Understanding Canadian Army Ethos

by John C Eggenberger OMM, CD PhD
Victoria, BC, November 2004

The “Citadelle Document” referred to in this article is posted on the RUSI VI website.


During the late 1970s the word “ethos” became more and more into every day use by the Army – while the word ethos was not in common use elsewhere, it carried considerable weight for Canada’s soldiers in “explaining” to others the “way we do things”, and “why we do things that way”. And the informal understandings that developed from the use of the word ethos often carried the day for the Army on many matters, in a variety of counsels. For the Army the word ethos was a useful notion. In fact, the word ethos was often used by the Army to defend the way it “did things”, as if the word itself was enough to carry the day.

Further, until challenged by a very senior personage in National Defence Headquarters in early 1981, the use of the word ethos seemed to give the Army the edge in certain influential circles. Over time, this edge started to dull and the “straw that …” was the use of the word ethos in support of a need to assure that socialization and training for soldiers was properly done. The term ethos was also used as justification for some infrastructure projects so to do, e.g., to support requests for messes, married quarters, and so on. The challenge laid down was rooted in the senior personage not finding a document that articulated what was really meant by the word ethos (in respect to the Army), and until the Army found such a document for him to read, could the Army not use the word ethos so cavalierly. So, easily understood was the apparent necessity for the Army to properly articulate the notion of ethos.

To respond to the challenge, in the spring of 1981 LGen J.J. Paradis, Commander of Force Mobile Command (FMC), gathered a core group of soldiers, with representation from the Navy and Air Force to the Citadelle in Quebec City, for a session which was designed to surface the ingredients of what the Army meant by the word ethos. Then, from these ingredients it was intended to develop a manuscript that could respond to the challenge. In the opening statement of the meeting by LGen Paradis, he opined that LGen Belzile should chair the meeting because the change of Command to the Army to him was imminent. Presentations had been invited from a variety of authorities, including Richard Gabriel, co-author of “Crisis in Command”, and Sandy Cotton, CFPARU research officer. The “wordsmith” for the session was myself.

For more background to the session at the Citadelle – as part of the work-up, I squirreled around the libraries at McGill and Concordia – but found little on the word ethos there, in fact not much more than the definition found in the Oxford Concise dictionary. I also spoke with a couple of professors at McGill, but they too had little help for me. The word culture was used almost exclusively to envelop and identify the ingredients of a society – and “sub-culture” was a derivative term used to describe smaller groups within the larger “culture”. I decided to keep and use the term ethos because there was the notion that the word ethos called for the inclusion of a goal (or aim), which fitted the Army’s sense of what ought to be – and also the challenge was to the word ethos, it would not be a good thing to avoid the question by changing the word in question. The alternate word to ethos was culture, but the term is somewhat limiting; culture does not necessarily need a goal – culture “just is”, and a group (with its evident ethos) exists in a cultural environment. (Note 1)

So, the session was held – I compiled the “ingredients” and transformed these into what is now referred to as the “Citadelle Document” (CD). The first draft of the CD was then, person by person, taken back to each of the members of the session, whence the doc was first read to each for the first time – took 18 minutes or so, and all responded to the oral presentation with commentary regarding strengthening of one part or another. The draft CD was not mailed around, and thus was not subject to the evils of staff officer “highlight” pen. The comments arising from the oral presentation did not shift the content of the first draft a whole lot. The CD was not treated as an intellectual/academic paper, rather it was to be “plain cook”, an “eyeball to eyeball” expression. This approach was taken since most crucial information exchanges on the battlefield take place orally, followed by “paper” as necessary, and it was thought best to emulate this condition for the first exposure of the CD to the persons who contributed to its composition.

Unfortunately, when finished and the CD sent up to National Defence Headquarters it was treated as a staff document/academic/intellectual presentation – and as such suffered considerable ill treatment at the hands of enthusiastic staff in NDHQ, both uniformed and not. Nevertheless, the CD remained an influential document in Army circles for some years to come. For example, as Deputy Commander of Mobile Command, MGen R. Gaudreault struck a project which had as its goal the formalization of the CD as a part of the NDA, which did not succeed, but the effort did bring additional credibility to the CD. Further, under the authority of LGen Leech, a subsequent Commander FMC, the scribe that composed CFP 300 Canada’s Army (Professionalism and Ethos) obviously had the CD as one input reference. More recently, however, the promulgation of the document Duty With Honour, The Profession of our Arms in Canada, under the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff – with a foreword signed off by the Governor General, does not refer to the CD, nor is the earlier promulgated Army document CFP 300 included in its available list of references.

… the word “Regiment” cannot be found at all.

While there is considerable congruence between the three expressions of ethos, there are some crucial differences to note, for example, the idea of the “Regiment” is central to the CD expression of the Canadian Army ethos, but the content of CFP 300 lessened this central notion – and in the document Duty with Honour, the word “Regiment” cannot be found at all. However, neither can be found the word “Squadron” in connection with the Airforce in the document Duty with Honour; but, found there is the word “Ship” in relation to the Navy.

The motivation to produce Duty with Honour likely flowed from the events in Somalia that led to the demise of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. As such then, the purpose of the document Duty with Honour seems simply to present what it is that should be said in a proper overall military ethos for Sea, Land and Air elements of the Canadian Armed Forces – then to sensibly link this military ethos to the larger notion of what the Canadian culture is about. Thereby assuring that the Canadian military ethos is consistent with the wishes of Canada. This is a laudable goal, and Duty with Honour appears to have met it in relation to the articulation of values that Canadian military folk should uphold; unfortunately this document speaks minimally about how these values are to be generated – and naught is said in this document about “the Regiment” at all, much less its central role in shaping the army ethos. (Note 2)

Other recent articles, e.g., Capstick, Defining the Culture: The Canadian Army in the 21st Century, have concentrated upon defining the “society” of the Canadian Army in terms of culture and values – along with most other authors, his emphasis is upon values – with not a lot on a full understanding of the word ethos, nor how these Army values are to be generated. As may be seen in what follows, we all traveled pretty much the same road, but our focused vision prevented us all from seeing the whole picture. (Note 3)

Some years ago, much before the Duty with Honour was published, it seemed to me that there was a disjoint, or chasm between what the ethos papers called for, and what actually was happening “real time”. Over the past few years it had became clear to me that the ethos statements by themselves were having a diminished impact upon what actually happened in some army formations. I had no idea why this might be so – or even if the observations were “true”. But I was unsettled, and felt the need to find out why.

Since the plank owners of the CD were LGen Paradis, and LGen Belzile I connected with them and asked their blessing for a “tune up” of the CD. They agreed, and I started checking around with several excellent folk (my oversight group), well able and willing to critique what emerged from dusting off the CD.

For some months considerable information was passed to and fro, but – much like panning for gold at the end of a sewer, the nugget that I was looking for was hard to catch. Indeed after all this to-ing and fro-ing the CD still stood as a pretty fair expression of what a description of the Army Ethos ought to be. But, being still unsettled, (if the CD was so good, then why was it not a preferred reading of every soldier) I opined to my oversight group that I was at my wits end – and did anybody have any thoughts as to what I could do to “get settled”. These patient folk, having come to the end of their tether with me (and I suspect, to get me off the topic), opined that perhaps I should revisit the ethos through the eyes of some senior Non Commissioned Officers – right away I felt that this tack would have a positive outcome. It was arranged that I should connect with and later meet with three former Regimental Sergeant Majors, John Clarke (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry), Leo Gallant (Royal 22 Regiment) and John Marr (Royal Canadian Regiment).

Considerable chit chat with this group of ex-RSMs ensued – over the phone, exchange of e-mail – and snail mail information got the idea across as far as my “unsettled” feeling went. These exchanges were followed up by eyeball visits to John Marr (Saint John, NB), Leo Gallant (Montreal, PQ) and John Clarke (Petawawa, Ont.). The result of these meets was astonishing to me, and in retrospect what was needed so clearly apparent – and how it was missed lo these many years is truly remarkable. During these meets I listened, and listened and listened – and got many “earfuls” – all of this delivered with great courtesy. These are men of considerable vision, thinking men that are terribly concerned about the capability of today’s soldiers to fight and win on the battlefield. For example, high on their list of issues was the apparent year after year reduction of unit cohesion, which is crucial to have in an army formation if one is going to endure and win under tough circumstance.

From all this then the underlying theme (the nugget) that emerged was: “OK, the CD ethos paper is fine, but what is it exactly that you want me to do today besides preach to make sure the ethos is what we want it to be.”

No one was more surprised than me – here it was, all that we were doing, then as now – especially in relation to the present expression was/is to “preach” values. But when we left the pulpit, there was no action plan handed to the congregation so that they could “get on with it” and ensure the appropriate values emerged from “today’s” work. Of course, without guidance an ethos that engenders cohesion can be lost – and that is what made the RSMs grind their teeth. Since the Army started using the word ethos, there was no practical guidance to the NCOs as to what they ought to do today, other than “preaching” of values, which put the soldiers to sleep with good effect.

It is the Officer’s business to make sense out of nonsense, and it is the NCO’s business to create order out of disorder

And, when I gripped what I was being told – I immediately recalled an expression made by the RSM at the Infantry School – have forgotten his name, – who opined during a heavy exchange of fire during a session on leadership – “It is the Officer’s business to make sense out of nonsense, and it is the NCO’s business to create order out of disorder”. I should have remembered this phrase – but I didn’t. In retrospect, we ought to have had representation from the RSM community at the Citadelle. Too soon old – too late smart.

And, unfortunately the volume Duty With Honour, now the bedrock document on the matter for the Canadian Forces, speaks naught about how values are generated in the Regiment.

What follows then is the start of a new quest for the practical ingredients of the Army ethos – and how these values might be formed.

The Practical Ingredients of the Army Ethos

Wherever it goes a successful Army must create, improvise, and adjust to meet ever changing threats. To do so, an Army formation brings with it a set of “rules” and “Standard Operating Procedures” that guide and regulate the “way to do things”. For the formation to survive in unfriendly circumstance these rules and SOPs must be attended to by the soldiers. This set of rules and procedures enable the army formation to continually maintain and re-establish it’s “society” in the face of unfriendly circumstance and often strange locations far away from home – thus providing the necessary infrastructure to maintain unit cohesion.

In-as-much-as the primary aim of any army is to conduct its affairs so as to enable it to “close with and destroy the enemy”, then these rules and procedures ought to be designed to support that aim. If they do not, then the army may not be able to achieve success on the battlefield – much less consolidate a victory.

So it is with Canada’s Army.

Among other things, attending to these “Rules” and “Standard Operating Procedures” generate habits and predispositions for the soldiers in the formation. To be understood is that a habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition, an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary. Also it is to be understood that for a behavior to be a habit, the behavior must be performed such that it (the behavior) is not ordered to be observed. This notion is often expressed as “self discipline”.

A behavior from a soldier that must be ordered so as to be observed is not a habit. Said another way, if one does “something” because one is ordered to “do it”, and does “not do it” in the absence of an order – the “something” is not a habit.

On the other hand, linked to habits are predispositions which guide those actions that emerge when a soldier (or the formation) is confronted with new and unexpected situations. More often than not, army formations meet the “unexpected”, and often the routines learned in training do not fit the immediate situation. This being so, then the predispositions enable new and different sets of responses to new threats. So the habits that are ingrained ought to be such that initiatives to solve new threats are not difficult to present, or introduce.

The habits and predispositions that are instilled in a soldier are dictated by the events that are to be encountered. For example, for a soldier, often the events to be faced are fearful – thus habits are formed that enable fear to be coped with; and, the events to be faced may oblige the use of lethal force – thus habits are formed that enable lethal force to be deployed upon lawful command. Habits are formed that affirm the proper use of the Chain of Command, as well as habits that generate discipline. All these habits, and more, are instilled though practice and repetition.

At the same time, predispositions to act in particular ways under circumstances of uncertainty are generated by habits – such that when faced with chaotic events, the predisposition is to return the chaotic situation to one where order and stability prevail.

Fundamental to success in developing the army ethos are daily/weekly/monthly … routines that assure that appropriate soldiers habits and predispositions are developed before, during and after battle in the following categories:

Care of body,
Fit to fight.
Care of kit, personal weapon, and equipment,
Attending to, and responding to orders,
Care of team member,
Working in a team,
Conduct in training,
Conduct in garrison,
Conduct on the battlefield.

Further, habits in relation to the team mission are developed which follow the SMEAC protocols. (Situation – Mission – Execution – Admin & logistics – Command & signals). Each of these components of this doctrine call for the soldier to learn a protocol that permits the efficient and effective deployment of force. By doing so, predispositions are developed such that the soldier, NCO and Officer learn how best to re-create their base, their “home away from home”, and learn how to conduct successful operations within an ever changing and threatening environment.

These habits and predispositions, once ingrained, in turn generate situations in which values, such as duty, loyalty, integrity and courage are shaped. But, to be remembered always – successful armies always act pretty much in the same way, regardless of the values of their host society. The habits and predispositions of successful armies, learned over eons, ought naught be tampered with lightly – because by tampering with the habits – one tampers with the values, and in what direction the values take is likely problematical – perhaps even antithetical to the values thought proper for an army. Once habits are changed it takes the devils own time to re-do them properly.

So, it might just be that the components of this presentation fits better with the recent definition of ethos, as noted below:

Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Craig Calhoun, Ed. Oxford University Press, 2002 Oxford References On Line: Definition of Ethos:

From the ancient Greek, signifying the character, way of life, or moral purpose of an individual or group.

The broad sense of the original term, “ethos” which encompassed habits, pre-dispositions, values and sentiments – persisted well into the eighteenth century, when it suggested to Charles-Louis Montesquieu the irreconcilable plurality of morals and ways of life. The terms modern derivation – ethics – is usually restricted to general theories of right or moral conduct. The older term is retained to demonstrate how these are rooted on social practices and values.” (Italics and emphasis mine.)

Also, suggested in the above noted definition is that habits, pre-dispositions are large forces that shape values and sentiments; i.e., the habits and pre-dispositions of a group will generate certain values and sentiments, and delete others. Thus with the introduction (and acceptance) to the group of differing values and sentiments – likely to emerge will be different habits. And the corollary, the introduction of different habits and dispositions into a group will likely change its values and sentiments.

Absorbing the Ethos

These fundamentals ought first to be assimilated by a soldier in the context of an infantry section, enveloped in a platoon. The reason for this approach two fold; first, sooner or later all soldiers must be able to fight themselves out of trouble as a unit, on foot – as have recent US Army transport units in Iraq. Further, soldiers who have not been taught to fight as a cohesive unit, will not learn “on the spot” how to do so – and as a result, these unprepared soldiers will likely be captured or killed. Second, all the elements of a successful Army ethos are taught within the confines of a section in a platoon. To be most effective, the ethos ought to be unconsciously ingested by each soldier – special classes, preaching or exhorting to “learn the ethos” will be counterproductive – soldiers must incorporate the necessary habits and predispositions naturally – observing good exemplars, and opportunity to hear stories from soldiers with “experience” about “how things are done” is the way to go.

It is the second reason for acquiring the fundamentals of the Army ethos in an infantry section that is emphasized here; it is the use of the personal weapons, the rifle, the pistol, the grenade, in a team (the section) that make the ethos of the soldier, and especially Infantry so vastly different from the ethos of any other group. As a rifleman in an infantry section, learned by each soldier through specific actions (habits – predispositions) are the values of Duty – Loyalty – Integrity – Courage in the face of an enemy that is intent on defeating him. (Note 4)

These values, Duty – Loyalty – Integrity – Courage , are exactly the values identified as necessary for military folk in the service of Canada as the core values in the work – along with Truth and Valour. And, the best, if not the only way, for an Army to learn these values is though experience in an infantry section. It is important to note, along with many other values, truth, and valour are also learned in this fashion.

Maintaining the Ethos

For our Army, the core elements of its habits, predispositions – values and sentiments have been retained within the Regiment, especially the Infantry Regiment. Moreover, the similarities between an Infantry Regiment and the traditional family have always been recognized. The same human characteristics that support a sound family structure are at play in the Regimental system. It is no accident that Regiments, especially those of the Infantry, arrange their affairs much as does a traditional family. It is also no accident that the cohesion between soldiers, critical for success on the battlefield, is derived in large part because the Regiment treats its soldiers as valued members of the Regimental family.

Also, opined by one RSM was the following; given appropriate training, a soldier in an infantry section (where the rubber meets the road) will be influenced to win by his will to survive, his immediate friends and comrades, the values instilled by his culture and Regiment, and immediate leadership.

In consequence, (as set out in the CD) engendered by the Regiment is the conviction that an attack from an enemy becomes so enraging that the natural fear of loneliness and death, as well as the disinclination to take life, is less than the 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; fighting for something more than themselves: – their home – family, and friends.

But maintaining a proper ethos is hard work, and must be properly cultivated every day. Letting ones guard down and permitting habits and predispositions be learned that are antithetical to the aim can lead to devastating results. As has been presented earlier, changes to habits – predispositions will impact upon changes the values thought to be critical to success – Duty – Loyalty – Integrity – Courage. As a result, values and sentiments other than these, such as “self before mission” and “me first”, can emerge that are other than those desired – simply due changes in habits and predispositions, whatever the cause.

Note 1: A recent (Nov. 2004) examination of the text books used in some Universities by Psychology (all persuasions), Sociology, Anthropology revealed that the word ethos was not mentioned, even once. Nor is the word ethos to be found in the Psychology or Sociology dictionaries available at a nearby University bookstore. Perusal of history texts there supplied similar results. There is an Ethos Journal, but it is filled articles about primitive/remote societies, and how they induce behaviors as well as articles about urban/rural neighborhoods, etc.etc. At one nearby university, its library has 15 books that have somewhere in them the term ethos, a third of these are in German. Most authorities use the term ethos as if the reader ready know what the word ethos means – naught could be found by me that explained “ethos” in substance, no doubt others can. Back

Note 2: A recent authority opined that during the late 1970s the use of the word “culture” became common – and the word ethos fell out of favour. Probably because the “management” literature (about which there were tons and tons of it being generated) simply started to use the word culture to speak to what went on in a corporation, “corporate culture” became easily understood When this occurred, within most, if not all disciplines, the term ethics became the dominant word used to address moralities – and values. At the same time the word ethos apparently became a synonym for ethics – and it is not; ethos is a valuable word, and we ought to learn more about its proper use.Back

Note 3: From this writers opinion, and a “non-exhaustive” review of recent literature, not much (if anything) has been discovered about the generation of values beyond that offered by, Bem – Pugh – Scheibe. E.g., For Scheibe, 1970 pg. 52; “In psychology, the major vehicle for explaining the operation of the process of value contagion has been the conditioning paradigm. ……”. And for Bem, 1970 pg. 16; “More concisely, then, a value is a primitive reference (from primate disposition, as influenced through experience) for a positive attitude toward certain end-states of existence (like equality, salvation, self-fulfillment or freedom) or certain broad modes of conduct (like courage, honesty, friendship or chastity) …..”, [italics mine, my synopsis of other concepts in his work] and finally Pugh in 1977, who put it all together very nicely on pg.350;

Since the higher levels in the individual’s value network are initially developed on the basis of the lower levels, his early experience (which establishes the foundation for this rational value network) can have a profound influence on his subsequent decisions. Although he may on rare occasions be motivated to reexamine and perhaps even radically restructure his fundamental value premises, he does not ordinarily do so. As a matter of cybernetic efficiency (as long as his existing value network seems to be producing fairly satisfactory decisions) he is likely to avoid any major restructuring of his basic value network.

As the individual’s innate motivation system matures, it begins to define new objectives for him such as social dominance and leadership. Once again, the way these innate objectives can be most effectively achieved is deter-mined by the social norms and values of the society. Consequently, the secondary values generated by these new motivations are also conditioned by the “rules of the game” within the social environment.

The network of secondary value criteria produced by this process includes certain very general concepts that we may consciously interpret as values, such as freedom, personal integrity, and self-respect. Such general value concepts cannot be attributed to any single component of the innate value system.

They grow instead out of experience with the full spectrum of innate values. Since these rather abstract secondary values seem to provide guidance that is relevant to a wide spectrum of the innate values, we usually attribute to them a validity that is more universal than the specific value structure from which they were derived. On this basis, some readers might comment that many of the secondary values seem to correspond more closely than the primary values to what we usually think of as “ultimate” values. Indeed the development of secondary values of such wide applicability is one of the great achievements and challenges of human intellectual activity.

But the network of secondary values is not limited to such generalized evaluative criteria. It also includes a large number of minor and very simple decision criteria that we often refer to informally as “dos” and “don’ts.” For example:

Don’t he inconsiderate of others.
Do brush your teeth after meals.
Do brush your hair in the morning.
Don’t drink dirty water.

When we consider the way these simple rules are actually used, it is apparent that they are also a form of value criteria. Such dos and don’ts are not interpreted as rigid rules. Each is assigned some judgmental importance, and each will be violated if there is sufficient reason to do so. Thus, each of these “rules” really corresponds to a value criterion that is stated in a simple binary form – one value for do and another for don’t. Obviously, this simple binary way of representing the secondary value criteria contributes to cybernetic efficiency. Although the actual “value” or importance attached to each rule is rarely verbalized explicitly there is nevertheless an underlying judgmental value associated with each such criterion. The ensemble of such dos and don’ts combined with the other value criteria provide the very complex network of secondary values that we use to make our daily decisions.Back

Note 4: The Airforce ethos is learned in the cockpit/crew-stations of an airplane; for Navy – these folks learn the fundamentals of their ethos in the ship.Back

Bem, Daryl J., Beliefs, Attitudes and Human Values, Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, California, 1970.

Pugh, George E., The Biological Origin of Human Values, Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1977.

Scheibe, Karl E., Beliefs and Values, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., New York, 1970.

Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Craig Calhoun, Ed. Oxford University Press, 2002 Oxford References On Line: Definition of Ethos:

Her Majesty the Queen, in Right of Canada, Duty With Honour, The Profession of our Arms in Canada, Chief Of Defence Staff, Canadian Defence Academy, 2003.

“Army Ethos”. The Citadelle Document, FMC, 1981.

CFP 300, Canada’s Army (Professionalism and Ethos) Mobile Command. 1990.
Publication now identified as B-GL-300-000 available at http://armyapp.dnd.ca/ael/publications_ie.asp?series=300_e

Defining the Culture: The Canadian Army in the 21st Century, Col. M.D. Capstick.
Canadian Journal etc. www.journal.forces.gc.ca

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