THE NEED FOR CANADIAN MILITARY PREPARATION
AN ADDRESS BY GENERAL H. D. G. CRERAR, C.H., C.B., D.S.O.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Thursday April 25, 1946
MR. THOMPSON: Gentlemen, we are signally honoured today in having with us Canada's most distinguished soldier.
Born in Hamilton, he attended primary schools in that city, Upper Canada College, Toronto and the Royal Military College, Kingston.
During World War I, he served from 1914 to 1918 with great distinction, following which, he decided to devote himself to a military career, attending the Imperial Staff Course at the Staff College in Camberley and afterwards at the Defence College, the latter being the highest seat of military study in the Empire.
He has successively been Commandant of R. M. C., Chief of the Canadian General Staff, a Divisional Commander and finally, General Officer in charge in Command of the First Canadian Army.
When World War 2 broke out, he held the rank of Brigadier and went overseas to prepare for the arrival of Canadian troops. In 1940, he was made a Major General and was brought back to Canada to become Vice: Chief and later Chief of the General Staff. In 1941, he returned to England to command the Second Division and in December, 1943, was given command of the Canadian Corps in Italy with the rank of Lieutenant-General.
He was sent back to Britain in March, 1944, to command the Canadian Army and took charge of the preparations for invasion operations and directed them when the Canadians crossed the Channel in June of that year. He was raised to a full General in November, 1944 and, early the following year, had in his charge the largest force a Canadian ever commanded and what was reported to have been the largest single force on the Western Front.
The Empire Club is indeed proud to be able to present to you, one who in recognition of his achievements has been presented with more decorations than any other Canadian and one who has not only won glory for himself but for his country.
Gentlemen, I present to you, General H. D. G. Crerar, C.H., C.B., D.S.O., who will speak to us on "The Need For Canadian Military Preparation".
GENERAL IT. D. G. CRERAR: On 23rd May, last year,--some two weeks only after the Great War in Europe came to its victorious end--I received a cable at my Headquarters in Holland, from the Empire Club of Toronto, asking that I be its guest, and address its members, following my return to Canada. As nearly a year has gone by since this Club did me the honour of this invitation, it would not appear that my acceptance has been very promptly translated into action. And yet, in the circumstances which transpired, following my return to my own country last August, I could not have been your guest much earlier. In the following six months, which only terminated a few weeks ago, when I commenced my "retirement leave", I was working to a schedule which, in truth, gave me no opportunity. And, when that tour of Canada was completed, during which I travelled over thirteen thousand miles, visiting Military and DVA Hospitals and Military Establishments-and saying goodbye to those with whom I had served-I very much needed the month of rest and relaxation, from which I have just returned. I trust, therefore, that' these few preliminary remarks will serve to explain the lapse of time since you first paid me the compliment to ask me to be your guest.
I shall now turn to the subject concerning which I would speak to you, today. In the light of my past experiences, it will not cause surprise that I have chosen as my theme the need, the dominant need, for the maintenance by Canada, now and in the future, of adequate, efficient Armed Forces, and of the means and machinery required for the speedy military mobilization of all the resources of this country, should resort to war again be the only alternative to a shameful submission. Twice in the lifetime of most Canadians, this country, the British Empire as a whole, and the United States, have been brought, quite unprepared, into the middle of a life or death struggle for our very existence as democratic nations. Twice in each war, in September 1914 and March/April 1918, in the summer of 1940 (the battle of Britain, and the summer of 1942 (the battle of El Alamein) the enemy was within immediate reach of attaining its evil object. Surely, ten years at war in the last three decades of our existence, the inevitability of our concern about, and participation in, any future crisis which may occur, and the manifest critical risks we have run by our previous lack of military preparation are not facts to which we can now close our minds. Nor can any rational person, at this time, come to the conclusion that what the old League of Nations failed to accomplish at Geneva, in the twenty years, or so, of its existence will, in any way, be guaranteed by the new United Nations Organization, in its present and future deliberations in New York State. Humbly, but with great earnestness, I submit that the millennium is not yet with us, and, that if we Canadians are a rational people we must act accordingly.
There are many who argue that with the invention of new weapons of tremendous destructive power-such as the Atomic Bomb-war has become so potentially horrible that no nation can seriously contemplate the employment of military forces to further, or maintain, its external policies. I wish that I could believe this, but I have observed no evidence in my lifetime which leads me to the conclusion that any marked advance in the scientific field is quickly followed by any comparable improvement in the matter of human relations. Science and the humanities are not linked subjects. It follows that to a nation which believes that only through the use of force can its ambitions be achieved, the more devastating the force at its disposal, the more tempting the resort to its employment. Or, to put it differently, a terrible weapon need only be a deterrent to war, to a nation' that does not possess it.
I would also caution against the assumption that science has now developed means of destruction to which there is no defence. I am no scientist, but as a soldier who has studied, as well as practised, his profession, I would say that the evidence to date is that what science can invent, science, given time and determination, can generally neutralize, or completely overcome. Certainly, this recurrence has been demonstrated in the matter of weapon development throughout the ages, and I, personally, believe this phenomenon continues to obtain.
To summarize, so far, I submit that we Canadians must face up to the situation that war. is yet, as in the recorded past, an instrument of national policy and that its abolition in the years ahead is, by no means, assured. Secondly, it is unsound to argue that war has become "unthinkable" because it is becoming more and more horrible through scientific discoveries. To a potential aggressor, the more devastating his weapons, the more certain the victory. Thirdly, the modern weapon of today, given the urge and the availability of scientific minds, becomes the obsolete weapon of the not too distant future. This, certainly, has been the cycle throughout recorded military history and may reasonably be accepted as obtainable today.
If any Canadian accepts the view that war has not been banished from this world-which view I, myself, hold-then he, or she, must also face up to the dramatic change in the political and military situation of Canada, brought about by recent scientific discoveries and applications. Canada has lost, forever, whatever presumed, or actual, political and military isolation it possessed in the past. If you look at the map or better at the globe, and think, even superficially, of the tremendous range and destructive power of new weapons, some only partially developed, you cannot but agree that, in any war involving the British Commonwealth and the United States, Canada will probably be in the operational "front line" -and from the very outbreak of hostilities. Even if Canadians closed their eyes and minds to the duty of doing their part in maintaining decent international relations, (by resort to force to compel them, if necessary) narrow self-preservation compels Canada to think, and act, in terms of highly efficient military preparation. Time and space no longer count as military factors favouring Canada. A rocket propelled atomic bomb, launched from hundreds of miles outside the sea or land boundaries of Canada is not handicapped by either of these items.
From what I have briefly touched upon, it should also be clear to us, Canadians, that to think, talk and act in terms of static defence of our national boundaries is mischievous, military nonsense. In this era of vastly increasing ranges in the weapons of attack, we must organize not only for the immediate mobilization of efficient and adequate Forces, but also for the immediate dispatch of those Forces against an enemy located, perhaps, many hundreds of miles outside our national boundaries. In the circumstances which I have described, I might add, as a footnote, that the time has certainly come when we should substitute something more dynamic realistic and inspiring for the lines in our Canadian song which read:--"O Canada, We Stand on guard for thee". These words have no sensible political or military application to Canadians, today, if they ever had a measure of either in the past-and they are very bad psychology.
I have given, as my considered views, that Canada will be in any war generally affecting the British Commonwealth and the United States and from the very start; that there will be no special political or military assistance, as heretofore, from the factors of time and space; and that, in consequence, Canada requires Armed Forces that are capable, not only of being quickly mobilized, but also of acting speedily with longrange mobility. Having stated these opinions, I turn to the inevitable conclusion which emerges from them--that only by the adoption of compulsory universal military training will this country ever possess the men and the means to meet its potential military requirements, in these contingencies which I think we are required to face.
I have given very briefly, even sketchily, some of the more important arguments which support me in the conclusion which I have just stated to you-that only by the adoption of universal military training in this country will we be able, in the discernable future, to measure up to the situations we might soon be called upon to overcome. I may be wrong, but I believe that the majority of my fellow Canadians would agree that the adoption arid application of such a national policy would be acceptable to them, as citizens, if many did not also hold the belief that, say, a year of a young man's life, taken up in such training, would be time lost, so far as his peace-time prospects were concerned. And peace, with prosperity, are the natural aspirations of civilized humanity--not preparation for possible war. It seems to me important, therefore, at this time, to produce arguments, which might tend to convince, that time spent in universal military training, if properly organized, can be made an important asset to all young men, and to Canada generally, for peace as much as for war. It would be time very well spent, even should no war occur, not time wasted.
To start with, I wish to make the point that it is the national intent which lies behind armed forces, and armaments, which cause war, not the possession of a military organization and its equipment. Now, a country possessing a democratic form of government, with a widely enfranchised electorate is, by its very nature, extremely loath to resort to war as an instrument of national policy. A nation with a government quickly responsive to the views of its population, which population enjoys freedom of thought and of speech, can only enter, unitedly into a war on a basis such as, obvious and undeniable selfpreservation or, on a higher plane, in order to maintain the principles of Christian and civilized behaviour in the relations which obtain between the nations on this earth. To a democracy, such as ours, there can be no popular appeal to join in a war of aggression. Mobilization of public opinion must precede mobilization of a democracy's armed forces. And, only a profound conviction amongst the majority of free citizens that civilization, itself, is at stake will produce that necessary basis for action. To put the matter briefly, I deny that the adoption of universal military training in Canada will tend to make Canadians, and their Government, any more disposed than they are, or have been, to resort to war to settle external differences.
This view, if accepted is, however, but a negative argument. As a Canadian citizen, rather than as a soldier, and thinking in terms of our future national development in peace, I would now put before you certain positive advantages to our country which would follow the adoption of universal military training.
I am going to start by drawing to your attention certain important examinations to which every man in the Canadian Army, Overseas, was subject, prior to, or shortly after, his enlistment, and as a result of which his future in the Army, if any, was generally decided. Every man was medically examined, and either accepted or rejected. If accepted, it was often on the basis of subsequent medical correction, or cure, of some physical defect. In many cases, the men, themselves, had no knowledge of the existence of this defect. All men were dentally examined. The amount of dental work which it was found necessary to carry out on a very high proportion of enlisted men, before they could be regarded as fit, was quite staggering. Most of these men were either unaware, or unconcerned, as to their poor dental condition. Finally, by the end of the second year of the war, Personnel Selection Boards were put into force, and tremendous strides were made towards directing each man, having regard to his intelligence, aptitude and psychology, to the arm, or service, or trade, in the Canadian Army, which best suited his particular mental equipment and character.
Now, these three routine examinations, the information derived from them and the decisions it was possible to reach as a result of them, were fundamental bases for the creation of an effective Army-which the First Canadian Army, undoubtedly, was. They are just as essential, in peace, to apply to the young men of this country, in implementing a policy of compulsory military training. And, if so carried out, the contribution they would make to the development of a healthier and happier nation, would be enormous.
In addition to the improvement in our national health which undoubtedly can be obtained if our young men were medically and mentally examined for, and underwent a period of military training, important progress can be made, at the same time, in the further education of these young men in their future responsibilities as citizens, in broadening their knowledge of their own country and thus to develop in them a constructive national outlook and, finally, in "off military duty" hours, in assisting them materially to fit themselves for their future civil vocations or professions.
In the Caandian Army, Overseas, as part of the training syllabus, while in U. K. after V-E Day, periods were allotted each week to addresses and joint discussions by all ranks on "Current Affairs". Under this "umbrella" title, views were propounded and discussions took place on such matters as "Civics"; "The Organization and Operation of different systems of Government"; "The place of Religion in Society"; and many other subjects of paramount importance to every citizen of every country which encourages active individual thought, and the development of a rational public opinion. As our national decisions, social, economic and political, are, nowadays, so intimately dependent upon the reactions of public opinion to any given question, there can be nothing more important to the youth of Canada, and so to the future of our country, than a sound knowledge of the fundamentals of ethics and civics, of economic and social issues, and of our national and local political machinery for dealing with them.
I think that no one will dispute the statement that Canada is a very large country and is capable of becoming a great and powerful nation. But that potentiality is not made easy of accomplishment by reason of its geography. In the result, our population has shown what might be termed a "ribbon development", pretty well along the extent, and in the vicinity, of our Southern boundary. "Ribbon developments" are a handicap to a nation as much as they are to a community. They make intercommunication difficult, and divergence of views easy, for those who live along them. And yet, we must become more and more Canadian in our outlook, and less and less Provincial, if we are to develop into a great and powerful country.
I believe that the Canadian Army has already made an outstanding contribution to the development of a national outlook among our citizens and I shall give you some of my grounds for this belief. In the summer of 1940, I returned from England to Canada, to take up the appointment of Chief of the General Staff. Shortly after my arrival, I learned that units which had been mobilized on the outbreak of war, a year before, to provide coastal still employed on the same duties and in their original garrisons and guard important vulnerable points, were localities. It was inevitable that their morale was suffering. There is nothing worse for morale than boredom. I obtained authority, therefore, to put into effect a policy of inter-change of duties, and of stations, between all units which still required to be retained in Canada. As a result, Eastern units went to Central and Western Canada and vice versa. I remember one Western Ontario Regiment which I first inspected on the Welland Canal. I next met up with it on Vancouver Island and then, later, saw it on duty in Newfoundland before it, finally went overseas. That unit travelled Canada more extensively, perhaps, than many others, but all of them moved widely, and all their thousands of officers and men, thus learned much about, and grew to appreciate, distant areas and communities of Canada that were previously unknown to them.
I talked to hundreds of these men about their travels in Canada. It was inspiring to hear from them what they had learned about their own vast country, and about the other Canadians who lived in other Provinces--a knowledge essential to our citizens if they are to contribute to the development of national understanding and sound national policies, and which the great majority have been quite unable to obtain for themselves. I urge that this form of national education be maintained. I suggest that it can be if the organization and system of training of the Canadian Armed Forces of the future, based, as they should be, upon universal military training, make full provision for the extensive movement, within Canada, of those who may temporarily serve in it.
In North West Europe, immediately after V-E Day, the First Canadian Army organized and developed comprehensive facilities for academic, vocational and technical courses on a voluntary basis. Before I left Europe, in August last, some 25% of the strength of the Army had taken advantage of the means of rehabilitation training thus afforded. In addition, the Khaki College was set up in the U. K. conducting three months' courses for some six hundred of those in the Army who possessed University qualifications and who intended to proceed with University education on their return to Canada. As regards the courses afforded in N. W. Europe, while enrolment was voluntary, personnel electing to take such courses were required to devote a minimum of six 50 minute periods to them a week.
The academic courses organized by the First Canadian Army, commenced at the elementary level (for those who had little, or no, education) and carried through to Grade XI. There were commercial courses in such subjects as book-keeping, shorthand and typing. And, the prevocational and vocational courses, covered an alphabetical range from agriculture and auto mechanics to tinsmithing and welding.
What has been done in the First Canadian Army since "cease-fire" in Europe, in the main, can be quite as readily carried out by those who may be temporarily serving, under a policy of universal military training, in Canada in peace. It follows that a young man's peace time prospects of employment in civil life could well be improved, during his period of military training, and not handicapped as it so widely supposed.
Well, I have just about said my say. The message I have attempted to convey to you can be pretty well covered under four headings. The first would be that war has not been banished from this world-on the contrary, the danger of it's recurrence is a situation which we Canadians must frankly face. The second would be that, in any future war, neither time nor geography will be factors on which this country can count. In a future war, a military policy of having little ready, and of being late in organizing the balance, invites catastrophy. The third would be that only by universal military training in peace, and the maintenance of the means quickly to mobilize large forces, if suddenly required, can this country meet its possible, or even probable, military requirements. The fourth is that, contrary to the view held by many, the period of a young Canadian's life spent undergoing compulsory military training can be so organized that it would prove of great personal advantage to the individual in his future existence in peace. In addition, it would tend to develop an understanding and homogeneity, between the widely scattered groups of our population, which would be of immeasurable value to the future development of Canada.
There will be those who will say that as our great neighbour to the South, the United States, has not yet decided to adopt universal military training, that Canada can "wait and see". Surely, however, this is not representative of the Canadian character. In any event, as I said on a previous occasion, it is high time that as citizens we Canadians thought more deeply in terms of the next generation and much less importantly in terms of the next election. (Applause). Expediency represents neither principle, nor policy, in a man, or a nation,
I thank you for your generous attention. I wish, also, to say how very much I have appreciated the kind tributes paid to me by your President, when introducing me. While I can not accept them in a personal sense, I can do so happily as but the representative of that grand body of men who comprised the First Canadian Army, and, on their behalf, I thank you from my heart.