The Politics of Betrayal

Betrayed: Scandal, Politics and Canadian Naval Leadership
Richard O. Mayne
UBC Press, 2006, 279 pages, $ 29.95

Servicemen in all three branches have always suspected that their leaders in Ottawa may not always have their best interests at heart. A new book throws light on a dark period of Canadian military history that confirms what many have often thought.

In Betrayed: Scandal, Politics and Canadian Naval Leadership, Richard O. Mayne, a historian with DND, says Admiral P.W. Nelles did not step down as Chief of Naval Staff in 1944 but was pushed aside into a meaningless job. Nelles was succeeded by his rival of many years, Admiral George C. Jones.

The book doesn’t deal with that rivalry. Rather it deals with the politics that led an allegedly weak Minister of National Defence for Naval Services to fire Nelles in a sideways move so familiar in political circles. The loyalty of the executive assistant to this minister, Angus Macdonald, former Premier of Nova Scotia, appears to have been the key ingredient to the termination of Nelles’ ten year reign at the helm of Canada’s navy.

The needed refit and upgrading of Canada’s greatly expanded anti-submarine fleet was the public issue at the time. Behind the scenes, egos, rivalries and tensions between the RCN, RCNVR and RCNR led to political infighting during a time when German submarines threatened to win the Battle of the Atlantic. Personal agendas, not national interest, seem to motivate. Informal networks and channels of communication reportedly played a major part, culminating with Nelles’ departure from the corridors of power. Several line diagrams assist in understanding the machinations that changed naval leadership at such a crucial time.

The book is also illustrative of a new approach to history, studying the individuals who provided the decision-makers with information rather than simply those who decided or acted. In this case, the papers of the minister’s executive assistant, which only recently became available, form the basis of this account. Mayne provides insight on information that reached Macdonald outside official channels that would not have been possible without such files. The existence of a powerful interest group exerting such influence on deciding who would lead our navy in a world war is a sobering revelation.

UBC Press is to be commended for again collaborating with the Canadian War Museum in bringing us this volume, one of thirteen to date.

Dying To Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
Robert A. Pape
Random House Trade Paperback, 2006, 353 pages, $21.00

“Afghanistan: Suicide bombers main method of inflicting casualties,” shouts the lead on page two of a Canadian newspaper.

“Worry over the toll of recent casualties is obscuring the very real progress being made in reconstruction. And that’s exactly the way the Taliban wants it,” states historian Sean Maloney, who has made several trips to both Kabul and Kandahar, in Maclean’s.

There seems to be an insurgent or resistance strategy at work in Regional Command South where the combat capabilities of the Canadian ISAF contingent are primarily deployed. In Dying to Win, Robert Pape offers an academic viewpoint that would benefit the strategic assessment of Canada’s mission as politicians and pundits raise the rhetoric over when to abandon or change commitments in Afghanistan.

In a political science framework, he examines three key questions: the strategic logic that leads terrorist organizations to resort to suicide bombing; the social environment that permits employment of suicide bombers; and, individual motives of suicide terrorists.

The bombings, he argues, “occur in organized, coherent campaigns, not as isolated or randomly timed incidents.” The same coercive logic behind the use of suicide bombers is also at work when the more powerful employ air power or sanctions. Suicide terrorism is mainly a strategic phenomenon and it can be no surprise that Pape suggests democracies are the prime targets.

In addition to Iraq, case studies include the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the PKK in Turkey, Sikhs in India and of course, Hamas in Gaza. The relationship between zero-sum conflict exists, demonization of opponents, and the legitimacy of martyrdom is explored. Interestingly, he alleges that no Shiites have ever undertaken suicide missions for al-Qaeda, and that suicide bombing is not a tool of the Iranians. He does provoke thought on communities that provide the recruits for such activities.

The demographic profile of suicide terrorists is presented. However, it is difficult to relate ‘individual’ motives as discussed by the author to Afghans whose culture is ‘collective.’

Pape does not delve into ‘patney,’ an aspect of Pathan tribal justice. Nor does he examine the question of economic benefits accruing to the families of so-called ‘martyrs.’ Will an improved prospect of jobs and economic opportunity dry up the source of bombers?

Nonetheless, he provides an invaluable starting point for further steps to understanding people who kill themselves, and others, for a cause.

Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC) served in the Directorate of Military Plans (NATO) in the ‘80s and subsequently in J3 Plans (Land) in NDHQ in the ‘90s.

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