Canada’s obsolete army?

By Kevin Rothbauer

The validity of Canada’s armed forces has been called into question in the aftermath of September 11. As the United States’ closest neighbours, we have been expected to contribute a response to the attacks. Many feel Canada’s military is unqualified to aid the American effort, while others feel that Canada even having a military in this era is outdated.

Historian Dr. J.L. Granatstein was at the University of Calgary On Tue., Oct 8 to discuss those issues. As a foremost authority on Canada’s ground forces, Granatstein is among the Canadians most qualified to discuss the place of Canada’s armed forces in 2002.

“Is Canada’s army still relevant?”

Granatstein opened his talk with a review of what nations use armies for, noting three main purposes: to fight wars, to protect sovereignty and to inculcate values into the population.

“[Nations] with conscription do it not for military effectiveness as much as to make their citizens into good little Romanians or Bulgarians,” he noted.

Canada, said Granatstein, has served its entire existence as a colony of some other nation, first France, then Britain, then the United States.

“A colony is a country that wants someone else to take care of them,” Granatstein explained.

To prepare for war, Canadians have traditionally relied upon their ability to raise an emergency army from the civilian population, something we are traditionally good at. However, Granatstein feels this is an outdated concept.

“Canadians live on the militia myth: that we don’t need a professional military… Every citizen is by definition a soldier: put a gun in his hand and put him under command of the bank manager,” he said.

The argument against keeping a large regular army is that peacetime soldiers are “idlers, layabouts, expensive men dressed in fancy uniform.”

Since Canada began defending its own borders, it has been more important to spend money on infrastructure than to keep a professional army, said Granatstein.

Before World War I, Canada’s professional army numbered 3,000 men. Before World War II, it numbered 4,500 men. A total of 720,000 served in the armed forces over the course of World War I, and 1.1 million served during World War II.

There is a Canadian tendency to “do everything from scratch when we go to war,” said Granatstein. Our soldiers “become professional by watching men die.”

Following World War II, Canada was one of the more respected military powers, Granatstein claims. Canada reached its Cold War peak around the time of the Korean War.

However, the Canadian government maintained its pre-war attitude and regarded a peacetime army as a luxury.

“We began to take our peace dividend very early,” says Granatstein.

Since the 1960s Canada’s armed forces have diminished from a mid-century peak of 120,000 regulars to around 60,000 today, 18,000 of whom are in the army. According to Granatstein, today’s Canadian military can’t train effectively because they lack proper equipment.

“It’s astonishing how good they are despite everything,” Granatstein said, noting the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’s success in Afghanistan.

In Granatstein’s view, Canada needs to “keep alive the sense of military professionalism: the militia is a great institution, but this is a different era–we are one of only a few countries with a reserve smaller than the regular force.

“To have a professional army in this country is an insurance policy,” he said. We can pay “dollars now or dollars later plus the blood of our children.”


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