Thursday, February 5, 2015

Holy Jointness, Batman!

I spent yesterday at a conference at the University of New Brunswick where most of the audience came from the Combat Training Centre at nearby Gagetown. The theme was jointness--the Canadian Army operating with others: Navy, Air Force, allies, government agencies.  I was presenting my take on Canada and NATO, which I will summarize a bit below.  But what did I learn?

Well, it was my second time here for this conference, so I didn't explore Fredericton this time (too cold, just one day, not a large downtown to explore).  But I still learned much from the various presentations.

I learned that some historians can be great presenters.  Lee Windsor and Marc Milner are not the historians that show up at Poli Sci conferences and read their papers in monotone.  Both were quite dynamic and had interesting things to say about the conventional "accusational" historical account of WWII operations.

Lee argued that Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, was not the semi-failure that it has been portrayed as being.  Yes, the Germans did manage to move much of their equipment and many of their troops to Italy.  However, that was the stuff that got to the tip of the island, with the rest being blown up by the allies.  More importantly, the objective of Husky was not to destroy the German troops there, but to get Italy out of the Axis, which it did.  This forced Germany to reinforce the entire southern part of Europe, since the Italians were out of it.  This dispersion impacted the defense of northern France as well as the Russian front.  Lee also argued that Patton and Monty had a better relationship and mutual respect than usually advertised.  My only response: but George C. Scott seemed mighty miffed!  But I have not read the after action reports that Patton wrote.

Marc focused on the Normandy campaign--that for whatever bickering about how slow Monty moved, so much of the invasion was a success of joint planning and operating
  • the Navy did what it said it was going to do--take out the heavy guns behind the beaches, not the fortifications on the beaches.
  • that much of the invasion went off well because there had been significant practice and planning between Army and Navy..... well, on the British and Canadian sides.  Perhaps Omaha didn't work out so well because the Americans started their planning later.
  • that the Canadians got a key role to play that has been lost to history until Marc's new book: Stopping the Panzers.  That the Canadians had one of the most capable units, staffed with heaps of armor and put in the spot where the Panzers would be most likely to try to disrupt the invasion.  And it happened--the Panzers came at the Canadian armor and were defeated.  Looking forward to reading the book.
  • Marc taught me how to promote a book, as he sold all of the copies brought there that day.
My panel included a former CIDA (Canadian aid) person and a Canadian general who had been working within the US 10th Mountain Division when it moved into Kandahar.  It was interesting to hear a CIDA person talk since they are almost always prohibited from speaking.  Which means that we (meaning me as well as other folks) tend to be critical, dismissive, and otherwise not entirely fair to the poor folks who worked at a reluctant, over-centralized and PR-deaf agency. She made a good argument about how good development and good counter-insurgency practices are not necessarily in conflict.  The general was surprisingly brief--one non-fancy slide--with a quick tour of the lessons of living life large (the US does everything big).

I presented a briefer version of this:that we cannot wish away the dynamic that inherent in NATO and that there are also domestic political dynamics that will always be present in some form.

I am sorry that I could not stick around for a second day, as there are a variety of panels on COIN.  It was nice to meet both the senior officers who attended, including some rumint on the CDS's career plans, and the junior officers who are the future of the CF.  As always, this event is incredibly male-dominated in the audience--female infantry officers exist but are rare.  The panels were not as male dominated, thankfully.

Oh, one last lesson: if you cannot get thru to Air Canada when you plane is cancelled, complain on twitter.  I was able to get a new flight via the AC twitter folks. 

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