Canadian Army Ethos
“I realize that in the final analysis we will be judged on military grounds; that is, the extent to which we have effectively contributed to the security of Canada, to the deterrence of war and to the support of our allies.”
The Honourable G. Lamontagne
Minister of National Defence
Canadian Defence Association
Canada gives the Army the right to kill to achieve a victory for her. (See Note below.) Thereby making the profession of arms for Canada’s Army vastly different from any other. Consequently, the characteristic spirit of community within which the professional soldier lives is considerably different from all other professions. The ethos of the Army is therefore worthy of expression and it is the purpose of this discourse to affirm the professional ethos of citizens who would be servants of Canada in her Army.
The Army is required by the Government of Canada to assert authority over others and territory through a loyal chain of military Command and Leadership. This unbroken chain links the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and Minister of National Defence through the Governor General as Commander in Chief, to the Chief of the Defence Staff, thence successively down the chain to loyally bond all members of the Army together.
Ultimately, the raison d’etre of the Army is to assert authority for Canada through the delivery of disciplined force and firepower in a unit under Military Command. It is the responsibility of the Army to engage the enemy anywhere, anytime. The Army is therefore obliged — during peace — to prepare for war. But as is now known, peace is not always that peaceful, witness the Canadian Army experience in Cyprus during the summer of 1974, in the former Yugoslavia, and lately full combat operations in Afganistan. Consequently the Army leader, regardless of rank, is always responsible for his men to:
(a) train them for battle,
(b) equip them for battle, and
(c) supply them physical and mental support before, during and after battle,
so that they can engage the enemy with intent to destroy, and succeed for Canada.
Peace and the Soldier’s Dilemma
The soldiers dilemma, like the airman’s and sailor’s, is a “people” dilemma. In the first instance, all people are extremely protective of their own lives and will always fight to stay alive; however, in battle they struggle to stay alive while at the same time they strive to take opposing peoples lives. This is the essential psychological contradiction with which all armed forces must deal; said another way, an individual does not naturally want to die, or to be wounded, yet they must deliberately place themselves in situations where they might be killed or wounded – and they must be prepared to kill or wound in order to subdue the enemy. During peace, the reality of this essential fact fades away and is remembered by few.
This “people” dilemma is made more acute in land combat than sea or air because the physical distance between the soldier and the enemy is, or can be, so close that the enemy becomes a “flesh and blood” person, rather than an object. And for people of our culture it is far easier to shoot with intent to destroy at an object than a person. The sailor and the airman, in combat, is in every bit as dangerous a situation as the soldier; however, sailors and airmen are not often faced with the fact that they must shoot people, albeit the enemy – in a face to face encounter, or be shot in a face to face encounter.
The soldiers dilemma is, therefore, rooted in the age old question of how individuals and groups learn how, during peace, to conquer the loneliness of battle, cope with the stress and fear caused by combat, thence enabling them to engage the enemy and win.
War and the Soldier’s Dilemma
In our culture, the natural “organization” which evolved to enable soldiers to cope with the human loneliness and the natural fear of death while at the same time offering the basis for aggressive battlefield action is the “Regiment”. The notion of the Regiment was not derived artificially as an organization to solve a particular problem, then put in place, rather – its structure was pieced, webbed and woven together through time as a functioning cohesive unit by human beings out of the horror of battle. Through long and painful experience, and by trial and error in war our people evolved the “Regiment”, a group of human beings engaged in common cause – the defeat of the enemy.
Briefly, the soldier must want his Regiment, the men and women of it, and those around him to survive; it is his family where he is not alone. It provides a situation wherein his human needs can be met, and it is therefore very dear to him.
As a consequence, the threat to the Regiment’s survival by an attacking enemy becomes so enraging that his natural fear of loneliness and death, as well as his disinclination to take life, is less than his fear of losing those who provide him safety, security, a firm sense of belonging, affection, status and prestige, order, system and structure, and opportunity to become the best soldier in the world; he fights for something more than himself: – the Regiment, his home and his family.
Within the Regiment, combat leadership and therefore combat effectiveness, depends almost entirely on the formation of the fighting team through the treatment of the led by the leader BEFORE combat. During peace, the leader will have demonstrated his technical competence at all phases of his responsibility, his men will know that he is loyal, both to them and the mission, he will have trained them, lived with them, disciplined them, laughed and cried with them, until they know him like an older brother of “father”. It is crucial that this phenomena of team, and team spirit be developed and found at the section level, which is the foundation group in all Regiments.
As a result of long and sound training and good team spirit, any leader can complete the mission with his men because his men will go where he goes, fight where – and when – he fights, since they have confidence and trust in him, and through him to the rest of the Regiment.
It is also clear that successful human relationships and bonds between the leader and the led on land are no different than those of the sailor on the sea, or the airman in the air. If the ambience and leadership of the Regiment (or the Ship or the Squadron) is such that its members prize belonging to it, and if the men prize the lives of their comrades, then they will be motivated to fight. Moreover, the men of any Regiment will be motivated to fight and exist against all odds if, in peace, the social and cultural values of Canada support the belief that what they are doing in the Regiment is needed and is legitimate. Soldiers must feel that their society supports their “Regiment”, and further, that their way of life is essential to the moulding of an Army. In sum, during war the performance of the Regiment, thus the Army, is directly dependent upon a healthy, vital and cohesive Regiment during peace.
Foundations of the Ethos
The professional ethos of the soldier is founded on the principle of mission before self, as guided through military:
(a) service (duty and responsibility)
(b) discipline (obedience and loyalty)
(c) integrity (honesty and justice)
Fundamentally the soldier is not working for himself, to advance his own fortunes, or to promote his own comfort and safety at the expense of his comrades. Especially as applied to each leader, the duty of the soldier is to apply his knowledge to achieve the mission of his superior, to work for the improvement of his unit, and the welfare of his peers. Most crucially, he is at the service of – as well as responsible for – the development and well being of his subordinates.
Principally, the habitual obedience of each soldier to the direction of properly established authority is the essential foundation of Army combat effectiveness. The quick and accurate reaction of soldiers to the word of Command is instilled through the incessant and repetitive practice of battle drills and routines. This disciplined training assures that the fundamental links of loyalty between the leader and the led are always visible; and this training also ensures that the led generate and maintain a mutual confidence among each other and towards their leader. Army discipline serves to win battles and save soldiers’ lives and must never be allowed to lapse, else the Regiment is at peril.
But rationalized and disciplined obedience is also thoughtful and and discriminating, it is not blind or unreasoning. Loyal support to superior, peer and subordinate requires the intelligent application of critical thought to the principles, consistency and utility of policies, rules, plans, and practices used to achieve the unit mission, before the battle is joined.
Should the soldier believe the mission to be jeapordized by current action, then he is obliged to call his superiors attention to the flaws as he sees them in the consistency of policies, rules, plans, and practices. After the results of the soldiers thoughtful appraisal has had the attention of his superiors – and a decision rendered – then that decision is accepted and shown by deed to be the soldiers own. Else the soldier must leave the Regiment, one way or another.
The soldiers honesty and the consistency between his word and deed are the benchmarks upon which he is measured as reliable and trustworthy by his superiors, peers and subordinates. Soldiers in battle are completely dependent upon their leaders and comrades for life; consequently, their will to win and deliver firepower rests upon the trust they have in their leader and the confidence they have that their comrades will come to their aid in time of need. The soldier knows that a leader or a comrade proved unreliable and inconsistent before the battle will not suddenly become so during battle.
More fundamentally, a leader whose application of discipline and reward is seen to be unfair or inequitable breeds a soldiers distrust. It is imperative to dispense reward and punishment impartially and without favour. Signs of inequity and injustice will assure, more than any other act, a self before mission, rather than mission before self orientation in a military unit.
Leadership in Support of the Military Ethos
The military leader is judged not by an inventory of his virtues, but by the accomplishments of his men. And in the end, the methods of leadership are good to the extent that they encourage human devotion and co-operative response, especially on the battlefield.
Recognizing the many human imperfections of a soldier as he strives to become better than he was, and using the guidelines of the ethos, it is the prime responsibility of any Army leader to:
(a) know, discipline and develop himself,
(b) know, discipline and develop his subordinates,
(c) know his objectives and be able to state them in terms his men can understand,
(d) know of, and know how, to deploy his resources, and
(e) know the area of conflict; then
(a) know the enemies leaders, their men, resources, and goals; then
(a) defeat the enemy.
Note: Over the years, this opening sentence has caused concern here and there, mainly because of the use of the word “kill”. The complete sentence (as written above) reads “Canada gives the Army the right to kill to achieve a victory for her.” What is intended by this sentence is that, along with notion that the nation obliges her soldiers to adhere to the substance of the “unlimited liability” clause (first articulated by Sir John Hacket a little earlier than the Citadelle Document was composed) whence the soldier may be required to lay down his life in the service of Canada. – And, Canada also expects her soldiers to take life upon lawful command. The members of the Citadelle group wanted it understood that there are two sides to the coin, and both have consequences. The consequences of one side are that the soldier might die, and the nation has the right to call upon her soldiers so to do – and on the other the soldier must kill. And, without the moral authority supplied by Canada though an unobstructed chain of command, such an act would be construed as murder. Thus, through the unobstructed chain of command, from the Commander in Chief, the Prime Minister and the CDS, the nation provides the moral armour to protect the soldier from the potential consequences of the act, but also the calms the conscience, of the nation and the soldier, as to the rightness of the act.
Another tack that could have been taken by the Citadelle group would have been to use an introductory sentence such as now follows: “To defend her, Canada empowers the Army to employ lethal force simply upon lawful command. Often, the Army is able to have its will felt by employing less emphatic means, but if called upon the Army will unhesitatingly carry out its responsibility to deploy lethal force, and those who are potential threats or enemies must know this to be so.” This option was rejected because it was felt proper that the soldier’s duty be not obfuscated by clever wordsmithing. It was considered more important that the full range of the soldiers duty be stated such that misunderstandings be not generated, with the potential consequence that when confronted with reality, the soldier cringe from responsibility.