This is gonna sound harsh.
Pimps, gangs, and cults all prey on the vulnerable. Their recruitment methods follow a similar pattern: show the presents and flattery, draw them in with welcome arms, slowly co-opting their trust and confidence. Eventually they'll be brainwashed putty and can be convinced to do all sorts of nasty things.
In the 1990s the animosity in the Canadian Forces toward the Liberal governments of that time. Somalia and the Airborne Regiment, the mess in the Balkans, budget cuts, the perceived lack of public support for the institution all took their toll. As I recall the feelings of bitterness and resentment toward the public and the government, neither of whom 'got it' were often voiced. Folk wisdom said it was a mistake to disband the Airborne, it was a mistake to close the bases in Germany, it was a mistake to introduce anti-racism training, let gays in, put women in combat arms, send troops on peacekeeping. Framed one way it really was quite a self-indulgent nobody-loves-us-every-body-hates-us refrain for a public institution. To be fair, an organisation with a strong cultural identity saw itself, sometimes rightly, under assault by the very people who it was meant to serve.
The Reform Party promised respect and bullets and likely managed more than a few votes for their trouble - at least among my peer group. There was something wrong with you if you didn't vote for those guys because all the other politicians hated us.
Fast-forward 15 years or so. Budgets and salaries higher, the military has a well-defined purpose, internationally participating as equals with all the other shiny well-equipped forces mucking about in Afghanistan. Reform has become the Harper Conservatives and they trip over themselves with public displays of flattery for the institution.
The institution thinks "Finally, somebody loves us." Presents and flattery that play on the emotions of CF members and public. Sacrifice and service are powerful narratives for the public and feed into the popular conception of Remembrance Day. Don't get me wrong, I think some of these might be very worthwhile ventures especially for the families and loved ones involved. Although I have to wonder why now the importance of such things when the country and institution fought two world wars with dead and wounded in the hundreds of thousands without need for such things.
But there's another side to the story. These measures have an impact on institution culture and perception. As has been documented on this blog and elsewhere, Harper and his ministers have made a practice of photo-opping themselves in military settings and uniforms beyond the pale of just about any previous government. Harper himself has gone so far as to take the type of salute meant only for the Crown.
More recently, this post caught the attention of commenters at the army.ca forum. The list of excuses for the PM wearing the jacket goes on and on. "He was cold." "Aircrew lend dignitaries PPE all the time." Jesus, the man has been PM for 5 years and flown countless times on CF aircraft. The idea that the aircrew 'needed' to lend him (what about the poor aircrew member that had to go without their coat?) the coat on two separate occasions and that Harper then needed to keep wearing that coat as he toured about with media cameras clicking away is fantastical. Did the sensitive flower need to be watered with the Queen's salute too?
Witness too the Air Force shilling for the Harper decision to buy the F-35, completely abandoning its method of rigorous competitive bidding. And the lack of attention the substance of CF operations.
This is how institutions, like people, are co-opted and corrupted by crass and manipulative operators. The Harper Conservatives, framing themselves as the party of the troops and heaping institutionally symbolic flattery on them, will eventually have an effect on the culture of the CF. Theirs isn't a single major political intrusion like Unification, but a slow accumulation of contentious but seemingly innocuous steps. Oh, wear a uniform here, send a Don Cherry there, bit of a mis-salute once or twice, and then suddenly there's no-bid fighter contracts, and supposedly tough professional soldiers muffining-up excuses for a politician's behaviour. In four more years, will the CF have Prime Minister's decorations and units named after cabinet ministers?
What'll be the excuses then?