Sunday, February 06, 2005

A spade is a spade, "Sir".

Canada has a new Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) in General Rick Hillier. He comes to the job with excellent credentials and a reputation as a soldier's soldier. His online bio has a refreshing dose of self-deprecation - "Gen Hillier enjoys most recreational pursuits but, in particular, runs slowly, plays hockey poorly and golfs not well at all." Listening to his first speech as CDS, it's easy to note an endearing Newfy lilt to both his English and his French.

Newfies are notably direct and honest, and the most notable aspect of this first speech was General Hillier's putting the Prime Minister on notice that he expects the Government to remember the Canadian Forces at budget time. He worded it slightly more genteelly, but I think that's what he meant. It is essential that Chiefs of the Air, Land, and Naval Staffs and the CDS be honest with their political masters, the Canadian public, and their own "troops". Obviously, there will be times when public honesty may conflict with security, and the latter is still the bottom line.

Honesty, upwards or downwards within the chain of command, does not mean disloyalty and I would suggest that it is essential to true long-term good order and discipline. Honesty engenders trust in both directions. The troops are too smart and well-informed to be fooled by superiors who are feeding them bovine scatology. Any commander who feeds subordinates a steady diet of B.S. will soon find that he has lost their hearts and minds. In fact, he probably won't realize that he's lost them, because they won't trust him enough to feel secure in telling him the truth. The truth may only become apparent at the worst possible time in a critical situation.

There can be a natural tendency to tell a superior what he wants to hear, rather than the cold, hard truth. To me, that is disloyalty and betrays the bond of trust that should exist between rank levels. There is a way to be honest, respectfully. In the old days of the Air Force, one of the recreational opportunities was Beer Call, a Friday institution that, along with many other traditions, has largely fallen victim to the scourge of political correctness. Many a Squadron Commander bore the scars of a 3000-psi finger from a young Lieutenant emboldened to give the CO his best advice on the conduct of flying operations. Some weren't bad suggestions and some weren't all that well thought out. Whatever the category, so long as the Lieutenant didn't "cross the line", no CO worth his salt ever held it against the younger warrior on Monday morning. You could learn a lot on a Friday night.

In the case of a very senior commander, like a CDS, CAS, CLS or CNS, respectful honesty should include being able to acknowledge, in public, the shortfalls that he faces in doing his assigned job. So long as his heels are together; he is saluting smartly; and he continues to do the best he can under the circumstances, a superior, such as the Minister of National Defence or the Prime Minister, shouldn't be offended. And, the taxpayer is owed that kind of honesty.

The fact that a commander is forced into that kind of public display of a sense of duty and honesty is a de facto indictment of the dereliction of duty on the part of the government that he serves. A serving commander would never express it in such terms, but that's what it is. We've had examples of such forthrightness in the past, and I'm glad to see that General Hillier seems to be ready to call a spade a spade, "Sir". I'm sure that he'll extend that same philosophy to those under his command.

The Prime Minister solemnly agreed with General Hillier about the Government's duty to provide the Canadian Forces with the tools that they need. Let's hope that Mr. Martin will remember that pledge between now and budget day. If he doesn't, then we will be doing just another replay of just another promise broken on just another day of the Canadian Forces doing more and more with less and less.


Blogger John the Mad said...

I have very little hope that there will be a substantial increase in the Forces budget from a Liberal government. They will place a few band aids on supporating CF wounds and declare victory. That is their method and their ethos. I know. I used to work on political staff for them. If anything they are worse now than they were back then. Per ardua ad ardua.

1:15 PM  

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