Why Canada Slept Pt 5

Thanks to Gerhard for getting these to me, and thanks to Dave for letting me post this series of essays entitled "Why Canada Slept" which originally were published in the back of Cerebus. I have kept the original formating and haven't edit it at all. If you rather read a MS Word document of it, here it is.

If you have't read the previous installment, here it is, or better yet, start at part 1.



Why Canada Slept


Part V


  Continuing with the theme of those areas where Canada has been fulfilling its “grown-up” obligations in the real world, the following are excerpts from Chances for Peace: Canadian Soldiers in the Balkans, 1992-1995 by Sean Maloney and John Llambias (Vanwell Publishing Ltd., St. Catharines, Ontario) which were featured in an article headlined “Canada’s Soldiers of Peace” (National Post, 9 November 02)


   It was just getting dark; the fires were still burning in all of the buildings with most of the roofs caved in and there was a loathsome smell of death.  You didn’t know what it was then but you sure found out later on, when the bodies started showing. All of the cattle had been killed and were lying on the roads and the fields.

  Initially, you were a bit awestruck at the systematic destruction.  We’re not talking sporadic houses; every single building that we saw had been leveled to the ground. Twenty-four hours or 48 hours before, people were living all around here, and now it’s just total destruction.

  It was a violation of everything you’d been taught. Armies make war on armies; armies don’t make war on civilians.  I think all of the soldiers shared a deep sense of anger over what the Croats had done, but in any case, we moved in…

   We found a couple of bodies that first night, a couple of women who had been burned to death in a basement of a house.  By the looks of things, they had been killed just before we moved in.  Basically, a jerry can of gas had been put in this small basement room with them and ignited.  We just saw charred flesh and the stench was overwhelming.  [We] had to pour water on the bodies before they could put them in a plastic body bag or they would have melted the bag…

   We succeeded in actually taking the entire [Medak] Pocket.  We had quite a few confrontations between Canadian, French and Croat soldiers.  I don’t mind saying that our guys handled themselves very well, even though they had a tremendous amount of anger over what they’d seen.  They could have easily done some bad things.

  Myself, my RSM [Regimental Sergeant-Major] and my track driver went for a drive around to see where the lines ended.  I ran into a Croat checkpoint.  In my assessment, they were too far into the buffer zone.  I said, “You have to move back” and they said, “No, we were told to stay here.”  I told them, “Move back or I’ll call my soldiers and we’ll move you back,” and they replied, “No, we’re staying.”  So I got on the radio and called them up and shortly a couple of platoons of the French Army came along with their [armoured vehicles] and I told them, “Push them back 1,000 metres” and they said, ‘Yes, sir!” People started pulling their guns, but we had more guns than they, and we didn’t shoot first.  We never shoot first, but if any one of them would have shot we would have killed them all, there’s no doubt about it.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Calvin, Commanding Officer,

 2nd Battalion, PPCLI, Medak Pocket, Croatia September 1993


   We were told to clear a wood for mines but what in fact we were supposed to be looking for was mounds in the dirt, like unmarked graves.  Our section commander and the guy that was close to him found a large mound of dirt and there were pieces of clothing scattered here and there, like little kids’ shoes and stuff like that, so they marked it. Then he turned around, I think he was going to the bathroom or something, he just happened to look up in the tree and there was a noose still hanging from the tree.  Then they started to look around, like, what the hell was this all about?  There was a stump that was stained, which we assumed was blood, and there was another stained tree with bullet holes in it, which we figured that they threw somebody up against and shot them, threw them in a hole, covered them up and carried on. 

   There was a road and there were houses lining the road but everything was empty, and everything was gone.  We were wondering, where the hell did these people go?

   Well, we later found out that was where the people were.  They had just been killed and thrown in the hole.  This was a Croatian area, so those people were Croatian or they could be [Serbs] because everybody lived together.


Corporal Adam Smith, Rifleman,

2nd Battalion PPCLI

 Sector West, Croatia, 1993


   It just started to turn dark, around nine-ish, we were just talking away, Corporal Keegan [a pseudonym] was on the .50 cal. Turret and I was putting my weapon back together when all of a sudden out of nowhere, all this shooting started and, you know, it was obvious we were being shot at as I saw tracers going over my head. I looked up and the top hatch of the [armoured personnel] carrier was open. I didn’t have my helmet on, because I was in the carrier, and I looked out the door and I could see dirt being chewed up.  I heard screaming and I knew it was Master Cpl. Stevenson [pseudonym] and I knew that he had been shot. Cpl. Keegan immediately started returning fire with the .50 cal. [machine gun], one of the fellows was in the tent and a couple of the other fellows with Master Cpl. Stevenson started firing back with their C-7 [rifles]…

  Somehow Stevenson had crawled back to the door of the carrier and I looked at the door and there he was.  I grabbed him and pulled him into the carrier but I couldn’t really see where he was hit. He was screaming and I knew that was a good  sign. When someone goes down and they’re screaming, they’re probably hit somewhere in the extremities, so obviously he wasn’t hit in the head or chest…

   This all happened in less than five minutes. So we patched him up and then I called in a contact report on the radio and told them we were en route …it was combat driving, the driver was just cranking the tiller bars and everything was falling off the sides of the carrier on top of everybody and the engine was screaming, master Cpl. Stevenson was yelling and I was trying to yell over the radio…

   We don’t know if it was Serbs or Muslims.  There was a lot of dead ground, and anyone could have done it. It could have been done to make it look like the Serbs did it or it could have been the Serbs, we didn’t know but it was definitely a deliberate attack on us. There was no question.    


Master Corporal Rob Calhoun, Machine-gunner ,

2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment

Srebrenica, Bosnia, 1993


From “Give heroes medals and more” by Barry Cooper and David Bercuson (National Post, 10 July 02):


  Last week Governor General Adrienne Clarkson announced that a new decoration is being created to recognize “the outstanding service of Canadian Forces in times of conflict under direct enemy fire.”  The award—the Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation—is to be awarded to the Second Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for service in Croatia in 1993 and to the First Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, the “Vandoos,” for lifting the siege of the Sarajevo airport in the summer of 1992, thus enabling humanitarian relief flights to land.

   In itself the recognition of the duty and heroism of these two units is long overdue. The 2PPCLI, half of whom were reservists, engaged in a 36-hour firefight, in September 1993, trying to stop the Croatian army from carrying out on of the earliest episodes of “ethnic cleansing” in that very dirty war.  Under the command of Lt. Jim Calvin the Patricias held the line.  Ever since, Calvin has believed that, had the UN forces in the former Yugoslavia taken decisive action similar to that of his own unit, much needless slaughter could have been avoided.

  The Vandoos showed similar heroism in an earlier episode when, heavily outnumbered, they came to the aid of Major-General Lewis Mackenzie, the Canadian who was also the overall UN Commander of the Sarajevo Sector during the siege of that city. Outnumbered and outgunned by Bosnian Serbs, the famed Quebec regiment forced their way through to the Sarajevo airport and held it to break the siege, and escort relief convoys into the city…

   …Although Gen. MacKenzie’s exploits became widely praised after the publication of his best-seller, Peacekeeper, most of the Canadian military were dragged through the mud in the wake of the Somalia affair of 1993 [the beating death of a Somali teenager by Canadian troops I referred to in an earlier installment] and the resultant Somalia Inquiry, which endured until 1996…

   …The Forces have come a long way in the eyes of the nation since Somalia, but there has been no serious effort to refinance Canadian Defence.  Despite their material deficiencies, the Canadian military have gone from success to success, which allows the Prime Minister to brag about the great job the Canadian Forces are doing, and to conclude cynically, “So why should I give them more money?”

   By introducing the new unit citations, the Governor General, at least formally, has pierced the Prime Minister’s demoralizing and empty words.


Now, some long-promised examples of Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie (ret.)’s more penetrating observations on Canada’s military.  First, “Today is my Canada Day” (National Post 2 July 02):


   For the last decade, Canada Day has been on July 2 for me. Exactly 10 years ago the first sighting of Canadian soldiers appearing on the horizon overlooking Sarajevo was the answer to the collective prayers of those of us who had been “defending” the airport with bluff and bravado for the previous 96 hours. 

  My personal hero, French president François Mitterand, in a daring demonstration of personal bravery and political one-upmanship, had dropped in under fire on June 28.  He had been attending a European Community (now the European Union) meeting in Lisbon, and on his departure advised his European colleagues that he was returning to Paris. 

   Accompanied by his minister of health and humanitarian affairs, Bernard Kouchner—the co-founder of Médicins Sans Frontiéres—he proceeded instead to the port city of Split on the Croatian coast and called me in Sarajevo, indicating he would land at our airport in 90 minutes!  I explained that at the moment there was a tank battle going on and over at the airport there were three wrecked cars on the runway along with shrapnel that would cut the tires of his aircraft, pitching it off the runway into one of the two minefields laid parallel to each side of the runway.  I went on to explain that there were claymore command detonated mines facing the runway, there were major hills on three sides of the runway, that it would be dark in an hour and I had no lights and no radar—but other than that I would be delighted and honoured to meet the president of France!  He reluctantly agreed to fly in the following morning.

   President Mitterand’s daring visit was the deciding factor in kick-starting the United Nations’ Sarajevo airport humanitarian operation.  The problem was that the UN, for reasons I shall never understand, would only release the 1,000-man Canadian Battle Group commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel (now Brigadier-General) Michel Jones to move the 300-plus kilometers from their base in Croatia to Sarajevo once we, the UN representatives on the ground, had taken over the airport from the Bosnian Serbs led by Radovan Karadzic.  Both sides, the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs, knew we were incapable of defending the airport and were paranoid that the other side would take it from us with a quick pre-emptive attack during the hours of darkness. Facing this threat was a collection of UN international military staff officers from my headquarters armed with pistols.  For three nights they conned the likes of the infamous Serb war criminal Arkan and numerous Bosnian Muslim patrols that they were a formidable force, thereby deterring any and all attempts to take back the airport. President Mitterand, true to the promise he made on his visit, sent us a 130-strong French Marine Infantry company by air on July 1. Nevertheless, considering the array of personnel and weapons, including tanks, facing us from a few hundred metres away, we anxiously awaited the arrival of the much larger and more heavily equipped Canadian Battle Group. 

   On July2, Martin Bell of the BBC cornered me at my headquarters and indicated that the Canadian Battle Group had started to arrive at the airport. In a memorable exchange he said, “Too bad they didn’t make it here yesterday!”  To which my response was, “Why?” “It was Canada Day!” he reminded me.  Unfortunately, I had lost track of months, let alone days. Mind you, it wouldn’t have made any difference as Colonel Jones had to threaten the use of deadly force in order to force his unit’s way through a number of wartime check points along his unit’s circuitous and arduous trip to Sarajevo.  Obviously, this slowed their pace.  His soldiers’ professionalism and bravery saw them move through a country at war for three days without a casualty. Armoured vehicles more than 30-years-old were kept alive by the best armoured vehicle mechanics in the world and every vehicle completed the journey—albeit, a few of them at the end of a tow rope.  With the Battle Group’s arrival on July 2, we were in a position to defend the airport. We were still relatively thin on the ground, considering our potential opposition, but promises of support from U.S. president George Bush Sr. and the presence of the Sixth Fleet somewhere out in the Mediterranean gave us added confidence.

   Seven years later, during the run-up to the millennium celbrations in 2000, I started to receive calls from Germany, Japan, Italy and France.  Their major television networks were putting together news shows to celebrate the arrival of the millennium and they were all working on the theme of the top 100 news stories of the 20th century.  They explained they wanted to include the war in Bosnia with special emphasis on the opening of the Sarajevo airport. Film crews arrived and the Canadian involvement was documented for foreign audiences.  It always struck me as typically Canadian that none of our own networks mentioned the Sarajevo operation in their review of the decade’s top news stories, let alone the century’s. 

   On this, the 10th anniversary of Canadian soldiers arriving in Sarajevo, I’m reminding Canadians just how good our young men and women in uniform really are. Since my retirement in 1993, I have been blessed with job opportunities that would never have been offered if soldiers, particularly Canadian and French, had not made me look good 10 years ago.  In the midst of the chaos and under fire from all sides, they succeeded where other countires feared to tread. Many of them have gone on to well-deserved leadership positions in the office, warrant officer and non-commissioned officer ranks.  Some of them continue to make us proud in our war against terror.  With the increased government support for our military called for throughout the land during the past year, we could properly support this magnificent talent pool of young Canadians dedicated to serving their nation and their fellow man. Without this increased support, we will merely continue to exploit them.  They deserve much better—just ask our allies.


From “Soldiers do force” (National Post 13 November 02):


   ‘Social workers with guns” has been sarcastically used in the past to describe the concept of the “all-singing-and-dancing” peacekeeper and, while overly simplistic, it does get the idea across.

   The monumental failures of the United Nations missions in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia had nothing to diwh the lack of cultural sensitivity, historical knowledge or ethical education on the part of the peacekeepers.  One deficiency and one deficiency only permitted the slaughter in all three mission areas—and that was the lack of adequate force, deadly if necessary, to stop the perpetrators of the crimes.  The delivery of such force is the primary role of soldiers.  Roméo [Dallaire, another retired Canadian commanding officer, to whose opinion piece in the Globe & Mail Maj.-Gen. Mackenzie was responding] himself has stated that with a force of a mere 5,000 soldiers he could have prevented the slaughter in Rwanda.  The failure of the international community and the UN to heed his call virtually guaranteed the ensuing slaughter. 

   In Bosnia, the establishment of so-called safe havens in 1993 was seen as a way of protecting a number of Bosnian Muslim enclaves from the fire of Bosnian Serb heavy weapons.  I recommended 100,000 UN soldiers to do the job; the commander on the ground said he would try with 65,000; the Secretary General recommended 35,000 to the Security Council and the Security Council approved 12,500.  Six months later, fewer than 2,000 had been contributed by the international community for the task.  The slaughter of Srebrenica was the result. The cause? Not enough force to stop the perpetrators. 

   In Somalia, following the departure of the U.S.-led coalition force in 1993, the UN was incapable of controlling the situation on the ground, as they had less than 20% of the soldiers and firepower the United States had brought to the mission.  The UN force started to take casualties and withdrew, leaving the country no better of than it was before the intervention.  The cause? Insufficient force to stop the perpetrators. There is a predictable sequence of events in most conflict resolution missions: stop the fighting; separate the forces; intervene between the forces or establish a strong military presence in the area to maintain a pause in the fighting and, finally, assist the various factions with putting their country or their society back together. The first three phases are best done by soldiers. The last phase is not, nor should be, their responsibility.

   The type of Canadian Forces demanded by the evolving international security situation would be light, lethal, strategically mobile and sustainable.  It will be able to deploy on its own, look after itself when it gets “there” and get itself home.  None of its members will have to stand by while atrocities take place at their feet because they will have to force to stop the perpetrators.  The lessons of the ‘90s demand nothing less—or different.


From “ICC’s checks don’t balance” (National Post 11 July 02):


   To date, the United States has refused to sign on to the embryonic International Criminal Court (ICC) established to prosecute individuals who commit heinous crimes against humanity. I…believe that after a reasonable period of negotiations, resulting in increased legal protection for the U.S. political and military commanders who the rest of us keep insisting must intervene to police the world, the United States will endorse the Court. The threat by the United States to withdraw from UN peacekeeping unless it received immunity for it peacekeepers, while an attention-getter was modest to the extreme.  The first mission the Americans would “abandon” would be East Timor, where they have a grand total of three personnel—not exactly a showstopper. Perhaps, due to my own experiences, I’m more sympathetic than most and think the United States has a case for increased protection for its nationals.

   In 1993, at the request of the U.S. Congress, I made a second appearance before their committees dealing with the Bosnian civil war. When asked for advice regarding U.S. involvement, I indicated that the Americans should stay out of Bosnia until there was an enforceable ceasefire, otherwise they would, unnecessarily, risk their credibility. This opinion was in direct conflict with the objective of the Bosnian government, which wanted the United States to intervene on its side as soon as possible.  Within days of my appearance, the international media started to report that I was being accused of rape and murder during my tour of duty as commander of the UN mission in Sarajevo during the summer of 1992.  Subsequent investigation by the UN proved the allegations groundless and a letter to me from the current Secretary-General expressed regret that I continued to be hounded by these (politically motivated?) charges.

   In a recently published book by a CBC reporter dealing with my command time in Sarajevo, additional allegations of sexual impropriety alleged by a local Bosnian lawyer were described in detail.  The lawyer claimed that a request had been made to the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague that I be prosecuted. If the book’s author had contacted the Tribunal, she would have discovered that no such request had been made. Nevertheless, the perpetuation of this unsubstantiated fairy story took on a momentum of its own and, in concert with earlier allegations, I am now, for all intents and purposes, persona non grata in a number of countries in the world.

   I share this miserable background to highlight the U.S. concerns regarding the ICC.  Certainly the checks and balances inherent in the Court’s procedures will catch politically motivated allegations.  However, consider the anticipated glacial speed of the Court’s proceedings, the falsely accused individual’s reputation will be sacrificed long before he or she is legally cleared or the charges are rejected.  Canada might accept this as the cost of doing business; however, the United States, which has significantly greater responsibilities on the world’s stage, is understandably less prepared to do so…if such an action took place in the future, every national leader in NATO including the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada would find themselves facing the wrath of the ICC.

   The United States has not hesitated to sign up for the ICC because of some new, independent, self-serving, isolationist attitude as suggested by too many commentators.  As the world’s only global cop, criticized by all until its resources—people (blood) and dollars—are urgently needed, the rest of us should accept that protecting America’s own people, wherever they deploy is an understandable and honourable top priority.


[I apologize for the brevity of this installment of “Why Canada Slept”. The research and writing I was required to do for Cerebus 289 and 290 (which will be released as a combined issue in May) proved to be far more extensive than I had suspected going in (I managed to burn through thirty days worth of lead time—that had taken me the better part of seven years to build up—just in the month of January.]


Next (either in the combined 289/290 or in 291): Lewis MacKenzie on Canada “hiding behind the UN’s skirts” and his reply to a group of Tories who have been trying to persuade him to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party—which will segue nicely into another fundamental reason “Why Canada Slept”: official bilingualism.