By Michael Nickerson
So you’ve just dropped a boat on your neighbour’s house. Well not a boat per se, but an inflatable life raft. And since you’ve taken the time to lift said raft high in the air with a helicopter before starting your little misadventure, it punches a fairly sizable hole into their roof. What’s your next step? Now take a deep breath and think for a minute. Do you pretend it never happened? Do you admit your mistake, pay for the damages, and learn from it so your neighbourhood is henceforth safe from airborne flotation devices? Or do you ban the sale and usage of both life rafts and helicopters in their entirety for all eternity?
Tough call that one. Funnily enough the Royal Canadian Air Force was faced with just such a quandary. Seems they bombed an unsuspecting Florida resident with a dinghy while on a training exercise near Miami last month. And wouldn’t you know it, the RCAF fessed up; Miami-Dade Police spokesman Detective Lee Cowart was pleased to report they’ve been “really up front with us.” They’re assisting the unsuspecting (and mostly unscathed) resident, with an investigation already in progress. And in case you’re worried, they also recovered the raft (mostly unscathed).
A perfectly reasonable response that. You acknowledge the problem, deal with it, learn from it, and move on. Just like it was during those heady days of potty training years ago. You don’t ignore it because it’s eventually going to stink. And you certainly don’t ban it (feel free to ask your doctor for clarification on this).
Now as absurd as this all sounds, too many times have the options of willful ignorance or preemptive nullification been the go-to responses when it comes to how the military deals with its problems. A list involving the former could go on for pages, but the subject of sexual harassment and assault in the ranks will suffice. Up until recently it didn’t exist. Not in the forces I served with, no sir, as none other than General (ret.) Hillier opined not so long ago. It took a scathing report and no small amount of public shaming to get leadership to acknowledge the obvious. There was and is a problem. Only now are there encouraging signs that the issue is finally being addressed.
However, like any pendulum governed more by the laws of nature than reason, things have swung far to the other side of weird. No doubt stinging from myriad bad press and public relations missteps, the powers that be at National Defence have issued a general order that bans fraternizing with just about everyone short of puppy enthusiasts To wit, forces members are to avoid any group or association that promotes “racism, sexism, misogyny, violence, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism and discriminatory views with respect to particular religions or faiths.”
At first glance that all seems reasonable, particularly in this new century of understanding and empathy. But let’s parse this a little. Racism, violence and xenophobia are certainly hard to argue for in this day and age, but sexism, misogyny, and homophobia might keep military personnel from visiting their local church, mosque or synagogue. And given the military’s dogged adherence to the principle of universality of service, that ableism thing would logically keep just about everyone in the Canadian Armed Forces from showing up for work.
In short, it’s an asinine order born more out of fear of public embarrassment than concern that CAF members will be upholding a set of values in step with the society they are there to protect, particularly when said society has barely begun to sort things out itself. But there is a longstanding and frankly childish fear in the military of metaphorically soiling one’s diapers in public. And in a time of smart phones, social media, and 24/7 news coverage, it’s impossible to pretend ignorance. And irrational solutions will just look silly under such an unrelenting media glare.
So let’s just admit mistakes happen. Don’t hide them. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t overreact. Just deal with it, learn from it, and move forward. And before you know it? No more diapers.