Thursday, November 11, 2010

DVRs and Canadian Military History

The Canadian version of the History Channel has been running a heap of movies and documentaries about Canadian military history the past week in the run up to Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day in the US).  So, with my relatively new DVR, my Remembrance Week effort is now more than just wearing a poppy.  I recorded shows on Vimy (key Canadian battle in World War I), Dieppe, Juno Beach (the Canadians got their landing zone on D-Day), the Battle of Verrières Ridge (post D-day battle in Normandy), the Medak Pocket (combat during the peacekeeping effort in the Balkans), and Kandahar. 

Thus far, I have only watched the show on Dieppe, but it might be pretty emblematic of the Canadian military experience.  Feeling shunted aside, the Canadian elites sought a greater role, and, unfortunately, got it.  What started out as a small raid became a much bigger affair, partly to assuage Stalin that the Western allies were serious about relieving some of the pressure the Soviets were facing.  So, the Canadians and some others were sent to seize an armed port (another of Churchill's less brilliant ideas) and didn't even have surprise on their side for a variety of reasons (including this was the second attempt after a failed effort the month before or so).  It was an utter failure, with poor planning, unrealistic training, little real knowledge about the targets, and confronting tough German positions.  Some Canadians were able to escape but many were killed or taken prisoner for the duration of the war. 

To be clear, yes, much blame can be heaped upon the British leaders, especially Churchill and Mountbatten, but Canadian leaders in Ottawa and London had plenty of opportunities to influence things. 

The solace that can be taken has been that the failed raid produced lessons that made the eventual invasion of Normandy a success.  This has been debated.  It is clear that D-Day was far better planned with clearer chains of command (Ike told the navies and air forces what to do and they did it, however reluctantly), much more preparation work (destroying the German air force), and the rest. 

Anyway, on this Remembrance Day, we should remember not just the sacrifices made by the soldiers, sailors and air folks of the past, but also the mistakes made and the lessons learned so that present and future military endeavors can be without unnecessary risks.  War is risky enough without doing the stupid stuff that makes the guys on the ground, at sea and in the air face more dangers than need be the case.

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