Some conversation at the dinner table tonight among my chaplain colleagues as we regroup for another training course about the reaction in the media to the relief of Brigadier General Menard, former CO of Task Force Afghanistan. One writer in today’s National Post called the BGen’s alleged offense “a trivial infraction” and noted that the US Supreme Commander in WW2, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, had an affair with his female driver. Another letter expressed sympathy that “A soldier who lived dangerously on the battlefield has paid a very high price for loving dangerously in the bedroom”. Yesterday in the NP, columnist George Jonas complained that the Menard was no different from the Prussian general Blucher who helped Wellington defeat Napoleon at Waterloo. Blucher was an eccentric and a “dissolute womanizer” but he was a good soldier. He concluded that “depriving the country of a good soldier for nothing more than an extramarital fling with a subordinate is … a damn poor choice”.

Two thoughts in these letters strike me as interesting:

1) The sense that a General having an “fling” with a subordinate is a “trivial” matter because hey, it’s only adultery
2) The argument that a person’s private life has no bearing on their public performance. A good general who get results on the battlefield can be pardoned for all manner of personal faults.

For my civilian readers, two points need to be made.

1) There is very little that an officer, especially a senior officer, can do that is “trivial”. He or she is looked up to by their subordinates to set standards for professionalism, for discipline, and sound judgement. Everyone in the chain of command wants to look up and see that their superiors are following the rules, and that they are treating all under their command with fairness and impartiality. They want to know, and this is especially true for female soldiers, that their male superiors will treat them fairly on their merits. In this respect, there is no such thing as a “trivial” sexual misconduct on anyone’s part, and especially on the part of a senior officer. The sad business at CFB Trenton earlier this year should remind everyone that all sexual misconduct is serious because it can turn a commander into a predator.

2) The Jonas argument, that a general can have any manner of flaws as long as he gets the job done, is spurious. A general who is thinking of getting some on the side when he is ultimately responsible for the lives of thousands of soldiers under his command displays recklessly unsound judgement. Jonas argues that we didn’t give Menard the chance to prove himself on the battlefield. Perhaps, but his military masters were right to pull the plug if they felt that they couldn’t trust him to make wise and prudent decisions or to set a good example for his subordinates. If the troops start worrying that General Horndog is more interested in nookie than he is in their safety (and Kandahar is a small place with few secrets), then there is a big problem.

Interestingly, I have not heard any sympathy for Menard from my military friends, who are not “reeling” as the NP’s rival the Globe would have it, but are managing some snorts of derision at how one of their own could implode so spectacularly. As one serving friend wrote, he had no desire to be led by “a clown with no sense of honour and obviously no strategic planning ability”. Note that word “honour”. It’s not an old fashioned and archaic word. When soldiers use it, they are talking about integrity, about a seamless connection between the public and private life. Military ethics don’t allow soldiers to separate their public, work selves from their private selves. Soldiers need a working sense of honour to do their duty. Whatever their personal flaws, and they are legion, at the end of the day it’s all about integrity. George Jonas seems to know a lot about military history, but he could benefit from knowing some soldiers and learning how they think

0 Responses

  1. Thanks, there's a lot of stuff in here that I just didn't know. As I type, I'm sitting in my office, attached to the front lobby, where I'm listening to one of our volunteers (a vet) who is discussing Gen. Ménard being relieved of duty.