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Canada’s Military: J.L. Granatstein doesn’t get the irony

Area Man Jack Granatstein

Now, I’m a student of history by trade. This has always been my bread and butter – Canadian history especially. In a third year history class at the University of Toronto, Prof. Adam Chapnick (who is now the Deputy Director of Education at the Canadian Forces College in Kingston) once told me that a paper I had written on Canada’s national defence plan post-WWII was “very Granatstein-ian.” At the time I took it as a compliment: no student of Canadian history can make it through university without reading at least one book written or co-written by Jack Granatstein, and I was no exception.

I admired Jack at the time. He was distinguished in his field, and an authority on a topic I aspired to know more about. When I asked Prof. Chapnick what he meant by his comment, I was shocked to hear him say that what he meant by “Granatstein-ian” was I had a very basic premise and a lot of auxillary evidence that I was desperately trying to make work for my argument. Kinda like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole just because they are both shapes.

The problem? He no longer writes – he laments. He no longer tires to inspire – he yells, like a grumpy old man who hasn’t noticed the world is changing all round him.

Take his latest example. The National Post is largely the only paper that will accept his articles these days, and in between books with equally father-knows-best titles like ‘Who Killed the Canadian Military?,’ he writes articles. This is how he attempts to stay relevant – yelling at the Post’s readers of the virtues of Canada’s military and our proud military culture, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he has idealized a culture almost a century old.

This time around, he is responding to an article in the Globe and Mail that references professor emeritus Michael Fellman, who was discouraged to see the level of militarism creeping into Canada’s citizenship tests. “Canada’s military heritage does include ‘sacrifice for freedom and all that stuff,’ those things at which Fellman sneers,” Jack writes. “Some 45,000 Canadians died in the war against Hitler and Nazism so that all of us, including university professors, can be free to say what we choose when we choose to say it, no matter how silly. Without their sacrifice for, yes, freedom, Fellman would have grown up speaking German.”

Eyes begin glazing over. Brains begin tuning in to other things. And it is not because of a lack of respect, or ingratitude – it is simply that in 2011, the Second World War is not the focal point of our lives in the same immediate way it was to our parents, and our grandparents. Values and core beliefs of a growing number of young people in Canada’s urban centres may not line up with Jack’s beliefs for what Canada should be anymore. And this is alright.

Only to Jack, it’s not.

And it’s sad because this once admirable academic now seem to come off as an angry, sour old man who has no appreciation for the irony of one foolish retired academic attacking another “foolish retired academic” in a rival newspaper for thinking differently than he does. And when his attack on Fellman has to resort to quoting the comments on his piece from the Globe and Mail, you know he has run out of ammunition. (That military reference was for you, old man.)

I think if you dig deeper, and look beyond the traditional left vs. right, old vs. young dichotomy, you will find a more interesting picture: that differences in opinion regarding Canada’s military seem to be increasingly a rural vs. urban issue. With so many more opportunities for young people in Canada’s urban centres than our rural hinterlands, it is no wonder that Granatstein would lament the absence of Canada’s military in our largest cities.

He writes that,

One might believe that the Canadian Forces was omnipresent in this nation’s daily life. Those huge bases in every city pouring uniformed men and women onto the streets to cow the citizenry. In fact, Ottawa and Edmonton are the only large cities that have any military presence to speak of, the military years ago making the huge error of hiding its troops away in far off camps in Cold Lake, Bagotville, Gagetown, and Petawawa.

He goes on to say that,

On university campuses, the Canadian Officers Training Corps closed down more than forty years ago, and cadet corps long ago disappeared from high schools while those run by militia units have been disarmed for fear Canada’s youth might be seen as child soldiers. And the tiny Canadian Forces—all 65,000 under-equipped regulars, do not really pose much of a threat to Professor Fellman’s values.

What a shame that Granatstein would choose to skirt over such an interesting topic to get another jab in at another ‘foolish retired academic’ rather than make a valuable argument for discussing the role of Canada’s military in urban centres. This is a topic for discussion where he can still make a a valuable and interesting contribution.

Too bad he chose to  gripe, instead. A missed opportunity from an increasingly grumpy old man.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


4 thoughts on “Canada’s Military: J.L. Granatstein doesn’t get the irony

  1. Selecting military personnel as the one group deserving of special attention because they sacrifice their lives in the service of their country has always struck me as arbitrary and unfair. All employed Canadians serve their country, and many from various vocations make the ultimate sacrifice in that service.

    For example, dozens of construction workers die on the job every year, and they are literally building the future of our country, a service of much greater merit than shooting, or being shot by, Afghans. And the lives of construction workers, or police, or journalists, or firefighters, or fishermen, or miners, or all those other Canadians who have sacrificed themselves in our service, are worth no less than the lives of soldiers. They deserve to be honoured equally.

    Posted by Bill Longstaff | July 5, 2011, 6:17 pm
    • I agree, Bill. I have often had that same thought myself. If the idea is military personnel deserve this treatment because of the inherent danger, or the value of their work, then many of the ordinary Canadians whose jobs help build Canada who lose their lives are equally deserving of recognition for their sacrifices.

      I often feel this way when members of certain professions are labelled ‘heroic’ simply because of the nature of their profession. I don’t believe heroism works that way.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Posted by awreeves | July 5, 2011, 7:46 pm
    • Sorry Bill, I can’t agree. To use a phrase from Robert Anson Heinlein, being a “producing, consuming animal” doesn’t make the same sacrifice as those who put themselves in harms way for their society (Soldiers, police, fire fighters et al). No one is claiming that other citizens aren’t doing things of value, but – as Orwell once said, not all pigs are equal. And of course to use another Phrase from Orwell, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
      Sleep well my friend.

      Posted by Bill | August 17, 2011, 9:55 am
  2. Ottawa and Edmonton? I guess Jack never heard of Victoria (Esquimalt) or doesn’t that count as a “big city”? Your basic premise is entirely accurate. I think Jack went off the deep end following 9/11 and it’s been all passion over reason ever since.

    Posted by MoS | July 6, 2011, 3:10 am

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