By Michael Nickerson
Take this job and shove it!
Those normally aren’t the words you hear from generals. With good reason, for generals are career-oriented alpha dogs who are well paid and end up with great pensions no matter how high they eventually climb. The job might resemble a blood sport at times, if one were to watch the political maneuvering, but certainly never one you’d want to quit, much less tell your boss to put it where the sun isn’t so very sunny. No, telling your boss to shove it is a moment that comes once you retire. Screw you, I’m going fishing!
Now, whether the outgoing (now-retired) Vice Chief of Defence Lieutenant-General Guy Thibault actually spends his time in retirement dropping a line in the river and snoozing the day away is anyone’s guess, but no one can say he didn’t leave with a flourish. Rather than just accept his gold watch and totter off into antiquity, Thibault dreamed of a world where he was king. Just for a day mind you, no delusions of grandeur here. But also no understanding of for whom he really worked.
His parting shot was thus: “If I were king for a day, rather than providing more oversight and controls over National Defence, I’d simply give us clear direction as to the outcomes we’re looking for, with predictable and sustained funding, and then I’d get out of the way and watch. And you would be amazed.”
No doubt the world would be both stunned and eternally grateful if we could ask for peace in the Middle East, offer $100 trillion, and say, “Let us know when we can pop the Champagne and celebrate.” That would be amazing indeed; if only it were so simple.
A closer inspection of the good general’s wistful observations speaks very much to the ‘us and them’ mentality that starts with groups of three and grows from there. Leave “us” alone, give “us” the power, and bugger off. All fine and dandy when you’re dealing with a parking lot full of teenagers armed with fists and testosterone, and quite another when you’re dealing with billions of dollars buying lethal equipment to be used by trained soldiers. That’s a lot to ask for anyone to just look away from and trust the “good stewardship” of the “defence team” that Thibault proudly spoke of before raising a finger and heading out the back door.
Of course, if that team had a spotless record of “good stewardship” then one might indeed just want to turn things over and grab a beer; soldiering can be such an expensive bother after all. Unfortunately the “team,” namely the senior brass and leadership of Canada’s military, has a rather spotty record. Of late there is the ‘requirement creep’ of the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone and the infatuation with the F-35, both leaving the military with aging equipment and no replacements. There is the ballooning cost of the naval warship procurement to the tune of $16 billion, a process the former head of Canada’s Navy, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, said: “to be quite blunt, we got a lot of it wrong.”
By the by, the new vice chief of defence is none other than Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. Talk amongst yourselves. No hurry.
One of those things likely talked about is the government’s role in all these problems, be it procurement and budgetary issues, or human issues within the military like mental health and sexual assault. From the changing political breeze and the ever-fickle cycles of elections, to self-serving politicians playing games with lives and money, there is no doubt Canada’s military, like all militaries working within that great monster we call democracy, work for an employer that is contradictory, inefficient, and way too undisciplined to be given a gun, or a stapler in many cases. Sucks working for a boss like that.
Until you consider the alternative — and we’re not talking about King Thibault and his magic fairy dust —democracy is indeed contradictory and inefficient, to say nothing of slow and senseless, and downright cruel when the mob feels its oats. One might say the same of the military come to think of it. But there has been an awful lot of blood spilt, tears shed, and work invested for an ideal that’s somewhat dependent on knowing who’s the boss. Back to civics class if you don’t know who that is.