L'éducation et les militaires canadiens

L'éducation et les militaires canadiens

Over the last few years Canada's French-language academic community has shown an increased interest in Canadian, especially francophone, social-military history. Much of this energy and output can be attributed to a handful of scholars working at the Department of National Defence's Directorate of History and Heritage, the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), and l'Université du Québec à Montréal. The editors of and many of the contributors to this collection of essays, treating the history of Canadian military education and professional training, are drawn from the first two of these institutions.

There is a difference between military education and educating the military. The latter is the attempt to broaden the horizons of military personnel, especially the officer class, by sensitizing them to the elaborative contexts in which they ply their trade. Military education, meanwhile, is more alcin to in-house professional development, seeking to deepen understanding of the profession of arms. The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century views were that an educated, thinking soldier was a danger to military discipline, itself based on conformity and blind obedience. And so it generally was in Canada until well into the twentieth century. General Andrew McNaughton, who headed the Canadian army overseas for the first four years of the Second World War, noted, 'L'ingrédient le plus important d'un corps d'officiers demeure ... une solide éducation dans tous les domaines.' But until recently the seem ingly anti-intellectual bias of succeeding generations of Canadian military leaders has prevented the widespread integration of a liberal arts background in the basic education of the officer corps.

Today it is clearer than ever that education promotes innovation, whereas anti-intellectualism, breeds obsolescence. The end of the Cold War and the new strategic environment thus engendered has obliged Western militaries to refocus their military priorities and activities, often hamessing the power of education to improve the combat skills of their personnel. The last decade's so-called revolution in military affairs, driven by excessively rapid technological change, has led to profound operational and doctrinal overhauls. In Canada, one can add to these major environmental shifts the scandal resulting from the activities of some soldiers in Somalia in 1992-3. The tarnished image of our soldiery forced a re-evaluation of the military's educational and philosophical foundations and brought the issue of Canadian military culture and education to the public's attention.

Given that the sixteen short articles contained in this volume are drawn mainly from the proceedings of a French-language conference held at RMC in 2002, the book yields the vagaries, disjointedness, and mixed quality of most such collections. About one-third of the group are preliminary surveys with little context; they undoubtedly made better presentation papers than scholarly articles. Moreover, submissions on Quebec's post-secondary education system, Poland's Cold War military education, and France's educational system over the last 150 years will prove of little benefit to readers interested in the Canadian military scene.

But there are a number of fine articles as well. Among the contributors are a mix of established senior Canadian academics (Desmond Morton, Stephen Harris, Serge Bernier, Allan English) and younger historians rapidly earning reputations as prolific scholars (Yves Tremblay, Jean Martin, Claude Beauregard). Demonstrably concerned with the dangers posed by a poorly educated officer corps, Desmond Morton chips in a thought-provoldng essay linking a meaningful, imbedded system of educating Canada's military with the nation's ability to promote its interests abroad. Serge Bernier's strongly anti-RMC piece on the origins, development, and purpose of Collège militaire royal (CMR) in St-Jean, QC, shows that bilingualism became 'un élément intrinsique du métier d'officier dans le contexte canadien,' though with widely varying degrees of success, as the unhelpful and rather bizarre rant by former Lieutenant-General Richard Évraire makes clear at book's end.

Yves Tremblay's excellent piece on the army staff college during the Cold War traces that institution's educational approach as paralleling changes in the global strategic context and especially Canada's change-over from British to American defence integration and models of officer education. Claude Beauregard's study of recent military educational trends and regional conflicts deftly illustrates that technologically 'smart' wars need 'smart' militaries. To the educated will go the spoils.

This collection is a promising start, but Canadian military education remains a fertile field for research, especially, perhaps, with respect to the 'Canadianization' of military education, the instilling into, uniformed personnel the notion that they might serve as agents for a set of national cultural beliefs and established value systems.

Serge Marc Durflinger. University of Ottawa. The Canadian Historical Review, vol. 86, no 2, juin 2005.