While scrolling through the list of articles on offer on the “Edge” page of the Forge, my attention was caught by the summary of “JPME With a Purpose: Breaking Through the Mythology” of January 7, 2021. It reads as follows:
A personal search for the truth beyond the myths of Canada’s naval success reinforces the merits of Australia’s attitude to cultivating informed leadership through a robust JPME system that encourages the asking of uncomfortable questions.
As a Canadian, I was immediately struck by the provocative antithesis, clearly stated here, between Canada (“myths”) and Australia (“informed” and “robust”), and needed no further inducement to read attentively. Having done so, I cannot agree with the statement in that summary, based, as I believe it to be, on surprisingly weak and confused reasoning.
Allow me to explain.
He Is of Course Right, Up to a Point
Although relying on only a single printed source (a good one, mind you) for the period up to the late 1980s and the CBC and Wikipedia articles for the period thereafter, the lengthy overview of Canadian naval history provided in “JPME With a Purpose” cannot be faulted in terms of its facts. What is not altogether clear, though, is its strict relevance to the theme of “failure”—a strong term, by the way, indicting a whole system and its people—of joint professional military education (JPME) in Canada. To demonstrate that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) had done them wrong by leaving out all the unsavoury, inconvenient, and downright embarrassing aspects of Canada’s naval history from the training they gave his class of acting sub-lieutenants, all the author really needed to do was to give an account of those aspects alone. Perhaps motivated by a concern for fairness, he opted instead for a more balanced approach. Perhaps, as a Canadian, I should be thankful that, alongside our dirty laundry, he hung out our clean clothes, too.
But You Don’t Tell That to Newbies
The author seems to regret, at least in retrospect, that the Canadian navy did not see fit to provide him, as a trainee Naval Warfare Officer, something akin to an undergraduate half course in Canadian naval history, because it is only at that level, I think, that the “rigour and richness of analysis” that he was hoping for could have been provided. He is of course entitled to this opinion, and he provides ample justification in support of it. Also entitled to an opinion in the matter was the Canadian navy, which was unable to include what the author was hoping for in a three-month program that also comprised, as he describes it, “personnel administration, sustainment and logistic processes, security regulation and other trivia.” At that stage of his career, what the navy no doubt sought to make of him and his fellow trainees was, to put it in simple terms, tactical specialists rather than strategic generalists. Looked at in that way, it could be argued that he was lucky to receive what little naval history he did.
As for the many downsides in the history of Canada’s navy, related with emphasis in the article, there is, I believe, a much more compelling rationale for the training system’s reticence. No organization, military or civilian, is going to include, as part of its training package for new hires, a detailed account of all of its missteps and misdeeds; in effect, telling them what a poor outfit they’ve just joined. The focus for the CAF at that stage—as, no doubt, for the ADF as well—would be on creating a positive image of the service its new officers had signed on with—or at least on not intentionally creating a negative one. It is not a question of taking active steps to conceal something, but simply not putting it front and centre in a context where it will do little good, and may even be counterproductive. The author considers it a “JPME failure” that he was not told, as a recently commissioned officer, that, for example, the entire RCN had to be pulled off the ocean due to incompetence back in 1943. On the contrary, I consider that a JPME success.
There Is More Than One Level of JPME
Whenever the article accuses Canadian JPME of failure, it shows a surprising lack of awareness of—or a regrettable lack of interest in—the difference between JPME provided to junior officers and that offered to more senior ones. The system is treated all of a piece, as if it had no distinctions within it. The author quite correctly points out, though, that “the true responsibility of the JPME system is . . . to whet the appetite of an engaged group seeking enlightenment, and encourage intellectual debate that is unafraid and unashamed to examine our failures.” I think it can be shown that Canadian JPME at Developmental Period 3 (equivalent to Learning Level 3 on the Australian JPME continuum) does exactly that.
As part of the Joint Command and Staff Programme at the Canadian Forces College (CFC)—equivalent to the Australian Command and Staff Course—candidates are required to submit substantial pieces of writing and analysis. These “CFC Papers” can be consulted online at the College’s website. While no doubt serving as an inducement to write with care, the fact that these papers can be read by anyone in the world with uncensored internet access does not mean that the authors have censored their subject matter. To cite some naval examples, Commander Danny Croucher argues for a thorough revamp of Engineering Officer job specification, training, and employment. Lieutenant-Commander Cory Foreman discusses the failure of Naval Logistics Officer training with respect to the handling of wider business management functions at the institutional level. Capitaine de frégate (Commander) Mathieu Leroux addresses the question of attrition in the Naval Reserve, running at an alarming 44 percent of young sailors in their first five years of service. Continuing with the Naval Reserve, Lieutenant-Commander Scott Nelson goes so far as to state that its system for providing Naval Warfare Officers capable of functioning alongside their regular force counterparts is broken and unsustainable. Finally, not one to mince words in his “Royal Un-Canadian Navy: The RCN’s Wicked Language Problem,” Lieutenant-Commander Vincent Pellerin tackles the question of the significant underrepresentation of French Canadians in the navy, running at roughly half that in the army and air force.
To judge by the papers they have written for the JCSP, I think it is very clear that these officers are “unafraid and unashamed to examine our failures.” Given that they would otherwise not have been encouraged to discuss questions of that nature, the same has to be said of the Canadian JPME system as a whole, at that level. And therein lies the essence of the first of two major failures of reasoning in this article. Its author repeatedly accuses the Canadian JPME system of failure, while frustratingly failing to acknowledge that he can only have been exposed to it at DP1 or 2. By the time DP3 is reached, the “templated answers,” “superficial overviews,” “nationalist myth-making,” and “good-news propaganda” are gone. The author makes the mistake of applying to the entire Canadian JPME system the inadequacies that he believes were present in his junior officer training. The article confuses the part with the whole, or tries to compare apples to oranges, and that is just not right.
You Can’t Have It Both Ways
Commendably, the author takes responsibility for his own ignorance of Canadian naval history when he observes that “sitting and waiting for the RCN to deliver to me a critical education about naval policy matters and the RCN’s historical record was lazy on my part.” I am sure that the Canadian officers whose JCSP papers I have cited above would agree. Nevertheless, he is still bold enough to take the CAF to task for the “deficient manner” in which naval history was taught to his class of trainee NWOs. So whose responsibility is it, then? Elsewhere, he asserts that “our professional military education must be primarily self-driven,” and that “we all must take ownership of our academic pursuits.” If that is so, then the Canadian JPME system cannot be held accountable for failing to provide that for which the onus is actually on himself. He cannot have it both ways, and therein lies the other major failure of reasoning on his part: by insisting that two mutually incompatible things be true at the same time, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too.
The author even goes so far as to state that it “must also be recognised as a failure of the JPME system” that he was not provided with a list, in effect, of “further reading” comprising the major works of Canadian naval historiography such as Boutilier, German, and Milner—as if there were no other way for him to be made aware of these books. Lazy, indeed.
A Surprising Lapse
Although the author may have been “yearning” for a more in-depth examination of Canadian naval history as a young officer, he certainly took no steps of his own to fill that gap, and in fact appears to have completely gotten over it, to judge by the fact that, as he informs us, he engaged with the subject again in a serious manner only in 2018 when he found Tony German’s The Sea Is at Our Gates at a second-hand book fair in Canberra. During that long interval he also appears to have had little or no involvement with what may be referred to as the broader community of like-minded individuals, because he makes the astonishing claim that there exists a “lack of think-tanks or institutions in Canada focused on educating the population on naval matters, exploring new ideas, and holding governments to account.” Informing us that he was indeed a “professional full-time naval officer” in Canada, he must surely, then, have been at least aware of the Naval Officers Association of Canada—if only to decline the opportunity to join. Becoming the Naval Association of Canada in 2012, their self-described core mission is “educating Canadians on the need for a capable Navy critical for our economic well-being, security and way of life.” Perhaps more useful to him may have been the Canadian Naval Review, a (mostly) quarterly publication started in 2005, whose objectives consist of providing a public forum for the discussion of Canadian naval and maritime national security, policy, and history. This is a particularly easy and enjoyable venue for keeping abreast of Canadian naval affairs, broadly defined, outside of either a JPME or formal academic framework. Beyond strictly naval outlets, tri-service publications and organizations abound in this country, and I have no intention of wearying the reader with a list of them here. The author’s belief that there are no organizations in Canada with an interest in naval affairs is simply inexplicable, a gaffe that does not inspire confidence in the soundness of his overall thesis.
Is The Thesis Even Sound?
The overall thrust of the article appears to be that the failure of Canadian JPME to discuss the problematic aspects of Canada’s navy has contributed to what many have called the “sea blindness” of Canadian government and society. This of course is a huge issue that I will make no attempt to unpack in its entirety here. However, the linkage drawn between JPME and broader policy can be called into question. By definition, JPME is, for the most part, delivered to serving members of the military. But people in uniform are forbidden to comment publicly about matters of military policy. Therefore, when the author argues the value of organizations of “interested citizens, free from the restraints of political commentary with which serving members must comply, to ensure adequate debate” he vitiates his own argument. Unless the “interested citizens” are former officers, JPME, whether “failed” or not, is likely to have played no role in the development of their outlook.
More broadly, I see a supreme irony dominating the effort here. Despite the “deficient” JPME taught by a “culpable” Canadian navy, by virtue of having read (now) three monographs on the history of our navy and articles in Wikipedia, the author is now able to diagnose an important element of our “great national malady” from as far away as Australia. If it is that easy to overcome the effects of our “nationalist myth-making,” then surely others like him, with far more skin in the Canadian game, can do the same—and have no doubt done so.
I have shown that Canadian JPME as taught on the Joint Command and Staff Programme is every bit as rigorous and open as “JPME With a Purpose,” quite correctly, argues that such training ought to be. Having read Boutilier and Milner, its author cannot fail to know that we have first-rate academics working in the field of Canadian naval history. We have numerous defence journals, institutes, and associations, some with a specifically naval focus. What more can he expect? If, even with all that, Canada still does not have the navy the author thinks it should have, it is no doubt for deep structural reasons that are far beyond the reach of any effects that defective joint professional military education in the Canadian Armed Forces could possibly have. Rather than stepping forward as yet another person beating the drum of Canadian naval unpreparedness—because I think it obvious that that is really what his paper is all about—he may derive more satisfaction from studying what those deep structural reasons might be.
1 Tony German, The Sea Is at Our Gates: The History of the Canadian Navy (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990), described by Marc Milner as “the first popularly written, comprehensive, one-volume history of the RCN” in his “The Historiography of the Canadian Navy: The State of the Art,” in A Nation’s Navy: In Quest of Canadian Naval Identity, ed. Michael L. Hadley, Rob Huebert, and Fred W. Crickard (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996), 32.
2 The precise distinction between PME and JPME in the article is not altogether clear. It is hard to envision what exactly ought to have been “joint” about the Naval Warfare Officer training the author received in Canada. In the Australian context, James Goldrick, “Thoughts on Joint Professional Military Education,” Australian Defence Force Journal, no. 181 (2010): 7-13, is unfortunately no help on this. Based on the “JPME definitions” in ibid., 4-6, they appear to have largely abandoned the term “PME.” For the sake of consistency, although with misgivings, I will use the term “JPME” throughout.
3 The five levels of Australian JPME are outlined in Australian Government, Department of Defence, The Australian Joint Professional Military Education Continuum (Canberra: Defence Publishing Service, 2019), 21-24, available online at https://theforge.defence.gov.au/sites/default/files/jpme_handbook_-_eng…. The five developmental periods of the Canadian officer professional development framework are virtually identical; see https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/benefits-….
5 Danny Croucher, “Turning the Tide: The Naval Engineering Officer’s Future” (Joint Command and Staff Course Paper, Canadian Forces College, 2015), https://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/290/317/305/croucher.pdf.
6 C. D. Foreman, “Professionally Under-Developed: Naval Logistics Officer Training” (Joint Command and Staff Course Paper, Canadian Forces College, 2016), https://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/290/318/192/foreman.pdf.
7 According to a 2017 study; see Mathieu Leroux, “La rétention au sein de la Réserve navale” (Joint Command and Staff Course Paper, Canadian Forces College, 2019), 3, https://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/290/405/305/leroux.pdf.
8 Scott Nelson, “Force Generating Reserve MARS Officers: Keeping the ‘One Navy’ Ready Aye Ready” (Joint Command and Staff Course Paper, Canadian Forces College, 2014), https://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/290/301/305/nelsons.pdf. Naval Warfare Officers were known as MARS (Maritime Surface and Sub-Surface) Officers at the time of writing.
9 V. G. Pellerin, “Royal Un-Canadian Navy: The RCN’s Wicked Language Problem,” (Joint Command and Staff Course Paper, Canadian Forces College, 2018), https://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/290/405/305/pellerin.pdf.
10 While it is true that failures in naval history, clearly the article’s major concern, were not addressed by any of these officers, that subject could easily have been; see, for example, [Korvettenkapitän] Andreas Krug, “Coordination and Command Relationships Between Axis Powers in the Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943” (Master of Defence Studies paper, Canadian Forces College, 2005), https://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/290/291/286/krug.pdf or [Oberstleutnant] Marc S. Koestner, “The Luftwaffe’s Support of Naval Operations During World War II 1939-1941” (Master of Defence Studies paper, Canadian Forces College, 2004), https://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/290/302/286/koestner.pdf, ironically enough, both written by German officers attending CFC. The question of whether naval history is even a suitable topic for officer JPME will have to be left to others.
11 See above, n. 1.
13 A very early sketch of my thoughts on this article appeared as a “Broadsides” post on the Canadian Naval Review’s website, although by no means all of those ideas have been developed further here; see https://www.navalreview.ca/2021/04/australia-naval-paradise/.
14 It will be interesting to hear what the author has to say about the Australian navy when, having retired, he will be at liberty to do so. He scrupulously avoids any comment, good or bad, about the RAN in this article.
15 Serving members can publish pseudonymously in the Canadian Naval Review, no doubt inspired by the longstanding practice of Britain’s Naval Review.
16 James A. Boutilier, ed., The RCN in Retrospect, 1910-1968 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1982); Marc Milner, Canada’s Navy: The First Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999; 2nd ed., 2010; repr. ed., 2017).