A Requiem for Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Every Canadian school child (less so for those in Quebec) has heard or recited the immortal lines penned in 1915 by LCol John McCrae while on duty at a forward dressing station upon the death of a dear friend. Tragically, the doctor himself died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918. The memory of arguably one of the most recognizable Canadian military icons barely registered with Prime Minister Trudeau’s government or the department that oversees these types of ceremonies, Veterans Affairs.
This latest affront to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) might as well be the final symbolic nail in the coffin for the Services. There is the habitual talk and opinions of getting serious about our military, following the well advertised policies in the new MND’s Strong, Secure, Engaged paper, and really starting to listen to the challenges facing CAF personnel. But talk is cheap. The torch was thrown and no one has been there to catch it.
The CAF has been in shambles and ‘rusting out’ for decades under both Liberal and Conservative governments. Simple procurement of desperately needed equipment is perennially bogged down in political obfuscation and delay. In 1986, when I was sworn into the Air Force, I was meant to train as an Air Navigator for the new Shipborne Helicopter. The RCAF still does not have a replacement ready. In desperation in order to finally push the Cyclone through, the RCAF generals have decided to force everyone’s hand by finally retiring the 50 plus year old Sea Kings. In 1986, our CF-18s were brand new and able to keep up with our NATO allies. Now, we are purported to be in negotiations with Australia for their old F-18 fleet and the RCAF will be flying our antiquated birds until at least 2032. Ironically, the RAAF is making room for their delivery of new F-35s. In 1986, the CC-115 Buffalo had been repurposed for a SAR role and tasked out to various squadrons across the country. The plan was to have a replacement in the early 90’s. Although a contract has finally been awarded, no new aircraft will be showing up for years yet to replace the last few flying antiques in Comox, BC. The lamentations for the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy are just as deplorable and lengthy for this time period.
Actions on the battlefield during LCol McCrae’s war and actions in today’s wars are what count, not the flowery words of the politicians. A good case in point is the RCN’s urgent need for supply ships. Outgoing Senator Colin Kennedy is adamant about making a decision on the issue. He will not be listened to because of his early retirement which is serving to blunt the cloud of sexual allegations that just came up against him. VAdm Mark Norman clearly saw the need to do something and Trudeau had him removed from his post and holds him in indefinite legal limbo for whatever monstrous transgression that may have occurred. Meanwhile, the Navy finally received an ‘interim’ ship, MV Asterix which will finally give the Pacific fleet its own supply ship again. The Atlantic fleet will just have to keep begging, hat in hand, for help from their allies who have their own priorities.
Shortly after his election in 2015, PM Trudeau promised that ‘Canada was back‘ and ready to carry our share of UN Peacekeeping duties and missions. Years later, there isn’t a single boot on the ground or even any real plans to help our allies whose soldiers have been dying. Laughably, Canada hosted a Peacekeeping summit late last year where participation depended on actual boots on the ground. We only got to send delegates because we hosted the damn thing.
Let alone our present sorry state of affairs with our standing force, our veterans are still in poor shape and suffer from the same lack of definitive action. Veteran’s groups keep taking successive governments to court and run into less than sympathetic Ministers. Veteran’s transition programs to civilian careers are great for helping you with the latest civvy HR approved resumes, how to take HR non-descript interviews, and what to put in your LinkedIn profiles but are very short on actually getting soldiers meaningful employment. Veterans Affairs personnel appear busy and hold regular meetings about their hospital charges concerns and treatment. I confronted one of their reps over the rodent problem at Camp Hill Veterans Hospital in Halifax. Oh, he assured me, we met over that issue and it was dealt with. He didn’t have an answer when I told him mice and rats have been running around in that structure for the eight years my nursing friend had worked there and as recently as the night before were canoodling above her head. It’s all lipstick on a pig and no one wants to get serious about real change.
What we’ve needed for decades now, has been a serious discussion amongst Canadians about exactly where we want to be regarding our military and subsequent world role. We can’t be all things to all people. We can’t keep living the WWI and WWII glory days when we gave our all as a country for King and Glory. Those aren’t the present Canadian values. So, we have to sort out our values. Some commentators are actually floating the idea of disbanding the military. Do we want or need a Blue Water Navy? Do we want to play with the Big Boys like the Americans or do we just want to take care of our own playground? Are we willing to spend blood and gold on the shitholes of the World or are we just going to cluck and finger wag at other countries who do the heavy lifting? We need a firm plan, with firm funding, and a firm direction irrespective of changes of government. Otherwise the CAF will just keep lurching along, crisis to crisis, swinging this way and that with every consecutive government whim like the zombie organization it has become.
The guns have never really gone silent but Canada’s weapons have. We do not remember them, we have not taken up the quarrel, and the torch gives off nothing more than a swirl of smoke. Canada has broken the faith with LCol John McCrae and every one of the over 100,000 men and women who directly gave their lives in service to Canada.
(They) shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
In memory of:
- Master Corporal David Gaetz, 413 Squadron Flight Engineer
- Sergeant Mark Salesse, 442 Squadron Search and Rescue Technician