, “a little bit of encouragement to carry on.” For it’s starting to sound like the good general isn’t just a little down in the dumps. We’re talking existential crisis here, and no small amount of daily affirmation is going to help. No sir. He may be good enough, he may be smart enough, but doggone it, he’s not sure people like him.
Well not just him, mind you. Apparently the Canadian military at large is under attack; criticized, maligned and hated. Speaking to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, General Vance protested that “there are some very toxic narratives about the armed forces” in the news media today that suggest “if you join the armed forces, you are going to be sexually assaulted, raped or you’re going to suffer from PTSD at some point and may commit suicide.” What a buzz kill, you say, the Debby Downer of the speaking circuit.
But let’s try not to judge. Instead let us try to understand. Empathize, if you will, for the top general in the land is clearly disheartened. Frustrated too, and at a loss as to where it all went wrong. He’s been transparent, upfront, candid, and proactive. He’s the man who called for the “weaponization of public affairs” in his dealings with the media.
Okay, that last one sounds bad, but it’s all been misconstrued. As David Pugliese wrote in the Ottawa Citizen back in 2015, not long after General Vance took command, some have interpreted “weaponization” as a strategy where journalists “friendly” to the military would be favoured with “good news” story leaks, while “trouble-makers” would face efforts to “undercut the credibility of such journalists in the eyes of readers and their employers.”
In short, it’s a carrot and stick mentality, rewards and threats, promotion or discipline. All very military, when you think about it, and it becomes all the more obvious why General Vance is so confused and seemingly riddled with emotional anguish. Reward good behaviour, punish bad. Duh! Why is everyone so uptight?
But doggone, it just ain’t working! All this negativity, all these haters, they just won’t leave Jonathan alone! Worst of all, they keep painting the general and other members of Canada’s military with the same brush. The assaults, the rapes, the PTSD and suicide, it’s a story of victims, weak and feeble all, a drag on the military’s good name.
Harsh perhaps, but consider General Vance’s own words from that same Vancouver speech: “… don’t think, for a minute, that we are a bunch of victims about to happen because we’re not. Most of the time we are the biggest, strongest and best anywhere we go. People forget that sometimes in this narrative of accusation about who we are.”
So let’s set things right in the spirit of positive, non-toxic, “friendly” commentary, as well as good morale and future recruiting. The majority of armed forces members do not commit suicide, as evidenced by the astonishing numbers still alive, past and present. Nor do they all suffer from PTSD, merely a significant minority that won’t buck up and keep quiet like everyone else. Rape and sexual assault cases are isolated and will no doubt become but an unpleasant memory once the latest edict on the matter takes hold.
See Jonathan? It’s okay. Everyone still thinks you’re big and strong. You’re the best General! Don’t let all those victims keep you down. Don’t let all those poisonous pundits hold you back. You’re rough and tough! So are your troops! Don’t let anyone tell you you’re thin skinned. No sir!
However, on the odd chance you’re still having some emotional issues on the whole image/media thing, it might be time for some counselling. Of course, things are kind of tight in your department, as you well know, but there’s no doubt you can find some help privately. In every sense of the word you might say. Ha, it’s just a joke old stick, relax.
Oh dear, here we go with the waterworks again. Come on Johnny, give us a hug.