The culture and ethics that inform the Canadian military are important to an understanding of the events that took place in Somalia. While a series of isolated incidents may seem unrelated on the surface, they may also reflect deeper institutional shortcomings regarding ethical matters and underlying cultural attitudes regarding duty and accountability.
This chapter briefly explores some elements of Canadian military culture and ethics as a background to our inquiry into the experience of the Canadian Forces in Somalia.1 The specific focus is three aspects of military life: its corporate separateness from society, changes in the nature of military professionalism, and the role of ethics in the military.
Common to most modem military organizations is the notion of being different from the rest of society. The Canadian military is no different from other armed forces in feeling a consequent separateness from society. In 1869, William Windham described armed forces generally as "a class of men set apart from the general mass of the community, trained to particular uses, formed to peculiar notions, governed by peculiar laws, marked by peculiar distinctions".2 According to a recent DND statement of the Canadian military ethos, the Canadian military sees itself as "a distinct sub-set of the entire Canadian fabric".3
This notion of corporate separateness flows from the distinctive mandate of the CF to maintain the security and defend the sovereignty of Canada, if necessary by means of force. Unlike other professions in our society, the CF can be called on to ensure the very survival of Canada.
Moreover, the service to be performed by Canada's military is total, involving what British General Sir John Hackett has called the "clause of unlimited liability" -- or loss of life:
The essential basis of military life is the ordered application of force under an unlimited liability. It is the unlimited liability which sets the man who embraces this life somewhat apart. He will be (or should be) always a citizen. So long as he serves he will never be a civilian.4
The concept of unlimited liability in defence of national interests distinguishes members of the military profession from other professions. Furthermore, the military allows for the lawful killing of others in the performance of duty. Moreover, the responsibility of military leadership permits the sacrifice of soldiers' lives in order to achieve military objectives. The stark and brutal reality of these differences from normal society has traditionally been a distinguishing feature of military life, contributing to a sense of separateness -- even superiority -- in relation to the civilian population.
As a result of its distinctive mandate and the need to instill organizational loyalty and obedience, most military organizations develop a culture unto themselves, distinguished by an emphasis on hierarchy, tradition, rituals and customs, and distinctive dress and insignias. The separation between civilian and military society in Canada, as in other countries, is also maintained by physical and social space. For example, military bases are located for the most part in relative isolation, such as Petawawa, Ontario, and Gagetown, New Brunswick. Military activities are centred on the base, which discourages interaction with civilian society. Single men and women live on the base, while many married personnel live nearby in the town, which sometimes seems an extension of the military base. Most Canadian military operations since the Second World War have been overseas on NATO and UN missions, keeping elements of the CF distant from the Canadian public.
The military culture of a nation is made up of sub-cultures. The Canadian army has regimental divisions reflecting geographic and linguistic divisions in Canada, for example -- western anglophone (PPCLI, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry), central and eastern anglophone (The RCR, The Royal Canadian Regiment), and central francophone (Royal 22e Régiment, or Royal 22nd Regiment, often referred to in English as the 'Vandoos'). These territorial divisions define areas of recruitment, training and residence for regimental members.
A recent DND board of inquiry noted that the "regimental system forms a strong subculture within the CF that is a pervasive and often unforgiving milieu within which all combat arms and most other Army personnel live their daily lives."5 This regimental sub-culture provides a common bond uniting its members. According to MGen (ret) Dan Loomis, the regiment is a pseudo-kinship organization.6 It is often referred to as a family and, according to another analyst, its essence is tribal and corporate rather than instrumental and bureaucratic.7
One is considered a member of a regiment for life. This link continues throughout a member's career in the military and after retirement. According to MGen Loomis, "The Regimental Family permeates all facets of one's life from pseudo-birth as a new member to death."8 Regiments influence the career advancement of members through the administration of career assessment and recommendations to promotion boards at NDHQ. Within each regiment, there is a horizontal infrastructure of messes, and 'paternal' guidance is provided by a senior advisory organization, often known as the 'senate', made up of regimental 'elders'.
A vertical chain of command within the regiment ensures that discipline is maintained and that information flows freely through the system. However, this can also lead to an attitude among officers of looking after only their own. DND's recent board of inquiry concerning Canbat 2 (investigating the serious breakdown of discipline during the CF mission in the former Yugoslavia) noted that
there was a widespread tendency for all personnel in the chain of command to concern themselves almost exclusively with their own subordinate commands. The command structure of 'A' squadron was reticent to concern itself with anything which occurred in the Engineer Sqn and vice versa. Although Army culture has inculcated officers and [senior] NCOs not to overlook a fault, there has been a growing tendency not to meddle in the affairs of others.9
The corporate nature of army culture may also lead to a sense of exclusiveness and an apparent tendency to justify disrespect for authority outside the group. The same board of inquiry noted that at the unit level in the army, "there has been too often the tendency to ignore criticism which comes from outside of one's own unit or the chain of command" .10
It is a well accepted axiom that a soldier's regiment is his family. Many studies of battlefield stress and why soldiers fight have reinforced the notion that a soldier will risk his life for his comrades and for the honour and survival of his regiment. This issue is fraught with emotion. Many officers and soldiers spend their entire lives in a single regiment and they naturally become blind to many of its faults. Criticism of one's regiment, especially from an outsider, is tantamount to blasphemy and is not tolerated.11
In addition, information that could tarnish the reputation of the regiment may be deliberately hidden.12 'Whistleblowing' is frequently perceived as counter to the corporate nature of the military. Similarly, revealing wrongdoing to outsiders, particularly civilians, is by nature suspect.
It is understandable that a soldier would want to keep any news of wrongdoing within his regiment. The concept of family is strong and it is reinforced daily. As a parallel illustration, if one has an alcoholic sibling one does not go out into the street and announce it to the world...in the military this concept of washing dirty linen entre nous can actually work against the chain of command if it is applied with too much rigour.13
While unit loyalty is essential for armed conflict, smaller group loyalty can also undermine disciplinary authority. Walls of silence can be erected to protect a unit member. "Not only might a schismatic group of this kind foster and maintain inappropriate norms, but by assuring anonymity through norms of group loyalty and by imposing severe sanctions for violations of the solidarity norm, it can facilitate acts of subversion and defiance." 14
Similar to professions such as medicine and law, the military controls the education, training, and socialization of its members by means of its own specialized training programs, including schools. The educational format is determined by the military, which defines content, means, methods, and planning, with minimal influence exercised by the student. In the Canadian army, for example, regiments make up the basic organization of the land force, providing the institutional framework for the career training and advancement of individuals after they have completed basic training.15
The CF trains its junior officers for the major commands (Maritime, Land Force, Air), and support services together in a single institution -- the Royal Military College of Canada. In addition, the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College in Toronto and the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College in Kingston provide developmental training for future senior officers of the Canadian Forces.
These training programs are designed to impart professional standards of knowledge, skill and competence in addition to core military values. Instruction in ethics is not formalized or presented to officers early in their careers.16 As well, programs in military ethics and values are taught by instructors with a divergence of credentials and without service-wide standards or objectives to guide them.
A common assertion in the military is that the profession of arms has a long tradition, with a high and exacting standard and inherent nobility derived from the nature of war and the conditions of service. Traditionally, soldiers are expected to possess military virtues in all facets of their lives. This is inherent in the idea that the military is not a job but a way of life. For the military, performance expectations are believed to be higher than for civilians and include the notion that individual soldiers should serve as a symbol of all that is best in the national character.
A man can be selfish, cowardly, disloyal, false, fleeting, perjured, and morally corrupt in a wide variety of other ways and still be outstandingly good in pursuits in which other imperatives bear than those upon the fighting man. He can be a superb creative artist, for example, or a scientist in the very top flight, and still be a very bad man. What the bad man cannot be is a good sailor, or soldier, or airman. Military institutions thus form a repository of moral resource that should always be a source of strength within the state.17
In order to fulfill these moral obligations, the military must promulgate and enforce explicit rules derived from formal ethical standards, hold personnel accountable for following minimal standards of duty and conduct demanded by these rules, and sanction or even punish those who fail to do so.
A major factor that has influenced the concept of professionalism within the Canadian military is a shift toward 'civilianization'. This has been accompanied by the introduction of occupational values as opposed to the traditional institutional values of the military. American observers noticed this change after the World War II, attributing it mainly to changes in the technology of war.
Technological trends in war-making have necessitated extensive common modification in the military profession.... The changes in the military reflect organizational requirements which force the permanent military establishment to parallel other large-scale civilian organizations. As a result, the military takes on more and more the common characteristics of a government or business organization. Thus the differentiation between the military and the civilian is seriously weakened. In all these trends the model of the professional soldier is being changed by 'civilianizing' the military elite to a greater extent than the 'militarizing' of the civilian elite.18
This raised concern among military analysts that officers, in particular, were acquiring skills and an orientation characteristic of civilian administrators or political leaders.19
These occupational values are thought to have emerged in Canada because of increased job specialization, a decline in the perceived importance of the combat arms, the introduction into the military of civilian management principles, and bureaucratic rationalization. These elements were noted after unification in 1968, but became a significant concern only after the amalgamation of Canadian Forces headquarters and departmental headquarters in 1972. It was claimed that a traditional perception of military service as a calling or vocation, made legitimate by broadly based national values, had given way to a subjective definition of military service as an occupation in the labour market, involving the performance of work for civilian forms of rewards under specified contractual conditions.20
The post-World War II Canadian military has also been affected by increased levels of bureaucracy. This is related to the maintenance of the army during peace time. In the CF, the majority of enlisted personnel are engaged in technical and administrative roles rather than in purely military endeavour.21 They form part of a complex defence bureaucracy, which resembles the traditional pyramid model of a combat organization in form but not in spirit.22 Bureaucratization has been seen by some traditionalists as a threat to the military's distinctiveness in society because of its replacement of traditional standards of military leadership with managerial principles.23 Officers were seen to be in danger of becoming mere managers of human and materiel resources. Military analysts noted a dichotomy between two sets of skills and attitudes: the heroic qualities of loyalty, unity, obedience, hardiness, and zeal versus the managerial, oriented toward coping with the larger political and technological environment.24
These changes may have influenced standards of accountability. Owen Parker has written rather critically that "occupationalists in the professional military devote substantial effort to ensuring that nothing untoward or unflattering can ever be attributed to them: if blame can be deflected elsewhere then that course should be followed".25 If true, this may have a significant effect on the obligation to report difficulties.
According to one CF document, it is generally accepted that there are three elements to military ethics:
There is a military ethos which can best be understood as a general statement of what we serve in terms of the spirit of the profession. There is ethics or military ethics which is usually used as a title of the various components or facets of the military ethos, such as obedience, courage and so on. Finally there is the code of military ethics which contains obligatory statements of duty and responsibility.26
Although the Canadian military does not have a standardized ethical code, professional ethics are considered in basic military documents such as the officer's commission and oath, the enlisted member's contract and oath, the law of armed conflict, the code of service discipline, the National Defence Act, and, of course, the Canadian constitution.
When soldiers become non-commissioned or commissioned officers, they freely enter into a moral and legal contract that imposes professional duties and standards. The texts of their commissions and oaths establish broad parameters, such as the vow to discharge the officer's duties of office faithfully.
It is only logical for soldiers to be aware of their ethical obligations and to have an ability to perform them. In this regard, some have promoted the adoption of a code of ethical conduct for the military: "One needs a very clear statement of the ethical obligations that one ought to observe if one is to be expected to behave ethically."27 Canadian authors such as LCol (ret) Charles Cotton and Maj A.G. Hines have proposed various ethical statements of purpose for the Canadian military.28 The Australians maintain that soldiers cannot truly be held ethically responsible for obligations unless they are aware of them.29 They believe that a formalized code of military ethics is one of the surer ways of informing members of the profession of their ethical obligations as professionals.
In Canada, the Oath of Allegiance is the soldier's code of moral obligation. The obligations of enlisted personnel and officers are similar. In addition, the oaths for officers and enlisted personnel provide the formal foundation for an officer's greater authority and responsibility.30 However, an officer solemnly swears to discharge duties, while the enlisted member swears to obey orders of officers in the ranks above. Even though only the enlisted oath explicitly requires obedience, some authors have argued that all soldiers have the same obedience duties.31 Officers also have a greater responsibility to disobey or dissent that may compete with the basic duty to obey.
Training in ethics in the Canadian military forms one component of the education received by officers and non-commissioned members of the CF. There has been some concern regarding the difference in training received among the ranks, particularly among the lower ranks. Formal ethics education is evidently uneven between commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers and non-commissioned soldiers.
Before 1992, the recruiting, training and education system in the CF provided training for officers, up to and including the rank of major, on how to command and lead subordinates, ethics and professionalism, as well as control and supervision.
Since 1992, ethics training has received considerable attention and has been modified to include specific lectures on ethics, the Canadian military ethos, and qualities such as loyalty, honesty, integrity, dedication, and courage. These courses are often structured as a liberal arts university course might be, delving into the complexities of ethical concepts and examining topics such as moral obligation, the moral basis of traditional military values, and the study of codes of honour. Ethics training and development occupy an important place in the Staff College curriculum.
Before 1992, training provided to non-commissioned members, up to and including the rank of warrant officer, examined definitions of truth, duty, bravery, integrity, loyalty, and courage. Post-1992 training added more on ethics and the development of personal and military values.32 Non-commissioned officer training suggests that military ethics are subsumed under the law of war (now called the law of armed conflict). The law of war is based on The Hague conferences of 1899 and 1907, the Geneva conferences of 1929 and 1949, and numerous separate pacts and treaties. It establishes the conditions of war and the rights of non-combatants, prisoners of war, the wounded and the sick.33
Since 1993, a variety of additional training and educational programs has also been introduced to employees at the Department of National Defence and to members of the CF. According to a briefing note prepared for the chief of the defence staff, the primary rationale for these changes is "the ethical political imperative that the composition and the culture of our military must reflect the population that it serves".34 Subjects include Aboriginal awareness, cultural values, and ethics. Another initiative is the defence ethics program which has been in place since the late 1980s. Its major elements are "ethics awareness and education, the development and enhancement of core values, and the provision of practical advice on ethics in the workplace".35