Instapundit linked to a ten-year-old post at Albion’s Seedlings, and I noticed that the next post there is still pretty much dead-on in describing why Canada’s military is in the state we still see today. Spoiler: the post is titled “Was Canada Ever Serious? Militia and Military Since Confederation“:
Initial chapters [of Canadian Brass: The Making of a Professional Army 1860-1939 by Stephen Harris, 1988] consolidate the early periods of Canadian military history as the British military staff digested the new geopolitical realities demonstrated during the American Civil War. Canada was to be spun loose politically in 1867 but its foreign policy and defense were to remain a very strange hybrid well into the 20th century. The WW1 period in Canadian Brass is divided into pre-war, a Sam Hughes [Militia Minister] WW1 period, and a post-Hughes WW1 period. An interbellum period gets thorough coverage and then WW2 is broken out into separate Military Planning, and Training & Education chapters.
The rather shocking message of this book is that the Canadian military has been the constant butt of political interference during the last 150 years except for two brief periods: WW2 proper, and 1951-1964. During virtually all other periods of Canadian history, the permanent (professional) military forces have been starved of funds, denigrated in public by all and sundry, and then ignored completely during mobilization for wartime. The only time in Canadian history that professional pre-mobilization plans were actually used was WW2. In all other eras, professional plans were ignored and politicians turned to various militia cronies to assemble, train, lead, and transport Canadian troops.
The author suggests, therefore, that lack of professionalism in the organization of the military led to unnecessary political crises (specifically the split between Quebec and English-speaking Canada), and, in the case of the First World War, the needless slaughter of the initial Canadian divisions (because they were led by totally unqualified militia officers with political connections). The WW1 crisis created by Minister of Militia Sam Hughes was the result of a totally mythical and exaggerated memory of militia superiority in the War of 1812 and the Fenian raids of 1866, and careful news management out of the Boer War. Militia were held to be a superior in all ways to a professional force, moral and martial. Government money for militias (urban and especially rural) was a traditional source of political patronage in Canada, frustrating British military advisers and Governor-Generals for literally generations (and ruining many Brit careers in the process). Such patronage methodically starved the professional units in a nascent professional Canadian Army of training, equipment, facilities, pensions, wages and prestige. The result was a professional army that wasn’t and an oblivious overconfident citizen-soldier militia that was destined for a horrific introduction to modern war.
The casualty situation got so bad by the late fall of 1916 that Hughes was dismissed, and a new generation of Canadian officers (all political appointees but survivors of the savage Darwinian selection at the front) began to lead, and promote their junior officers out of the ranks. The impact on morale and military success from early 1917 to the end of the First World War were dramatic. Canadian reputations for combat effectiveness essentially came out of this period.
It’s clear, in retrospect, that Canadian politicians and the Canadian public have had a long-standing expectation that the British (and then the US) were going to bail them out in any serious military situation. As a result, the professional Canadian military was seen as simply another source of political largesse for the party in power. It never had to be effective, and post-1964, it actually was designed not to be used at all … unification of the three services (Army, Navy, Air Force), and endless UN peace-keeping missions were an effective way to strip combat effectiveness and combat equipment out of the Canadian military. Harris provides all the necessary context and information for that conclusion but is politic enough to avoid much further commentary.
He does writes an interesting epilogue that delicately skirts around those post-1939 issues … and avoids touching the “third rail” of military bilingualism introduced in the 60s, which further degraded esprit de corps and combat effectiveness. After all, Mr. Harris was essentially writing about his own Cold War employer at the time of publication (1988), and probably wanted to keep his job. Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear that the Liberal dismantlement of the conventional Canadian military (after tactical nukes appeared in Europe in the 60s) was yet another iteration of the political manipulation of the permanent military and a return of the good old days of “jobs for the boys.” The sorry state of today’s Canadian military (a small but excellent antiterrorist force [JTF2] to protect the elite in Ottawa, and a sprinkle of blue helmet cannon fodder without adequate air transport) is therefore very much part of a proud Canadian political tradition stretching back 135 years. It’s not a mistake. It’s on purpose.
Ten years on, we don’t do the UN peacekeeping stuff to any great extent, but even with a “pro-military” government in power for most of that time, the Canadian Armed Forces are still starved for resources and up-to-date equipment (and procurement is still seen as a way to spread government money around to “deserving” regions rather than a way of getting the best tools for the money). Thanks to our unique strategic situation, Canada can still be a military free-loader — and glories in it.