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Canadians are ignorant about defence/military

Edward Campbell

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I found this article, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the National Post, interesting, even though I disagree with some of the author's points:

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/04/06/matt-gurney-canadas-ignorant-about-the-military-despite-huge-budget-requirements/
Canada’s ignorant about the military despite huge budget requirements

Matt Gurney

Apr 6, 2012

“When I was a historian for the navy,” laughs Roger Sarty, ‘‘when I’d tell people what I did, most of them didn’t realize Canada had a navy.”

563_546_sarty.jpg

Roger Sarty
Wilfred Laurier University


Mr. Sarty, a military history professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, laughs again. “These were smart people. Knowledgeable of current events and the government. But the military never crossed their minds.”

Mr. Sarty is saying what every soldier, sailor and airman knows: Canadians support their military, but they aren’t particularly interested in it.

The public, the media and even our elected officials are genuinely perplexed about all matters military — and it shows. Tuesday’s Auditor-General’s report on the F-35 fighter jet concluded that Department of National Defence officials were determined to see that plane selected as the replacement for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-18 fleet. To that end, they failed to follow standard procedure for acquisitions, deliberately understated costs and did not keep Parliament informed about development problems. The report also validates Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page’s conclusion that each F-35 will cost roughly double what the Conservatives had budgeted for.

Yet the public doesn’t seem particularly troubled. Concerns about the program certainly didn’t stop Canadians from giving Stephen Harper’s Conservatives a strong majority last May, even though the program’s troubles were public knowledge. It’s not that the opposition didn’t try to get the public to care. It just didn’t take.

Put simply, it’s hard to get us riled up on matters military.

“Canada’s military history has traditionally been one of a tiny regular force backed up by a somewhat less tiny reserve force,” says Mr. Sarty, on this day teaching a lecture at the Canadian Forces College, speaking to mid-level officers from Canada and a variety of allied nations.

“The world wars, which saw Canada send a tenth of its population off to war, are the exceptions. The military was typically small and out of the way. The Canadian public didn’t tune in to the military [until] the Oka crisis and the Persian Gulf War, when they realized that maybe the post-Cold War word was still dangerous. That interest climaxed when we took heavy casualties in Afghanistan. Canadians realized, when they stopped to think about it, that they supported the troops.”

There are very real political consequences to this.

“The military largely runs itself,” said Robert Roy, senior producer at the Toronto-based Breakout Educational Network, a charitable organization that produces documentaries and TV programs on military, environmental and governance issues. “There’s almost no one in Parliament with a real understanding of the armed forces, and the public never asks about it. They should — Defence is the largest discretionary item in the budget — but they don’t.

“That means the military can bamboozle the politicians,” Mr. Roy continued. “They walk in and say, ‘We need this piece of equipment or else soldier’s lives will be at stake.’ The politicians are ignorant of military reality, so don’t feel comfortable saying no.”

That’s a problem, and a hard one to solve. While we have military history, Canada has little military tradition.

Combined with our comfortable geopolitical position (Canada is indeed “a fireproof house, far from inflammable materials,” as Quebec Senator Raoul Dandurand said in 1924), this means Canada largely lacks defence-focused intellectual infrastructure, such as think-tanks. Canadian defence experts are (or were) generally directly involved with the Forces. It’s different in the United States, where a million-man volunteer army guarantees that everyone knows someone who’s served — friend, relative, spouse, neighbour. And Canada doesn’t have the same strategic situation as, say, Australia, which is far from its friends and knows that in a war, even if helps comes, it will take weeks — at best — to get there. Canadians don’t take defence seriously because, historically, they haven’t had to.

This makes effective oversight of Defence difficult. It’s one thing to insist upon the bureaucratic formalities of oversight (and in the case of the F-35, the Auditor-General found even those weren’t always observed). It’s quite another to have a true public discussion when the knowledge base for such a dialogue simply doesn’t exist.

“It makes it impossible to have a conversation about our military needs,” Mr. Roy said. “Canadians have accepted the language of a peacekeeping, defensive military, and sometimes understand that war is necessary. But when you try to explain to them why the navy needs new helicopters, they can’t follow.”

And lack of interest directly impacts on procurement, according to Douglas Bland, a fellow (and former chair) of the Defence Studies Program at Queen’s University.

bland.jpg

Douglas Bland
Queens University


The Air Force wants cutting-edge F-35s. Federal governments, Liberal and Conservative, wanted the program’s economic benefits and to be seen responding favourably to the military’s requests. And the public service, including those at Public Works and Government Services tasked with staying on top of the F-35’s procurement, “watch for clues and signals” as to what the Prime Minister’s Office wants them to do. “The Public Service don’t say, ‘No, Minister,’ as often as they should. The key to getting promoted is getting the PMO what it wants, not telling it why they can’t have it. So they say, ‘Yes, Minister,’ ” says Mr. Bland. Few in broader society know enough to have an opinion.

Enforcement and oversight, therefore, has to come from within Defence — and that’s hard. “A lot of promising political careers come to an end at Defence,” Mr. Bland said. “It’s a difficult, complicated department, with fingers in a lot of other ministry’s pies. The Minister of Defence has to deal with foreign affairs, procurement, Treasury, regional pressure for contracts and bases and also be responsible for 65,000 troops. It’s very easy to make a mistake … or at least give the opposition a chance to convince the public that you did.”

And the minister must also prioritize public outreach, trying to bridge the gap between the military and the public. “Peter MacKay has done a good job bolstering the profile of the Canadian Forces in the community, and has clearly enjoyed doing it,” Mr. Bland added. “But the job needs a vigorous administrator at the top.”

In that, Mr. Sarty agrees with Mr. Bland. “The military is always desperate to educate a new minister or crop of civil servants. They have learned from experience that most incoming ministers or officials know nothing about the military. A lot of time is spent teaching them the basics just so that they can do their jobs.”

Mr. Sarty doesn’t believe that senior officers intentionally exploit a new minister’s ignorance, but in teaching them about the military, they obviously push their own agendas. “It would be political interference for a Canadian officer to directly try to influence Parliament, but they speak through the Ministers, who have no choice but to listen.”

This isn’t healthy for Canadian democracy. Building bridges between the military and the public should therefore be a real priority for all. With the combat missions in Afghanistan and Libya concluded, the military will drop off the media’s radar, except to report on procurement debacles such as the F-35. The Breakout Educational Network has been working for years to re-establish a military training presence on Canadian university campuses, something that hasn’t existed since 1968.

“The military had clubs on Canadian campuses for years,” recalls Inta Erwin, president of Breakout. “Students were exposed to military life. They weren’t obligated to serve after their degree was finished, but even if they didn’t, they at least knew what the military was about.”

The closing of this program, combined with the military moving its bases off valuable urban real estate in cities like Winnipeg and London, Ont., in favour of remote areas like Shilo, Man., and Petawawa, Ont., cut off whole generations of Canadians from their armed forces.

Restoring an Officer Training Corps on Canadian campuses would help reverse that. The University of Alberta has agreed to host a trial program, and other schools are interested. The Forces have likewise shown interest, but have not yet committed. They should. As Ms. Erwin points out, it would give the military presence in some of the most dynamic and diverse parts of Canadian society. And the schools are eager to take part, she says. “They graduate enough arts majors. They want to be seen as making the leaders of tomorrow. No one teaches leadership better than the Forces.”

Exposing Canadians to the military, in a positive way, could only lead to a more informed public. But as worthy as the idea is, re-establishing Officer Training Corps would only take us so far. Perhaps as far as we can go.

“A professional military is a very unique, very technical thing. Short of another major global war requiring general mobilization, nothing will really teach the public about the military,” concluded Mr. Bland. “And no one expects that.”

He’s probably right, and therein lies the fundamental irony of Canadian defence issues. Canada’s blessings are the military’s curse.

National Post


Suggesting that Canadians' deeply entrenched ignorance of and apathy about military matters is a "danger to democracy" is going a bit overboard; ditto suggesting that in "educating" politicians and senior bureaucrats military officers skew the agenda. But, there is little doubt that politicians and bureaucrats have little appetite for the technical details of modern military matters ~ nor should they, not any more than, say, the Minister of Natural Resources needs to understand the technical complexity of disposing of the waste from pulp and paper plants: it's a problem; we have experts; they recommend a range of options; ministers select the one that can a) be afforded and b) get the job done just well enough.

I do agree with Prof. Bland that we need to strengthen the military's ties to the community ~ restoring the old UNTD and COTC programmes, and helping reserve force members (officers and other ranks) to pay of loans at a higher rate if they stay in reserve units after graduation might be a way to help. Both would require more resources including more paid Class A billets in reserve units.

I have often said, and I firmly believe that Canadians' "support" for the troops is a mile wide but only an inch deep; that is, in large part, a consequence of the ignorance that Profs Sarty and Bland bemoan.
 

ModlrMike

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Much of the current level of ignorance can probably be ascribed to the period from the end of Korea to the start of Bosnia (1960ish -  1995ish). During that period the military was "out of sight out of mind", unless some budget cutting was in order. Just my opinion of course, but one borne of direct observation. Many Canadians firmly believe in the falsely created mythology of the CF as peacekeepers, with little thought to the reality of struggling with ever declining resources, hostile governments, and self appointed social engineers; all the while trying to maintain proficiency in the CF's primary task - the defence of Canada.
 
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fraserdw

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Four things have left us with our current ignorance of military issues:

a.  Political unease with the closeness of our military with the American military.  This is a result of us spending more time with Americans than the average Canadian.  Most political Canadians use this relationship to define how they think of us and to decide hwo we are budgeted.  There is a very large anti US bigotry in Canadian political circles.  Honestly, Canada does not have to spent a cent on defense and we will still be defended, we can complain about the USA and we will still be defended.  It is a win win for Canadians but because the CF is close the US military it is a loss for us politically.  We would be better of on a continent of our own or a smaller nation surrounded by other like nations.

b.  The lack of the Canadian military in the lives of Canadians, super bases have left vast parts of the country with no day to day military presence.  Honestly, the reserves do not count in this (people still look at them based on who they know in the local reserves).

c.  The Peacekeeper legend, more than anything Canadians see us as little more than an over armed police force for the third world.  As long as we have rifles and half ton trucks, we are considered well supplied.  Who ever started that legend needs to be courtmartialed.

d.  The disconnect between serving Canadians and veteran Canadians.  This is changing but the largest veterans organization in Canada still remains an organization run and controlled by a generation of people who never served in the military.  Anyone who served in the 70s and 80s will remember how upset the Legion got if anyone called a CF retiree a veteran.  There are other veterans groups but they do not have the political clout that the Royal Canadian Legion has.  The Legion is focused on veterans welfare and makes very few pronoucements on defense and defense spending unlike US veterans groups.  The Legion tries but it is largely failing the current generation as witnessed by the number of veterans groups coming up. 
 

Kirkhill

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Enforcement and oversight, therefore, has to come from within Defence — and that’s hard. “A lot of promising political careers come to an end at Defence,” Mr. Bland said. “It’s a difficult, complicated department, with fingers in a lot of other ministry’s pies with a lot of other ministries`fingers in its pie.

Where is/should be the emphasis?
 

Edward Campbell

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Kirkhill said:
Where is/should be the emphasis?


I can vouch, from personal experience, that DND does have fingers in other departments' pies - often pretty big, powerful fingers and sometimes unwelcome. In the case of my gang directorate, we worked very hard, with our colleagues in the other department, to craft a mutually acceptable MOU, which I am pleased to say was renewed at its tenth anniversary, after I was long gone, but there was still friction when I insisted on DND's rights or, at least, privileges. Yes, other department's have fingers in DND's pies, too (and DND has many pies), so I would say it is about even.
 

Retired AF Guy

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ModlrMike said:
Much of the current level of ignorance can probably be ascribed to the period from the end of Korea to the start of Bosnia (1960ish -  1995ish). During that period the military was "out of sight out of mind", unless some budget cutting was in order. Just my opinion of course, but one borne of direct observation. Many Canadians firmly believe in the falsely created mythology of the CF as peacekeepers, with little thought to the reality of struggling with ever declining resources, hostile governments, and self appointed social engineers; all the while trying to maintain proficiency in the CF's primary task - the defence of Canada.

Another factor may be about how much military history is taught in our schools or the lack thereof? Comments from folks with kids presently in the school system or have personnel experience might be appreciated.
 

GAP

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I just asked my 14 yr old grandson.....does the school ever talk to you guys about the CF in any manner, peacekeeping, anything military at all?

answer: nothing. absolutely nothing. The only reason he knows anything about the CF is because of his uncles and me.
 

Robert0288

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Grade 10 history in Ontario as of 5 years ago when I had a family member do it did cover some of the Canadian contributions in ww1, ww2, and then 'peacekeeping' during the cold war. I don't know what the newest curriculum is.
 

a_majoor

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When I come to my children's schools for Remembrance day (one in public school, one in high school now); I am treated like some exotic mythical creature. This has been the case over the years as the children have grown and moved from Montessori school, to different elementary schools and now one high school. In every case I am seemingly the only parent who is a serving member, and with few exceptions (mostly in much larger schools) are there students with relatives who have served in the past. Even Cadets are very rare, usually only a small handful; at the high school with a student body of @ 2000 only one Cadet was in uniform for the Remembrance day assembly.

With such a tiny amount of interaction, it is quite easy to see why most Canadians seem to base their ideas on the military from "Full Metal Jacket" or computer games, if they have any idea about us at all.

Of course I am quite careful in how I pitch the message for the students, so the mythical creature does not turn into a hungry raptor in their (or their parent and teacher's) minds.
 

Teeps74

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This comes back to a previous argument of mine.  We have to do more to make our presence felt in the communities in which we live, and even communities where we do not live.  Something as simple as stopping for groceries on the way home from work in uniform, is a very simple reminder that, "we exist, and we are just like you...".

We have to connect and stay connected with the Canadian population, as without the civilians, we are just an easy nameless budget to be slashed.

Now, the problem. How do we connect without drumming up the whole "fascist" question? I do not see a requirement for many parades (the occasional freedom of the city parade would not harm tho), but perhaps something as simple as rewarding troops for volunteer time in the community.

Our disconnect places us and our budget in danger and frankly, our disconnect is our fault.
 

Furniture

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Teeps74 said:
This comes back to a previous argument of mine.  We have to do more to make our presence felt in the communities in which we live, and even communities where we do not live.  Something as simple as stopping for groceries on the way home from work in uniform, is a very simple reminder that, "we exist, and we are just like you...".

This is something I strongly agree with. We need to be seen by the people we represent around the world. The old custom of changing out of uniform to travel to and from work needs to disappear, we need to be seen in public as "normal" people so that the average Canadian taxpayer sees who and what we are. This of course means that we must apply the standards of dress and deportment so that we present the best face to the word.
 

opp550

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I just asked my 14 yr old grandson.....does the school ever talk to you guys about the CF in any manner, peacekeeping, anything military at all?

answer: nothing. absolutely nothing. The only reason he knows anything about the CF is because of his uncles and me.

As someone who is currently in high school, I can attest to that level of knowledge present in today's youth, except for the one's who either have relatives in or are actively interested in military service (Which, as my presence on this site probably gives away, includes me)

I even ran into a few cadets who did not seem to know the difference between Regular and Reserves.
 

Kalatzi

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How's this for a thought?

I suggest that one cause is the dwindling number/percentage of the population that have served in the military.

For example, one of the key factors that lead influenced me was that almost all of my senior male family members, and many of the females had served.

Their experiences were a constant source of conversation/exaggeration, that inspired impressionable young minds.

Now that I'm a bit older, I can now understand their focus on the good times, liberating a winery, for example.

I once worked with another group, that wanted to expand its profile in the community.

We used all sorts of maketing techniques/tricks to no avail, urged on by promise of public goodies.

One of the senior members/dinosaurs suggested that what we needed to do was to expand the base of those involved, using a pyramid as an example.

Think  timbits hockey  ... ....

KInda like cadets ... ...

Cadets /Coat  have their challenges, but as I composed this, I feel they may be the last connection to the Citizen/Soldier - Militia

Yes, way oversimplistic.

 

RememberanceDay

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Grade 10 history:

Haha. What a joke. We covered WW1 for almost a month, I learned nothing I already knew. On the other hand, I have been studying the WWs and other CF events since I could read (about 2 years old... Sitting on my daddy's knee.). On many occasions, I taught the teacher. IN HIS SUPPORT, though, he collects many artifacts from WW1 and 2, and brought them in, so props for that.

Remembrance day: Last November.

I helped organize this, I was the main student. We did a play on the life and death of Kevin McKay, a local boy, whom I had met. It was well-written and interesting. I had to teach full drill to 8 grade 12 guys, who would rather be checking out the hot girls. Soon put them in their place, I did. The focus was on the recent Afghanistan war, and featured stories by vets read out by students in full combat gear (borrowed, minus the weapons). We had to have 2 assemblies, to accommodate 450 students. We had three cadets in unifrom (myself and to others), one from each element. One, the air cadet, attended the community ceremony as a representative (small, small community off of Borden). All in all, it went well. Many said that this was the best year yet. Next November, I will be helping coordinate both ceremonies.

All in all, I'd say that the level of knowledge in today's youth is sad. They don't teach about it in civics and careers, and as a future (hopeful, fingers crossed) member, I'm disappointed in my peers. I take every advantage to attempt to educate them, though.

Ps. I understand that I am a rare minority.... XD
EDIT:Afterthoughts
 

Cui

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As a university student, when I tell people that I'm an ROTP applicant, I get responses ranging from "why would you want to join the MILITARY, they kill people", "oh, that's cool", to "I'm thinking about joining too, so I can be more competitive when I find a job in the civilian world"

While the last one is a valid reason to join, I think the main problem is that a lot of the public do not share the same values as the CF. The North American culture is very self-centric, getting the most benefits for oneself. Serving a higher calling, and to belong in something that is greater than oneself might be a foreign concept to other people. I know that I, and a lot of my peers, were taught to worship in the Temple of the Almighty Dollar at a young age. The only reason to pursue anything in life is for its monetary value. Even if they do volunteer for something, it is basically to make their resume/med school/law school/grad school application look better. Again, although there is nothing wrong with wanting to be as successful as one can be, I believe that one should do things for a higher cause, and to help other people along the way. The CF's mission is to protect Canadian interests at home and abroad. CF members have to make a lot of sacrifices for this mission, and it is something that a lot of the population cannot imagine. While a lot of CF members do have something to gain personally from joining, I'm sure most of them do have a higher calling in mind when they step into a recruiting centre.

I'm sure that the amount of teamwork, camaraderie, and support from peers in the CF cannot be matched by a lot of other organizations in Canada. With the difference in values, surly there will be some kind of alienation among the rest of the society. As people do not understand the culture of the CF, and people tend to fear what they don't know. There is a good reason to fear the CF as well, since everyone is in a uniform and constantly work with things that are designed to kill people.

With that alienation, they view the military as a mystery. From what they see in the media, and movies, they form some kind of opinion about the CF. Ranging from saints to baby killers. I believe that the truth lies somewhere in between, the CF is just like any other organization. It has different mandates, and values that members have to follow to fulfill those mandates. The media portrays a different view of the CF everyday, from people who rush into burning buildings to save kittens to brutal rapists. Obviously, the media is a profit making business, the accurate portrayal of some organization is not their priority. Anyone with any critical thinking skills can figure this out, which I'm sure most people have, and just choose to not use it. The CF is composed of a cross section of the Canadian society, there are good people in it, and there are bad people in it. People shouldn't choose to support it one day and not support it the other day. That's what I think where the problem lays right now. The public have to realize that the CF members are people as well, despite having a uniform.

However, I think it is a good thing that the public do not know a lot about the military at the same time. It shows that we live in a quite peaceful and stable society, that there aren't any armoured vehicles or soldiers on the streets unless it is to dig people out of a snowstorm. We do not impose the martial law on people, and the powers of the armed forces are outline in the constitution. The military is often used as a tool of oppression for dictators, and have a major presence in people's everyday life. The fact that we as Canadians don't see the members of our military very often means  that the Canada is not one of those countries.

The answer always lay somewhere in the middle. The public should be more informed about the CF. At the same time, we should realize that we should not have a military presence everywhere 24/7. Do the public need to know that their right and freedoms are protected by the CF? Yes. Should they concern themselves with the everyday operations of the CF? No. All the public needs is an informed view about the CF, if they choose not to support the troops, that's their choice, and they have the right to that choice. However, I think most Canadians will care more about the CF if they just cared more about something other than the almighty dollar, and spent some time forming those informed views.

My  :2c:


 

Northalbertan

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Being a CIC officer in rural Alberta I am probably the only one in a CF uniform in my community.  Pretty much the only connection most folks here have to the CF.  I get out to the schools during veteran's week and remembrance day and it makes an impression in the community, a fairly positive one it seems, the schools keep inviting me back after all.

A few awkward moments on a couple of occasions when I have stopped by to grab a timmies on my way to the corps for training nights (I live 40 miles away from the cadet corps), when someone will buy me a coffee and then thank me for my service.  I accept with thanks on your behalf, answer any questions they have to the best of my ability, and knowledge. 

You should know, the folks out here are more than proud of what you do and what you mean for our country.

I agree that more of our military history should be taught in our schools.  And from my experiences a better understanding of the different roles and components of the CF would be a good thing as well. 

I disagree with Cui that most people think the CF  is all about kill, kill, kill, and that people should have reason to fear it.  The CF has proved over and over that they are here for the benefit of Canadians.  Either in some domestic assistance roles or to ensure that the battles we have to fight are fought elsewhere instead of on Canadian soil.  A nations soldiers, (ok and sailors and airmen/women) are the best way of ensuring that it's citizens get to keep enjoying the freedoms they currently have.

See how long you would keep those freedoms without an effective military.  We can't be an effective military without the support of the population.  I wish more Canadians understood that.

Northalbertan
 

a_majoor

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Cui may be talking more about how University staff and students look at the CF. How many times have we seen stories of University student councils refusing to allow CF recruiters on campus during career week (or whatever they call it these days?). The University administrations involved rarely intervene on behalf of the CF either.

Moving even farther down the food chain, I have personally encountered high school councilors who can barely contain their displeasure at students being in a high school military Co Op program (although I have also encountered several enthusiastic proponents as well). This in spite of knowing there are more than 100 candidates vying for 30 spots...

So for every individual who is influenced by their families and relatives, there are thousands of individuals who are being herded as a collective away from knowledge of the military either through neglect (the most common way) or actual opposition. Now see then try to comprehend most news stories about the CF; the only thing that can make a real impression is numbers (witness the recent CF-35 costing bruhaha), and of course media "pundits" like Stephen Staples are more than happy to weigh in on how those billions of dollars could be better off spent on (insert item here).
 

Bass ackwards

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RemembranceDay said:
Grade 10 history:
All in all, I'd say that the level of knowledge in today's youth is sad. They don't teach about it in civics and careers, and as a future (hopeful, fingers crossed) member, I'm disappointed in my peers. I take every advantage to attempt to educate them, though.

Unfortunately RD, it's not just today's youth. Over the years, I've worked with countless 40 and 50-somethings who are amazingly, appallingly pig ignorant of just about anything that doesn't involve sports, celebrities or recreational drugs.

I'll step into conversations when they crop up (usually as the result of some wrong-headed news piece) and even get asked questions occasionally because I'm known to keep up on such things.
For my part, I try to not get too preachy or irate with people (it's difficult sometimes).
I try to be more like E.R. Campbell and less like Major Frank Burns ;)
 

HavokFour

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RemembranceDay said:
Grade 10 history:

Haha. What a joke. We covered WW1 for almost a month, I learned nothing I already knew. On the other hand, I have been studying the WWs and other CF events since I could read (about 2 years old... Sitting on my daddy's knee.). On many occasions, I taught the teacher. IN HIS SUPPORT, though, he collects many artifacts from WW1 and 2, and brought them in, so props for that.

I was fortunate enough to have a former member as a history teacher. It was probably the most memorable class I ever took in high school.
 

Colin Parkinson

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All is not lost, in the middle of a tough war, the infantry trade was oversubscribed. From my reading, any military history course in post secondary seems to get filled up quickly. Video games are keeping the interest alive, they tease people with some knowledge and most want to know more.

As the regular force continues to concentrate in a few bases the role of the reserves in connecting with the community grows even more critical. The problem of course is this role is hard to define without set goalposts or easily quantified numbers, making such programs appear to be fluff to critical mission elements. However the critical missions will suffer if the DND can not get public support.
 
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