Thursday, June 13, 2013

New Citizens and Soldiers

Citizen Soldiers
a Footnote

One of the most beautiful young ladies in the world lives in my modest city in my modest G-8 country of Canada. Her name is Riza Santos, and she recently achieved the title of Miss Universe Canada. Of course our local broadsheet (not tabloid) newspaper, the Calgary Herald, (May 29, 2013) ran (Besides a tiny 6 X 4 cm pageant picture) not one but two photographs of her: I will describe them.

But first, I invite you to imagine a photo of some other beautiful lady down in some glittering city in some other nation that is not quite G-8, not quite democratic. Perhaps, in your mind’s eye, the picture shows her at full length, in a brightly colored dress. Perhaps she is a pretty doll on the arm of a young nephew of some old prince or colonel in the ruling junta.

Imagine: Is she a “citizen?” Meaning: Is she “informed” and “participating?” Would she volunteer to serve in her local community, or serve in the reserves? Maybe not. In non-democracies, such as the terror exporting states, rich men and women, “civilians,” usually don’t care enough to serve anywhere, certainly not in “the” —not “their”— armed forces.

The photographs of Santos are two: On the front page the picture portrays her at half-length wearing a dark dress. On next page, (A6) at full length, she is wearing rumpled combat clothing, out in the field, cheerfully balancing a heavy rocket launcher across her shoulder. No golden cage for this pretty lady: She is out volunteering in the reserves. 

On Canada Day, the first of July, 2011, as many new Canadians obtained their citizenship, the Globe and Mail had a front-page story about an increase in military presence at the swearing in ceremonies. “In an operational bulletin, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration said highlighting the service of members of the armed forces is a way to underline to every new Canadian the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship.”

That sounds like common sense, who could quarrel with that? A history professor, Michael Fellman, that’s who. He’s not one of the “Regina 16” professors I rebuked in an essay of April 2010 called Socialists Reject Soldiers. “The Tories are in a long-range campaign to change Canadian values and make them more conservative,” Fellman said. “This is a way to show that the military is at the core of the meaning of citizenship.”

I disagree with the professor's conclusion the army is a “conservative” value.

George Orwell, a prominent socialist, would have disagreed too. Orwell, a hero of mine, was certainly no member of the conservative party. (The Tories) While he’s best known for his novel Nineteen Eighty Four, I have found his essays to be even more rewarding. Immigrants from Asia may remember having as students studied his splendid anti-imperialist essay, Shooting an Elephant. An idealist, Orwell even volunteered to join a socialist brigade to fight the dirty fascists in Spain. (Such as that gruesome Captain in my essay of April 2011 called Goals and 300) Orwell returned to Britain only because a bullet had torn through his throat. There he continued to strive to help Britain become socialist. After his voice returned he wrote an essay explaining that a socialist Britain would still have soldiers at Buckingham palace, and they would still have The Lion and the Unicorn (essay title) on their brass buttons on their tunics. No, the army was not a “Tory thing” to Orwell.

Some people will always mix up “army” with “conservative” or “the establishment.” I can better understand these people after being enlightened from an essay by Orwell about his contemporary, Rudyard Kipling. According to Orwell, although Kipling didn’t know enough to be anti-imperialist, he did know far more about imperialism than the sandal-wearing strident anti-imperialists in England. Why? Because Kipling, however imperfectly, at least tried to walk in the shoes of the people in power. Kipling, notes Orwell, was willing to take responsibility to try to imagine having responsibility. It seems to me the people of the fringe parties, people who are thinking that, if they ever come to power, they will magically abolish the armed forces, are the same people who will never come to power except through magic.

The Globe: “The bulletin, which describes military service as one of the highest expressions of citizenship, states that a member of the military should be seated on the main platform with the citizenship judge, that they can stand in the receiving line congratulating new citizens and that they may give a two-to-three-minute speech.”

The Globe quotes a soldier who has sat on the stage, Major Pete Saunders: “What we want to impress upon (the new citizens), much in the some way as the RCMP officer, is that we’re here to serve them. We’re not here beat them down. We’re not here to cause them fear,” Major Sounders said. “That’s central to our message, so they understand that when we go on operations it’s at the behest of a democratically elected government and they have a hand in who that government is.”

In 1994 Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer addressed students in a medium sized room behind the student council chambers. He reminded us that 10 percent of the bombs being dropped on Yugoslavia were Canadian. We gasped. “How does it feel to be a member of an aggressor nation?” he asked. We gasped again. That year, as Canada’s armed representatives were using force, violence, to protect Muslims in Yugoslavia, I wrote an article, Citizen Soldiers, for the yearly Mount Royal College magazine, Skylines. The theme for the magazine that year was trends, and there was a trend towards more peacekeeping.

Citizen Soldiers
In military field-maneuvers a high profile is something to be shunned. Lately, however, the Calgary Highlanders and other reserve outfits have enjoyed a higher public presence due to reservists serving with the regular army as part of Canada's peacekeeping forces. Yet few Calgarians understand that membership in the Canadian Forces Reserves is an avocation pursued by ordinary people.

Corporal Walter Fritz is a general contractor in civilian life. He is not in the service for the pay. "I lose money when I go on call-out (active duty with the regular army)," he says. His relatives worried about him going to Yugoslavia. "They had the normal worry-worry crap, but my wife supported it completely."

(Socio-economic leveler)

Fritz is a section commander in the Calgary Highlanders with about 10 men under him. He and his comrades train every Wednesday night and about two weekends a month. "The main thing to remember," he says, "is that this is not a career." He has seen too many "professional students" become "militia bums."

Lieutenant Barry Agnew agrees. "It certainly can become an overriding part of your life." In the Highlanders, Agnew writes articles for service papers and news releases as the public affairs officer. By day he works in a museum. "I wouldn't want to come down here (to Mewata Armory) to do museum work," he says, explaining that people join the reserves to do something different. His commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Lynn Moffat, is a school teacher.

The Alberta district recruiting officer, Captain Graham Oakley, says that he doesn't want any Rambos. "We want mature, serious, responsible people," he says. "Absolutely everybody joins the reserves: doctors, lawyers, high school students... everybody joins." He explains the militia is a socioeconomic leveler. "While they're here they have everything in common."

Oakley says that with recent peacekeeping there has been a "tremendous increase" in recruiting. "The militia has changed tremendously in the last two or three years," says Oakley, adding that the reserves have better equipment, more of it and more exposure to regular force personnel. Summer training, which is geared to the post-secondary student, starts as early as May. Most of the training takes place away from Calgary. The soldiers do basic training and then go on to specific trades training.


Russ Meades is a second-year journalism student at SAIT. "If there is one thing I am committed to, as the company sergeant major, it is to weed out the 'Rambo wannabes,'" says Meades. "They are undisciplined fly-boys who could risk the lives of others."

The training provides physical and mental challenge, according to Meades, and can provide people with a focused chance to learn about their capabilities and who they are. "Am I someone who flips burgers or a part-time soldier?" asks Meades. He says that challenge is big part of the appeal of the reserves. He had a classmate who was having some problems, and was "hurting for money." Meades recommended the reserves, and later was surprised to get a phone call from the man saying that he had enlisted. "He came back (from summer training) a changed man, extremely positive. He was getting school assignments done without excuses, on time and neatly typed. An instructor said, 'This guy's really turned around.'"

Army life has been good for Sergeant Cindy Greenough. "I was a very mild, meek, normal person," she says. "If I knew you and you walked by, I wouldn't say hello. The military does give you lots of self-confidence." As the regimental quartermaster sergeant for the Calgary Highlanders, she provides the "beans and bullets" whenever they go on maneuvers. Greenough would recommend that anyone give it a shot, adding, "Even if you don't stay with it, you've still learned something."

One of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, Michael Hayakaze, was of Japanese ancestry but I don't regard him as a "visible minority," not if the term means fresh immigrant. I am confident he grew up here doing typical boyish things such as reading comic books and buying bubblegum to get the hockey cards.

At home, along my entrance hall, I have a limited edition photo-lithograph, Morning Swim, of a lady walking into a remote forest lake while taking off her T-shirt. Next to it is a limited edition print, The Hunters, of some U.S. army rangers patrolling in a muddy sunken creek, past a poisonous snake, with a sun peeping high through the dense foliage... When my massage practitioner friend passed down the hall she cried, "Ahhhh!" She was horrified that the soldiers were so close to the vulnerable woman! I replied that because of those brave men, dedicated to civilian control, the lady could swim safely... 

...She certainly couldn't safely swim undressed in a nondemocracy, not with the sort of "undermotivated" soldiers and police that such states always end up with. If people who see themselves as peasants, rather than as responsible citizens, immigrate from such states to North America, then often they initially assume that all police are corrupt and that all soldiers, if not conscripted, (drafted) enlist for the money, as workers for the dictator's government. Hence the glaring lack of visible minorities in our armed forces. Peasants can't conceive of volunteer "citizen-soldiers." I remember an immigrant fresh off the plane, at the airport, being astonished when a passing RCMP smiled and said "Hello." He knew instantly that Canada was different.

As for the beautiful Santos, she's "visible," yes, but being raised here she has a sensible perspective on our armed forces.

God save the queen.

a Footnote: For more on the historical connection of citizen/soldier to democracy, see my essay Heroes are Soldiers of January 2012

Sean Crawford
sleeping soundly because others guard the frontiers,
summer 2008-13.40

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