Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Chicken roundel insulting

One of the hobbies I have returned to in retirement is building scale plastic models. It was something that got put on the back burner twenty years ago, but I have unpacked boxes and rebuilt my workbench tools and paints.

I like scale modelling because it gives me a sense of accomplishment and can be combined with my love of history and technology. Which I why I was astonished by an editorial cartoon in this newspaper last week about the change of mission by the Canadian Forces combating ISIL in the Middle East.

The cartoon, which depicted a petulant RCAF pilot in the cockpit of a CF-18, had a red, white and blue roundel painted on the aircraft. But instead of the usual maple leaf centre, it had the image of a chicken.

I find that disgusting.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that the members of our Canadian Armed Forces, no matter what the branch, are absolutely not chickens. They are professional soldiers, sailors, pilots and technicians, men and women, excellent and incredibly skilled, regular force and reserves. They do what they are ordered to do by the government of the day. That is their job. And it means stepping into harm’s way without a thought or question. Inferring that anyone who flies a CF-18 in a combat environment is some kind of sulking chicken is just ignorant.

Slapping a chicken on a roundel (that’s what it is called) is a defacement of an honoured national symbol. Not even the RCAF does that. Back in the 1960's when RCAF Otter and DC-3 aircraft were painted for United Nations duty in the Sinai, the silver aircraft had traditional roundels and big, bold red markings with the words “United Nations” written across the fuselage and wings. For obvious reasons the RCAF informally referred to the colour scheme as “Don’t Shoot Me”. But the roundel still had a proud maple leaf.

The cartoonist also forgot that our armed forces do not act unilaterally. They operate and execute the orders of the government of the day, under the governance of rules of engagement. Usually the mission is debated in parliament, allowing all parties to have their say about placing Canadians in danger.

Suggesting the move by the current government from an air combat mission to a ground support and training mission in combating ISIL is a “chicken” move is ignorant and insulting. Sending our young men and women into a potentially deadly situation is probably the most significant and difficult decision any government can make, no matter what their stripe. It is doubly so for our current government, as the Minister of Defense himself has served in combat and is a decorated and high-ranking former soldier. Making that decision takes courage and commitment.

Chicken? I think not. Not from this country. Let’s remember that when casualties start down the Highway of Heroes from CFB Trenton.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.