Sunday 15 August 2010

Should the general be fired?

The top Canadian soldier in Afghanistan, Brig.-General Daniel Ménard, was relieved of duty and ordered home immediately because he was accused of having an inappropriate personal relationship with a female soldier who was a member of his staff under his command. Further, he had this affair despite the fact that he is married with two children.

General Ménard commanded 2,800 Canadian soldiers in southern Afghanistan, as well as a contingent of American troops serving under Canadian command. He was sacked for alleged conduct unbecoming an officer. He was the first Canadian general officer to be dismissed on the battlefield since the Second World War.

As soon as Lt.-General Lessard, who is the commander of Canadian military stationed overseas; was made aware of the allegations, which was the 29th of May, 2010, he did an assessment of the allegation and made the decision to have Ménard relieved from his duties in Afghanistan.

National Defence spokesperson Lt.-Colonel Chris Lemay said that the female soldier might also face a reprimand after an investigation is complete.

The news came only days after Ménard faced a court martial in Canada, where he pleaded guilty to accidentally firing his weapon twice at the Kandahar airbase in March. The incident occurred as Ménard walked with Canada's chief of defence staff, General Walter Natynczyk, on his way to a helicopter. His fine, imposed by a military judge in Gatineau, Quebec was $3,500 — the stiffest fine handed down for mishandling a weapon.

Menard joined the Royal 22nd Regiment as an infantry officer in 1984. Being only 42 years old and already a flag officer, he was considered one of the army’s top young commanders.

Ménard's sudden removal could permanently damage his military career. For all intents and purposes, his conduct in this affair is unquestionably a career stopper. To show there is no double standard in terms of intimate relationships in the armed forces, Ménard would most likely face a ‘harsher penalty’ than a rank-and-file soldier would.

The concern I have about the general’s intimate affair with someone whose position in the military hierarchy is lower than his is that there might be a feeling within the ranks that if a general can do it, then why can’t those of lower ranks do it also?

An investigation was being conducted into the allegations and Menard, who was to command the biggest NATO campaign of the war in Kandahar in the next few weeks, was returned to Canada immediately.

The Canadian military has a strict non-fraternization policy for deployed troops, forbidding personal relationships of an emotional, romantic or sexual nature. The Department of National Defence has a ‘zero tolerance on personal relationships and fraternization’. The policy forbids any contact between members for sexual purposes. Even a peck on the cheek or holding hands is forbidden.

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and civilian employees, including journalists embedded alongside them, are expected to follow very strict rules governing behaviour with each other. No intimate personal relationships are allowed in theatre, including those involving married couples deployed at the same time.
“Sexual activity or any other form of intimate contact in any context with another individual is prohibited anywhere in the Joint Task Force Afghanistan Area of Operations,” according to theatre standing orders governing personal relationships.
The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service said in a statement that Brig.-Gen. Ménard is charged with:
• two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline contrary to section 129 of the National Defence Act related to alleged inappropriate conduct as outlined in the Canadian Forces Personal Relationships and Fraternization directives;
• one count of obstructing justice contrary to section 130 of the NDA, pursuant to section 139(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada; and
• one count of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline contrary to section 129 of the NDA, laid in the alternative to the obstructing justice charge.

Master-Corporal Bianka Langlois is also facing a charge of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline contrary to section 129 of the National Defence Act.
Menard is not the first high-ranking officer who had a sexual affair with someone of the opposite sex who was of a lower rank or position.

Just days after Menard’s removal from Afghanistan, Colonel Bernard Ouellette, Canada’s chief of staff to the United Nations Haiti mission, was removed from his post under a cloud of accusations, including suggestions of an inappropriate relationship. That relationship is not believed to have involved another member of the military however.

General Maxwell D. Taylor, who commanded the U.S. 101st Airborne Division at the battle of Arnhem in 1944 and later became superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, once remarked that he would happily serve with an officer who was physically fit but had "General Grant's weakness for strong drink" and who was "loyal to his superiors and his profession but disloyal to his wife." To Taylor what mattered was whether a soldier was good at his job. What he drank and whom he slept with were entirely separate issues.

The very recent sacking of Brig.-Gen. Daniel Ménard as commander of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan demonstrates how Taylor's thinking has gone out of fashion. Far more popular in military circles these days is the view of another Arnhem veteran, the Australian-born British general Sir John Hackett. In Hackett's eyes, military character was an all-or-nothing attribute.

“A person,” he wrote, "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 also said, “What the bad man cannot be is a good sailor, or soldier, or airman." In other words, the soldier who cheats on his wife cannot be trusted to stand by his colleagues in combat or to abide by the ethics of war. Being a professionally ‘good’ soldier requires a form of moral wholeness. If the allegations are proven, they will primarily demonstrate ‘stupidity on the part of a commanding officer whose job it is to set an example.’

Michael Byers, professor of political science at the University of British Columbia said, “I’m encouraged by the fact that Ménard was removed from his post, since it suggests that the Forces are taking the rules, and the rights and interests of female soldiers, seriously.”

Superficially this logic seems to make sense. One can understand why soldiers might believe that somebody who cheats at cards or at marriage is not 100-per-cent reliable. But Hackett's concept comes with some perverse consequences. If one accepts the assumption about moral wholeness, it is a necessary logical deduction that somebody who has high professional skills must also be morally good. Conversely, it tends to be inferred somebody who is professionally deficient must be morally deficient too. That isn’t exactly true.

For example, when President Lincoln was informed that General Grant was a heavy drinker, the president said; “If all my other generals can fight like Grant; then send them all a case of whiskey.

There are some who say that Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan should not have been fired in an unprecedented public and career-limiting way despite allegations he had an inappropriate relationship with a member of his staff.

During World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave in to the temptations of a young woman named Kay Summersby, who happened to be his personal driver. While his wife, Mamie was in the states and Dwight was overseas, the affair blossomed. Summersby was a former British model and was quite attractive. She wrote a book in 1977, after Eisenhower had died in 1969, titled Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the book, she describes that she and Dwight had tried on many numerous occasions to consummate their relationship, but there was no such thing as Viagra at the time and Dwight supposedly had problems in that area. Being in an unhappy marriage supposedly had taken the libido away from the 5-star General and his work was his substitute for his inabilities in the bedroom. In 1945 Eisenhower actually asked permission from General George Marshall to divorce his wife Mamie in order to marry Summersby, but permission was refused by Marshall. Eisenhower later became the president of the United States and his wife, Mamie became the First Lady.

Even though General Marshal who was the senior ranking officer in the United States armed forces during the Second World War was aware of the intimate relationship between Eisenhower and his female driver, he wasn’t about to sack Eisenhower since he was a superb leader of men and was later to become the Supreme Commander of all the Allied forces in Europe and as such, was very much instrumental in the defeat of Germany.

That being as it is, then why did Lt.-General Marc Lessard send Brig.-General Menard packing when he knew that the general was an otherwise very capable leader of the Canadian contingent in Afghanistan?

Many of the officers and men who were serving under his command respected him, believed in him, saw him as a good commander and saw him removed in such a ‘shameful and dishonourable way’.

Some people will dismiss the notion that soldiers would be negatively affected and say that the zero-tolerance rule is necessary to ensure the moral of the majority soldiers, who, before the policy was in place, were negatively affected by those soldiers who enjoyed intimate couple relationships.

While Canadian military commanders in Afghanistan sought to down play the controversy as a personal ordeal, military observers and former officers said General Ménard’s dismissal could be damaging to the morale of the troops on the ground, and possibly taint Canadians’ image of the armed forces.

It is particularly unfortunate that it comes so soon after Colonel Russell Williams, the former base commander at CFB Trenton, was charged with multiple murders and sexual assaults. Byers also said, “While the allegations against General Ménard are in no way similar, they will add to the public’s concern about the quality of leadership in the armed forces and raise worries within the Forces as well. People in the military will say ‘Here we go again.”

I remember when I served in the Canadian Armed Forces (Navy) in the early 1950’s; it was rare that we ever saw women on our base or on our ships. Nowadays, that is commonplace. When you mix thousands of testosterone-enhanced males with perhaps a couple hundred women confined for six months inside a potentially deadly theatre of war, someone needs to discourage, if not disconnect, those natural instincts otherwise things can get out of hand.

Nevertheless, one may rightly question whether the rules are sensible ones. As another British general, Patrick Cordingley, once said: "Our soldiers aren't little angels." I suppose it is unrealistic to expect them to behave as such but is it unrealistic to set inhumanly high standards of behaviour, if those standards are based not on professional necessity but on a false conception of moral wholeness?

I believe that Lt.-General Lessard was quite correct to remove Menard from the theatre of war in Afghanistan. If a Catholic priest who is dedicated to his church and its followers; has a sexual relationship with one or more of his parishioners, he has betrayed his trust and abandoned the dictates of his church. He can no longer be a role model that everyone should be able to look up to. If a general in the armed forces chooses to wantonly disobey regulations to satisfy his personal needs, then those who serve under him will wonder if he will also disobey direct orders given to him in the heat of battle. Just as a priest, a judge, a police officer and a school teacher (just to name a few) are people we should try to emulate, so should soldiers emulate a senior officer in the armed forces. When a general’s honesty falters, so does his credibility and when that goes, he is no longer an appropriate person to lead his men into battle.

Another reason why it was necessary to relieve General Menard from his duties in Afghanistan; is that he took advantage of someone who was of a lesser rank than he was. For a general to have sex with a corporal; is to place the corporal in a situation which would make her fear that if she denied him of her sexual favours, what would her chances of promotion be after that? This kind of relationship isn’t permitted in the business world and it shouldn’t be permitted in the armed forces.

Combined with the fact that military personnel live in a degree of isolation from the wider community, the conflation of professional excellence with moral excellence risks producing a sense that soldiers are part of a moral elite. They aren’t. But common decency is expected from those that serve our country and to not accept that, makes it dangerous for the military itself and for society as a whole.

Brigadier General Menard resigned from the Canadian armed forces with his rank still intact. When asked if he regretted what he had done, he replied, "I regret profoundly what my wife and children have had to go through." He did not express any regret to the troops he commanded.His trial was held in July 2011 and he was demoted to the rank of colonel but that was academic since he is still receiving his pension as a former Brigadier General. He was also fined $7,000. His former lover, corporal Bianka Langlois pleaded guilty in September 2010 and was fined $700.

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