Category Archives: History

Rock solid

My latest for The Rebel:

On June 16, 1779, the Spanish laid siege to Gibraltar. Yet more than 1300 days later it was still in British hands. And a very good thing to.

Britain moved somewhat ruthlessly to seize the Rock in 1704, it is true. But even then Britain was a bastion of liberty… unlike Spain. And in the darkest part of the Second World War, when the former was led by Churchill and the latter by the Nazi sympathizer Franco, the long-ago tenacity of the garrison had a pivotal impact in the survival of freedom as the UK was able to maintain vital ocean supply lines in its struggle against Hitler.

The audio-only version is available here:

Rock solid - Download This Episode

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Up the Brocks

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Brigitte at Petawawa for Stalwart Guardian in 2005

For over a decade I’ve had the privilege of being associated with the Brockville Rifles, despite my own complete lack of military service, thanks initially to Brigitte and I spending a weekend “embedded” with the Brocks as journalists on an urban warfare exercise at Fort Drum and then both of us being made honorary members of their officers’ mess.

It’s a remarkable experience and one I wish more Canadians knew about. The Brocks are a “reserve” regiment. They train citizen-soldiers who, if they see active service, will do so seconded to other regiments. Even in World War II, with massive mobilization, the Brocks were “feeders” to the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, themselves now also a reserve unit. But that doesn’t make them second string.

In the first place, members of Canada’s dozens of reserve units are a vital supplement to the regular forces in places like Afghanistan, serving on equal terms. But in the second, they are a crucial link between citizens and the military.

It is impossible to overstate the importance, over many centuries, of that link. In the free countries of the Anglosphere, security has never been primarily the responsibility of military professionals, dedicated as they are. Indeed it has always been understood that for the military to see itself as separate from society, an elite answerable to the state not to their fellows, is a dangerous step toward tyranny. By contrast for citizens to see the military in themselves and vice versa, as with the police, is part of a healthy body politic.

The reserve-based citizen-soldier connection is also important because it helps maintain awareness and appreciation among citizens of the need for readiness in an uncertain world and an understanding that national defence is not “someone else’s problem” but that of their neighbours, their colleagues, their relatives and themselves. Including readiness to respond to domestic emergencies whether natural or man-made.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about the reserves on a number of occasions including in Reader’s Digest after another embedded exercise, at Petawawa, in which Brigitte and I even got to ride in helicopters and wave honey-soaked rations at a mama bear. (OK, that was just me, and not on purpose.) And I’ve been privileged to speak to the Brocks’ annual mess dinner. But it’s difficult to convey the special world of the reserves to those not familiar with it.

So when I got a newsletter concerning the 150th anniversary celebrations for the regiment, I thought “This really is a remarkable window into the community of the Brockville Rifles.” Not just the community within the regiment, but the larger community of current and former members and their civilian friends and supporters. So I contacted them to ask whether it would be appropriate to share it and they said to go ahead. Here it is: (you can also view it here)

If you read the letter, I think most of you will get a sense that something unfamiliar but clearly wonderful and important is going on here. And I hope you’ll consider getting to know the reserves in your own town, city or area, and to understand just how important the citizen-soldier is not just to our defence but to our way of life. Up the Brocks! And happy 150th.

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Today you actually get paid

Woot. Today is Tax Freedom Day in Canada. That’s right. June 7. That’s the day, according to the Fraser Institute, that the average family stops working for the state and starts working for itself. And that was the good news.

The bad news is that if governments paid for everything they took, that is, if you count deficits as if they were covered by taxation now instead of later, it still wouldn’t be tax freedom day until June 18. (This methodology I believe relies on mean averages for income and taxation.)

You can find the depressing details including a provincial breakdown in their study. But here’s a question to ponder as you do so. How can it be that, with Canadians so much wealthier today than they were thirty or sixty years ago, we can possibly need so much more help from government?

Remember, as we get richer, government could keep getting bigger while tax freedom day got earlier. Why isn’t it happening? If it’s too much to ask that government actually get smaller as our private means, including for charity, get larger, couldn’t it at least take a smaller share?

Instead the total tax rate (see p. 9 of the Fraser study) is higher in every province except Alberta and BC today than in 1981. So where does it all end? And why does current political debate take so little notice of the relentless expansion of the state relative to citizens, talking instead about all the wonderful things we could get if only government finally became truly big and busy?

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Operation Feeble

The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain is under American pressure to send an extra 100 troops to Afghanistan. How did it come to this?

I’m not judging the merits of the Afghan mission at this point. I’m just noting that this is a protracted, difficult discussion between the two leading powers in the Western alliance about a company of soldiers. One hundred troops. One company.

The Telegraph says the deployment would make a difference to the American ability to deploy troops elsewhere in the country and bolster U.S. commanders’ arguments with their own president about further reducing the American presence.

A hundred soldiers? I can see how the decision to send three regiments might signal serious allied commitment to a cause. But if it still matters, sending 100 soldiers should be a minor administrative decision not a major strategic issue.

Consider that in April 1940 in a failed attempt to rescue their Norwegian ally, the British put 3,500 men into a minor action at Namsos, despite having 200,000 in France and deployments worldwide, from the Caribbean to Burma and Hong Kong, in the midst of a major war. Yet such a deployment would strain the capacity of the far richer and more populous UK of 2016 in peacetime, with few other demands on its armed forces, and entirely exceed our own. How can we have let such a situation arise in a clearly turbulent world?

Look, the Afghan mission may have been misconceived from the beginning or badly executed. I don’t think so, except in the unrealistic expectations for transforming the country through military action rather than just removing a regime dangerous to us. But it may be time to withdraw. It may be impossible to prevent a Taliban resurgence. The major terrorist threat may be elsewhere now. Or showing weakness once committed might be perilous. All these things can be debated.

What it seems to me cannot be debated is that when the two most powerful nations in the Western alliance are having protracted high-level discussions over 100 soldiers, both our military establishments and our will are dangerously weak.

 

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Dred Free

My latest from The Rebel:

On May 26, 1857, Dred Scott got his freedom. Yes, the plaintiff in the all time worst piece of judicial activism, Dred Scott v Sandford, was actually freed shortly after the Supreme Court essentially ruled that there were no free states in the U.S., precipitating the Civil War. And it happened because where law failed, some human hearts succeeded, with some former owners funding his court challenge and another, after he lost, making sure he was freed. It’s a humbling reminder that we can always do the right thing in our own time even if the world is wrong or indifferent.

You can find the audio-only version here:

Robson Rebel, May 26 - Download This Episode

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The end of the world news

While politicians are gassing on, here’s the sort of thing that really matters: the Washington Post reports on a superbug resistant to last-resort antibiotics, and liable to share its genes with other more sinister bacteria, that has reached the United States.

People tell me, oh, I wouldn’t want to live in the Middle Ages because they didn’t have antibiotics. Well, we did and we squandered them.

Three cheers for modernity.

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King Justin

In my latest column for the National Post I argue that Trudeau manhandling MPs was not just rudeness to colleagues. It was an assault by the executive branch on the legislature and, therefore, on Canadian citizens, who elect MPs to control the government on their behalf.

One more reason we urgently need to fix our Constitution. Please back our documentary project and help us show the way.

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Legion de Elba

My latest for The Rebel: On May 19 the French Legion d’Honneur was established. In 1802. By Napoleon. The famous dictator and failed aggressor. Many recipients have been outstanding human beings., But the Legion d’Honneur underlines the tragic difficulty in places without the Anglosphere’s tradition of liberty under law successfully maintained in finding aspects of their heritage worth celebrating and rallying round in the name of good government and civic virtue.

The audio-only version is available here:

Robson Rebel, May 19 - Download This Episode

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AAAAA

In my latest piece for The Rebel, I note that May 12 is the date in 1933 that FDR signed the Agricultural Adjustment Act into law, a brilliant government plan to increase prosperity by destroying wealth, specifically to feed a hungry nation by plowing food right back into the dirt. This approach has of course caught on in the public sector. But it’s also the date the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous first met, in 1935, and by creating a group reliant on voluntary organization, fellowship and humility has done far more to help mankind than any government War on Drugs, the welfare state or virtually any government program to make us better off by making us worse off.

The audio-only version is available here:

May 12, 2016 Rebel - Download This Episode

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