Monday, February 03, 2014

Veterans are outraged. Now they need to do what they once did best. Lead. Part 2.

There is a commonly held misconception that all members of Canada's armed services and, by extension, discharged veterans are Conservative supporters. That, of course, is simply not true on more than one plane.

What is true, is that many voted for Harper and his uber-right-wing thugs based on a load of false propaganda, seriously limited information, and for purely selfish reasons, (which is why we all vote in a specific direction). It would not be a stretch to say that most members of the armed services had little use for Chretien and his Liberals long before the general electorate swung away from them. Chretien was viewed, (with good reason), as being anti-armed forces and if you're in the service you're going to fight back with the only tool allowed armed service personnel in a democracy: your big X against the name of someone who isn't going to return a Liberal government. That meant Paul Martin, despite making some immediate and needed course corrections when it came to the Canadian Forces, didn't stand a chance amongst CF voters. But that's more history than an explanation.

The truth is most members of the armed services are pretty apolitical, especially in their early years of service. When a kid joins the service he/she is not politically engaged and definitely doesn't possess a political ideology. Young (put any political party name here) ideologues don't, as a rule, join the armed services, particularly during peacetime. It would interfere with their ability to get inside the political machine. And, although this is likely to create a poo-flinging session, my long association with armed services has taught me that among those few young service members who do have a political view, none of them are conservative of the Harper ilk. That kind of young person avoids military service like a plague, although there is an exception I'll identify later.

Service in the navy, army or air-force is very insular. Long deployments, active service and isolated bases mean limited interaction with the civilian community. A very different lifestyle leads many service personnel to further isolate themselves (and their families) from too much civilian contact. Politics becomes dirty, invasive and unwanted. Politicians are viewed as dirty, invasive and unwanted. A majority of service personnel therefore distrust all politicians. Political interest only arises when it directly affects serving individuals or the organization to which they belong. Thus, political motivation depends on how they view the treatment offered by the gang in place at the time. Disband an airborne regiment, lose the votes of the entire army and likely chase them into the arms of the first party who says we'd never have done that. Cut the defence budget so deeply that there are not enough crews to man ships, lose the votes of the entire navy with the same end result.

Veterans are odd creatures. They have a tendency to take those particular political views and emotions with them on the final walk out the main gate and there is a good chance they'll hang on to them for decades. They maintain an emotional affinity with their former service that most civilians do not fully comprehend. It is born out of the fact that while serving they were a part of more than just an organization. The people they served with were and are a part of a very close-knit family with intentional barriers preventing those who did not serve from ever entering the deep centre of the military psyche. You didn't serve? You don't ever get to be a part of the ethos and no one is ever going to explain it to you.

So, it will likely come as something of a shock when I tell you that in the 1960s prior to Paul Helleyer committing the heinous crime that was Unification, most service personnel found themselves voting Liberal.

You see, Diefenbaker was a tough pill to swallow. He had done little to foster the armed services. Pay was poor and conditions were not improving. Cancellation of the AVRO Arrow iced Dief in the eyes of many service personnel. That and a long held belief that the Liberals were a better option for significant pay raises and an improvement in conditions put them ahead in the minds of people who had endured enough of Diefenbaker's draconian austerity measures, most of which had to do with keeping service personnel impoverished.

There was something else. The Liberals under Louis St. Laurent had engaged in a purpose-bent re-equipment program. Diefenbaker inherited a modernized or modernizing armed forces as a result of the government which preceded his. That fact was not lost on the long service veterans who were starting to leave the service in the 1960s and taking their political affinity for the Liberals with them.

Here, I'll end part 2. Part 3 will be a little longer in coming. 


Chris said...

Thanks for this, Dave. Just thanks.

Steve said...

STOP Harper, every law he passes does the opposite of what the name says. Just like his heroes the Republicans.

The Mound of Sound said...

As I said in your earlier post, Dave, you need to tap some key to organize and mobilize our veterans. A very thoughtful post. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Many Canadians live in a strange unreality caused by constant exposure to lies.

Here is an important fact. The Liberals decided to cancel the Avro Arrow program in 1957. From the Montreal Star, October 23, 1963," Gen. Charles Foulkes, chairman of the chiefs of staff committee from 1951 to 1960 testified yesterday that the Liberal Government of Prime Minister St. Laurent decided in 1957 it would cancel the Arrow interceptor program as soon as it was returned to power.”

The Liberals lost the election but no matter who would have won the Arrow would have been cancelled. The projected cost of the Arrow in 1957 was about $12.5 million each compared to $3.75 million for a Delta Dart or $1.85 million for a Voodoo. It is no surprise that the Liberals chose to end the program and Diefenbaker followed their lead.