Editor's note: Capt. Barry Sheehy’s article is a call to arms for Canada to save its military from sliding into irrelevance.
As Capt. Sheehy describes, Canada punched above its weight during two world wars. During World War I, the Canadian Corps “became the preeminent shock troops of the allied army on the western front.” During World War II, with a population of 12 million, Canada provided 130,000 aircrew and manned 86 full squadrons of aircraft; at war’s end, it had the third largest naval fleet in the world. Later, Canada also had a distinguished history in UN peacekeeping as well as in the hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Capt. Sheehy also points out the contradictions in Canada’s military history. Under British rule, Canadian governments were not keen on raising their own militias. Until the outbreak of WWI, Canada underinvested in its military. After the Second World War, Canada essentially relied on its geographic proximity to the US for protection. But that is a poor strategy going forward if we want to keep control of our rich Arctic resources.
Capt. Sheehy notes that the efforts of Canada’s military to go “woke” in recruiting are driving away the people it most needs. And, while not discussed by Sheehy, this goes far beyond the military. Because Canada’s current government is seeking to destroy precisely that which makes people sign up for the hardships of being a soldier: the concept of a nation worth fighting for. Who will sign up to defend the Canada described by Justin Trudeau in an interview with New York Times Magazine shortly after first being elected prime minister: a post-national country with no core identity and no mainstream?
Canada’s military needs a complete rethink and retrofit, Capt. Sheehy concludes, which must be rooted in traditional military values. Indeed. Such values include love of country and a belief in the rule of law and equality before the law, not participation in a “grand social experiment.”
“Wokeness” is killing Canada, not just its military. Until Canada wakes up, its military will continue to decline, along with the rest of the country.
By Captain Barry Sheehy
“It’s forty shillings on the drum, for those who volunteer to come.” --Over the Hills and Far Away (Traditional)
When the Calgary Highlanders went ashore on 20 July 1944 as part of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, committed to the bloody Normandy campaign, they were accompanied by the Black Watch of Montreal (Anglophone) and the Régiment de Maisonneuve (Francophone). The 5th Brigade participated in the bloody battles of Caen and closing the Falaise which ended the horrific Normandy campaign and paved the way for the liberation of Europe. Other battles in the Netherlands, like the bloody Walchern Causeway, would follow.
During World War I, the Canadian Corps established a formidable reputation for competence and aggressiveness
I once had dinner (at sea) with someone who had been a boy during the Walchern battle. He remembered the battered Canadian liberators were both English and French and many were from Montreal. They provided rations to keep the local population from starving and he said he would remain grateful for their courage and generosity to the end of his life. At a time when military uniforms in Europe sent people into hiding, Canadian troops were welcomed as liberators and benefactors. They were not feared; they were embraced. In places like the Netherlands, this gratitude continues to this day. Wear a Canadian army uniform to Holland and try to buy yourself a drink. It is likely one will be sent over anonymously. It is moving experience. This is all part of Canada’s military legacy.
During World War I, the Canadian Corps established a formidable reputation for competence and aggressiveness. Under General Arthur Currie they became the preeminent shock troops of the allied army on the western front as exemplified by the brilliant victory at Vimy Ridge. Skeptics should take the time to read the extraordinary history of the Canadian Corps in World War One. (Recommended: Pierre Burton, Vimy)
Canada’s contribution to the Second World War was disproportional to its size in population
Currie was offered a promotion to full general if he turned his superb three-division corps into an army by adding a division and creating a whole new army overhead staff. Currie would have none of it. He viewed the new layer of staff as a senseless burden. Better an effective Corps than a cumbersome Army of essentially the same strength. The unlikely Currie—he never really looked the part—emerged as one of Canada’s greatest soldiers.
Canada’s contribution to the Second World War was disproportional to its size in population. It provided 130,000 aircrew from the Canadian Air Training Program and manned 86 full squadrons of aircraft. Canada fielded a full army (which included the 1st Polish Armored Division.) By war’s end, Canada had the third largest naval fleet in the world. No small achievement for a population of 12,000,000 people, only slightly smaller than New York state at the time.
In recent years, Canada contributed to NATO, UN Peace Keeping missions, and hot wars in Iraq as well as an extended bloody conflict in Afghanistan where Canadian troops distinguished themselves and many died or were wounded in action. It was Canada’s longest war.
This represents a proud tradition. The Canadian military in both war and peace has proved a unifying influence in Canadian society.
Canada’s Great Contradiction: Looking to others to defend us
Canada’s military heritage is a proud one but it is not without its contradictions. In the years leading up to Confederation, Canada was dependent on Great Britain to defend British North America, which they did with dispatch and professionalism. Not only were British troops decisive in the War of 1812 but also during the dangerous American Civil War, when tens of thousands of British Troops were deployed to Canada, along with much of the British Atlantic fleet. When Britain pressed Canada to raise its own militia, the Canadian government proved half-hearted. Why spend money to defend yourself when someone else will do it for you? This parsimony and abdication grated on the British. They determined that once the threat of the US Civil War had passed, Canada must be pushed out of the nest to stand on its own…and defend itself. This forced Canada on the path to Confederation. Without this push we might have prevaricated for years. That, too, is an old Canadian tradition.
After British withdrawal and given a generally friendly neighbor to the south, Canada continued to underinvest in defense until the outbreak of World War One. Here Canada’s contribution was out of all proportion to its size and population. The rest is history.
Today, Canada is reverting to its pre- and post-Confederation policy of letting others defend us; Great Britain being replaced by the United States. But the US itself has serious budget problems and, sooner or later, this will involve cuts in defense spending. How will Canada fare in such a scenario? Who will defend Canada’s rich Arctic resources if we are not willing to do it? Our fighter and maritime aircraft are at the end of their operational life, our three regular army brigades are undermanned and shamefully short of equipment. Our reserve forces are equally bereft of resources.
Out Habits Die Hard
Efforts to go “woke” in recruiting and policy have backfired, driving away the very young people the military most needs. I talked to a grizzled old NCO recruiter on his last assignment. He was a tough-as-nails caricature with a poppy tattooed on his arm. He told me the unvarnished truth, “We cannot recruit worth a damn.” (His term was stronger.) He stated clearly that the people we really want and need are waving off and the people we can recruit are often problematic. Who wants to join a military with no equipment, no mission, and no support from our elected government? Make no mistake, there are many courageous men and women in Canada Armed Forces but there is just not enough of them.
Having a credible, capable military is not just some intellectual construct. It matters in real life. When Pierre Elliot Trudeau tried to expand trading relations with Europe, the first thing his German hosts told him was to invest in Canada’s Brigade in Europe. This is how we ended up getting new Leopard tanks to replace venerable but aged Centurions.
Naval officer and Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer, in his blockbuster documentary, ‘War,” pointed to the obvious. People unable or unwilling to defend their patrimony will lose it to others. That is the lesson of history. Could this happen to our resource rich north? Yes, and may already be underway. (A story for another day.)
Having a credible, capable military establishes Canada as a serious player on the world stage
Having a credible, capable military establishes Canada as a serious player on the world stage. Without it, we are regarded as lightweight, to be indulged but not taken seriously.
Meanwhile Canada has shipped tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, trucks, ammunition, and small arms to Ukraine with no apparent plans to replace this equipment. Hard working Reserve Army units deployed after Hurricane Fiona resorted to using “rental trucks.”
Soldiering, at the best of times, is a tough business. It is the antithesis of a life of ease. Putting aside the threat to life and limb in both peace and war, there is exposure to the elements, sleeping on the ground through snow and rain, five mile runs, and mediocre pay. People do not volunteer for this in search of riches or an easy life. They sign up for something else, something of a higher order. Courage, honor, duty, sacrifice, a thirst for adventure, are all part of the mix. Chip away at this foundation of higher purpose long enough and you create a wasteland.
Canada’s military needs a complete rethink and retrofit…and the sooner the better. This rethink must be rooted in traditional military values. Better a few good men and women than a gaggle of confused recruits who think they are part of a grand social experiment rather than an army ready to defend the country.
This article was originally posted on canadafreepress.com website and can be accessed here.