Wednesday, September 27, 2006

We have to fight the Islamonazis in Dieppe...

World War II comparisons have, officially, jumped the shark. Via Rob at LGM, Bob Bergen of the CDFAI writes (PDF):
The left wing in Canada has been doing its level best to equate Canadian foreign and defence policy under Prime Minister Stephen Harper with American President George Bush for some time now. But a new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) making headlines across Canada has broken shameless new ground implying that Canadian troops in Afghanistan are little more cannon fodder.
I haven't commented on the CCPA's report, largely because Skippy did a far better job than I could hope to here. But the short version is that the CCPA isn't looking at a number of factors, and their drawing much larger conclusions than their research can bear.

None of this is to say that our troops aren't, in fact, being used as cannon fodder - only that it hasn't been proved yet. When the Canadians are fighting in large numbers with the British and Americans, I always get nervous. Why, you ask? Well, Back to Bob Bergen here, who wins the award for most useless argument-by-analogy of the year:
Just one historical will demonstrate what is wrong with such an analysis. On August 19, 1942, 4,963 Canadians were sent to attack the beach at Dieppe, France, in the first major Canadian action of the Second World War. Of them, 907 were killed and 1,946 remained hostage. To compare that death rate on the very worst day of the war to American casualties or to calculate that, based on that experience, Canada would lose an extrapolated number of soldiers over the wars duration if the rate were to remain unchanged would be pure folly.
Because if you really want to demonstrate how Canadian troops aren't being used as cannon fodder, and want to put people's minds at ease, you bring up Dieppe. Good work, everybody, we can all go home.

Except for this: Bergen's argument is wrong, even in it's own terms. Nobody in August of 1942 (except maybe the Soviets) looked at the numbers from Dieppe and said "well, that worked out swimmingly, let's make sure to do it all exactly the same way when Operation Overlord kicks off." Canadian casualties were rightly seen as far too high, even if the mission had succeeded, and the Allies changed their plans. They retrained their troops, and made sure they were better equipped. They worked harder to coordinate artillery firing with targets on the beach. In short, the Allies did a number of things in planning and training for the next attack on the Continent exactly because they were worried about what would happen if casualties stayed the same.

Far from "sheer folly", I imagine some allied planner was worried about exactly what would happen if Canadian casualties were going to be the norm for the invasion of Europe. He would have been wrong in the factual sense, but he would have been right to worry about exactly that. Indeed, worrying about it probably kept it from happening.

Is this relevant to Canada in Afghanistan? Apart from any ideas of Canadians being used as cannon fodder, there's a simple question to ask, and it's the same one Allied planners answered in the negative after Dieppe: Is this sustainable? If we can continue our mission in Afghanistan with these levels of casualties and reach our objectives (what are they again?) then arguably the CCPA report is irrelevant. However - and details aside, this is an argument the CCPA report can contribute to - if we're on the wrong path in Afghanistan, or if our casualties are unsustainable, then we really need to start talking about different methods.

A patriotic side note: In Guns of Normandy, a fantastic book about Canadian artillery in WWII, the author recounts how, in the weeks after D-Day, the Canadian Army made rapid progress in France after an initial delay when the Canadians - unlike the other Allied armies - went up against the fanatical Waffen SS. (British and American histories tend to discount the Canadians as slow-movers, neglecting the fact that the Canadians were going up against far more determined enemies. John Keegan, on the other hand, has been clear, loud, and repetitive in his praise for the Canadians, so I think we win.) During the effort to destroy the German 7th Army in Falaise, the Canadians had laid down such massive artillery barrages that captured Germans demanded to see this automatic artillery they were certain the Canadians must have.

Anyway, after the 7th was driven out of Falaise (with 50-60,000 Germans captured, wounded or killed) the Canadians headed back to Dieppe with a purpose - the liberation of the northern French ports. The word must have gotten out to the Germans, because hours before the Canadian Army was about to arrive, the German soldiers abandoned their positions and retreated. On September 1, 1944, the Canadian Army re-entered Dieppe.


Mike said...

Great post john.

My grandfather was with the Royal Canadian Signal Corp and was at Dieppe both times....

john said...

Holy hell.

I hope he made it home okay.

Mike said...

Yeah...he made it 20 yards from the beach the first time, and the called the retreat and brought his unit back (he was with the FMR at the time).

He made it through Normandy, Polders, and into Germany and came home, a little shaken, but generally ok. He died of cancer in 1984.

Oddly enough, he never, ever, EVER ate margerine once he was back, no matter how much his doctor pleaded with him to lay off the butter. 6 years of Army food ruined him for life.