We return to Will Boucanier’s mysterious mission by temporarily hopping into the shoes of one of his future subordinates, a local Cree from the Rangers by the name of Joe Neetha. Since he’s got an obviously native last name, we know he’s not one of the super cool native protagonists that we’re supposed to go fanboy over. But since he’s on the side of the NPA it’s safe to assume that he’s acceptably competent.

“Joe Neetha was the senior Native Peoples Army “commander” in the Chisasibi area, and the only one outside the Committee besides Will Boucanier who knew the names and locations of the James Bay NPA “warrior cells.” Neetha’s family lived in the area of Mistissini where he grew up in the local custom. But Joe had been around; he’d travelled to Radisson, worked in a small store, then as a labourer for Hydro-Quebec in town. There he’d fallen in with the native political community and worked for a time in the band office. It was there he was recruited into the Movement. Five years ago, he’d been ordered back to Mistissini to develop his own cell and join the local Canadian Forces Ranger patrol, one of nineteen such units in Quebec.”

From this description Joe Neetha seems to be an ideal NPA soldier: A local Indigenous Person, ideologically pure, who has now spent five years in the Rangers and on various training courses honing his skills. He knows the area like the back of his hand (to the point where he will instantly spot the local police officer as he arrives at Chisasibi airport) has systematically converted his Ranger patrol of twenty men into a solid NPA cell, and cultivated a strong relationship with other cell leaders. His direct military experience may be somewhat limited, but the description makes it clear that he’s undergone training in CFB Gagetown and traveled to the United States to receive training from Native radicals there as well.
In the real life Canadian Army, the modern Officer/NCO relationship revolves around something called the command team. Specifically an Officer is paired with an appropriately ranked non-commissioned member to jointly run their command. The Officer receives orders from higher, formulates a plan and is responsible for the results. The NCO is responsible for the training of the soldiers, handles their day to day discipline and administration, and advises the Officer with regards to the plan they are formulating. An easy way to think about it is that, in the command team, the Officer deals with everyone above, while the NCO deals with everyone below. The Officer is big picture, the NCO is details.
If you’re thinking that Will Boucanier’s in for a pleasant surprise when he meets his second in command…well you haven’t been paying that much attention. Joe Neetha may seem like an ideal 2IC for a new commander, recently arrived to the unit and unsure of his subordinates, but that’s only because you haven’t been studying in the school of Manly Dominance Leadership. The absence of shine in Joe Neetha’s career when compared to that of Boucanier’s proves his inferior status, which will later be confirmed by a rather pointless confrontation in a few pages.
In the meantime, though, Joe Neetha has spotted the cop following their car. The cop’s name is Bob Ignace, but it’s not made clear if he’s band police, SQ (Surete du Quebec) or RCMP.[1] He’s definitely Cree, and ‘respectable looking,’ which makes his part in the next couple of scenes hard to judge. Joe meets Will Boucanier, and takes him to a local hotel to check in. The clerk is a nondescript white man who’s only characteristic seems to be that he is smaller than the two Cree men across the counter from him. See if you can parse some sense from this next exchange:

“Fine, sir, you can let us know. A credit card for an imprint, please.” Hotel clerks are the same everywhere, thought Will. Please and thank you, without looking into your eyes.
“There you go, sir. Just fill in the card and sign at the X. You’re in room 312. Do you need someone to carry your bags?”
“No, thanks, I’ve got this savage here to do that.”
The clerk started.
Joe only grunted, then leaned his large frame over the counter and growled, “Who is the savage in the room, do you think, sonny?”
“Sonny” had no answer. But the remark wasn’t aimed at him. It was for the cop loitering near the door, who glanced coldly at Joe, then back at the newspapers. Joe picked up one of Will’s bags and headed for the stairs.”

Yeah…so I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Usually, when you hear a joke from a different time period or culture, you can kind of get the gist of it even when you don’t get the references. Here, I’m just not sure…It looks like the clerk ‘Sonny’ asked Boucanier if he needed help with his bags, and Boucanier responded by calling Neetha a savage. Neetha then chimed in by looming over Sonny and acting like it was the clerk that insulted him. But apparently it was all aimed at the cop who’s been tailing them…?
No seriously, I’m not getting it. Other than bullying a random white guy who’s been nothing but distantly polite and professional, the only thing this scene seems to serve is making it look like Boucanier and Neetha have a much tighter relationship than you’d expect from two guys who met each other less than an hour ago.
Not long after the two NPA men have left, the respectable looking Bob Ignace of no specified law enforcement agency approaches the desk. Luckily, the two men’s rudeness left Sonny the clerk with no loyalty towards his customers, and Ignace is able to get a pretty detailed report. Ignace is a bad guy in this story, but he’s apparently meant to be an effective bad guy, one of those rivals the hero’s meant to outsmart rather than just walk all over. We know this because no sooner has he gotten the information he needs, then Ignace proceeds to bully Sonny the clerk as well:

“After they were out of sight, the policeman sauntered over to the desk. “Let’s see the card.” The clerk handed it over with a worried glance towards the staircase. “Trouble Bob?”
Bob Ignace ignored the question. “Did you ask him why he was here like I told you to?”
“Yeah. He said ‘business.’ Setting up a hunting and fishing camp with his new partner. Says he’s got a government grant.”
“Sure. We’ve all got government grants. But that’s Will Boucanier from Chisasibi. He was a hero in the army. The only thing he’s been hunting in fifteen[2] years is people. So what’s he doing here, with that big-mouth troublemaker Neetha?”
The clerk flushed. “Well, he left a business card, so he must be serious.”
“Boy, you’re a regular Sam Spade,” Ignace replied. “Let me see it.” He read it without interest, then said,”Make me a copy. If they leave, call the station. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut. And don’t go telling stories to impress that fat-ass squaw you’re trying to screw, understand?”
The little clerk blushed crimson and pushed the card into the photocopier. “Sure, got it.”
“Thanks,” said Ignace. As he left, he tossed over his shoulder, “No way she’s going to sleep with you anyway.”

I’m including this scene because of two things. One, it’s one of the earliest examples in this book where Bland throws in some pretty blatant and ugly racism, but puts those words into the mouth of one of his Indigenous characters as a way of ‘softening’ the blow. While it is true that members of a minority will often use vulgar racial epithets themselves, Ignace is not a real person but a fictional one created by a white writer[3]. If the use is gratuitous or insulting, it’s still the writer who has to answer for it, not the character.
The second thing this scene points towards the might makes right authoritarian mindset that Bland seems to be bringing to all of his character interactions (we’ll see more of this in a moment). There’s no question of a leader earning their troops’ respect by taking care of them, by being capable or professional, by being just, or even by having followers who are professional enough to validate him. No. Every commander has to achieve his position by challenging the strongest of his subordinates and achieving dominance over him.
This approach to leadership is all the stranger since the next few pages are spent on a fairly credible scene in which Boucanier questions his new subordinate. The scene makes it clear that Will does not know what kind of state the local NPA is in, and was flying blind when he accepted the mission in Chisasibi. If his mission is going to succeed-indeed, if he’s got any chance at all of living through this at all-he’s going to need the man standing in front of him right now:

“I looked over your Ranger record,” he told Joe. “You’ve been busy. Tell me about your people.”

“I have twenty members in my patrol. Two are ex-army-infantry, not too bad-but I have to kick their asses if they get near the booze. The rest are kids from around the village and nearby. Most have three years in and two had advanced courses outside. They’re steady enough, but they’ve never done anything except throw a few grenades at our homemade range.”
“Have they got the legs for the work?”
“Yeah, we’re okay there. I work them pretty hard, lots of packing cross-country. And living on the land comes naturally, of course. But working at night is still a bit awkward-they see spooks and ghosts and stuff. I don’t know exactly what you have in mind, but they can hump it and they do as I say.”
“Okay. What about the other cells in the area?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I know most of the leaders from Ranger courses and some from the States. But some I just met after I got the message from Montreal. As for their people, who knows?”
“Montreal? Who did you talk to and what did they tell you?”
Joe stopped walking and hesitated. “I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about it,” he said. “Except to say Maurice told me to follow your orders.”
“But in any case, these guys had better be committed because they know too much already. If you have any doubts about any of them, come clean now.”
“All the guys I know are all right, I’m sure of them,” Joe said, looking into Will’s eyes. “The ones I just met, I didn’t get a bad feeling about any of them.”
“Fine. I’m counting on you to lead your patrol and to back me up as second-in-command. Can you do that?”
“Yeah. If we need to, I’ll have my number two back me up so I can back you up.”

Okay, so far so good. This is the kind of paranoia I would expect from an actual rebel movement. Who do you know? I dunno, who do you know? Who told you that? Maurice! This isn’t too bad of an exchange. Neither man has met the other, and each have legitimate reason to be paranoid. Except that it leaves Will Boucanier on the losing side, having to seek out assurances from his new 2IC. In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem, since he is at a disadvantage. Despite being in charge, he’s new to the ground and the troops he’s leading.
In Bland’s world, however, this is a problem which he will have to rectify as he gives orders for…giving his orders! Yes, the main purpose of this exchange is for Will Boucanier to deliver the orders that will gather the cell leaders together so that he can deliver orders.

“Will reached into his jacket. “Here’s two cellphones. Use one to call the [NPA cell] leaders to meet you tomorrow at the RV north of Chisasibi you were told to select last week. The leaders are not to say a word to their members; they just have to drop everything, say they’re going hunting, and make for the camp. They’re to wait there for orders I will pass to you later in the week.[4] Once you’ve reached them all, smash the phone and throw it in the river. Use the other as a backup or to find anyone you can’t reach tonight, then get rid of it too.”

Given his earlier reservations at the quality of soldier he is likely to be working with, he seems to be expecting a pretty high degree of trust and self-discipline. Not only is he expecting his cell leaders to drop everything and travel out to the middle of nowhere at the drop of a hat, but he seems confident that their cells (made up of junior NPA troops of dubious ability) not to panic at the sudden disappearance and secrecy of their leadership.
Perhaps this is a sign that he has confidence in his new friend Joe Neetha? He’s just finished explaining that he expects Neetha to act as his 2IC, which and asks if he can handle backing him up, and confirming whether there are any characters in his new command that Neetha is unsure of. But just as quickly he turns around and lashes out, potentially shattering any command relationship he may have begun building with his new comrade.
I’m going to preface this last scene by saying that there’s an old tradition in the army that I’ve tried to discourage amongst younger troops as they enter into leadership positions. It basically goes “If anyone’s got a problem with (me/this/whatever), just say the word and we’ll take it outside!” Don’t do this. Ever. It might have worked back in day, but it won’t work now and you’ll be a chump for trying it.
By challenging your subordinates for command, you’ve basically put that command up for grabs. If someone takes you up on your offer there’s no guarantee that you’ll win the resulting fight, and if you do manage to intimidate them you’ll run the risk of engendering the kind of angry resentment that can utterly poison morale.[5]

Poisoned Morale
Uh-oh!  Looks like morale’s been poisoned!

In this part of the novel, Bland portrays a capable 2IC trying to get a feel for a brand new commander who’s only just touched down in his neck of the woods after a fifteen [twenty five] year absence. Neetha reassures him that everything should be good to go, then he asks what seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate question:

“So we’re going somewhere, some real action?” asked Joe excitedly.
Will’s easy manner changed abruptly. He turned to face Joe directly and stepped toe-to-toe into the young leader’s space. “Don’t ask questions unless you don’t understand what I just told you to do.” Will raised his voice just enough to convey the intended reprimand. “Do you understand what you’re to do?”
Joe, startled, pulled his hand from his pocket and dropped his arms to his sides, awkwardly trying to stand to attention without attracting attention.[6] He blushed. “Yes, sir!”
“Good. Then do it!”
Will walked away. Joe, a couple of steps behind, followed along in silence-the boundary between superior and subordinate clearly established.”

You see, Will Boucanier’s a man’s man. A natural leader. Which is why, after having verified that his new 2IC will back him up even against his own colleague (and planting a dangerous seed of doubt in the process), he leaps upon this very conventional question and uses it as an excuse to put Neetha in his place.

Leadership! (2)

It’s been a while since my PLQ, so I can no longer quote the ten principles of leadership by memory (it was ten when I did it, it’s twelve now).  But my favourite goes something like ‘recognize and develop the leadership potential of your subordinates.”  This was better articulated by an old Armoured Sgt who sorted me out the first time I taught on a basic training course: ‘Train your replacement. You’re not going to be here forever.’
Whether you get hit by a sniper’s bullet ten seconds from now, or you get fired for gross incompetence, or you prove to be a superstar and get promoted into a better job, one way or another you’re leaving your position of leadership and some other knuckle head’s going to take over for you. Your first job is to make sure that replacement is at least as capable as you are, preferably better. It’s an important point, and one that I personally don’t see getting taught enough in leadership courses. It’s supposed to be training, not a frat house initiation. Your goal is to one day put that slack-jawed mouth breather of a cornflake into your spot, and not have him be a complete disaster.[7]
When working in a guerrila movement like the NPA, this secrecy makes even less sense. Sure, the operation had to be kept secret during the planning phases, and while Boucanier was en route to Chisasibi. But he’s on the ground now, trying to figure out his situation with the cops already on his trail. He’s only met one member of his team, but luckily he’s a relatively capable individual who appears loyal. He needs Joe Neetha to be as independent as possible. He needs this man to feel free to take the initiative.
What if one of the cell leaders gets cold feet? What if they tell Neetha that they can’t risk leaving their cell for some reason? What if the cops start getting closer and someone gets arrested? Will Joe come running to Boucanier (potentially giving them both away) or will he feel empowered to take action on his own, and solve the problem himself? Maybe Will can’t risk telling him all the details right away, but stomping on him for asking a basic question about the future is the worst kind of thing you can do.
If the mission fails with your death, then you done fucked up. For all he knows, the local cops could be waiting on an arrest warrant right now for one Will Boucanier. The mission he’s about to undertake (hint: it involves the giant dam nearby!) is crucial for the Uprising. He needs to push information out as quickly as possible. He needs to figure out who he can trust and decentralize the chain of command so that a couple of arrests can’t blow everything.
Then again, if he told everyone his secrets, then he wouldn’t be irreplaceable. Can’t be important if someone else can do your job, right?

Part 11 Here!

***Images taken from Sharpe’s Rifles DVD from ITV Global (1993).***
[1] Based on what I can find on the Chisasibi website, there is a Band Police Force operating in town, but there’s no indication as to whether they have any plain clothes officers.
[2] As we discussed previously, there is no way for Bill the Pirate to have had the career he did in just fifteen years. I’m putting this down as an editing mistake that should have read twenty five.
[3] For the record, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a writer using racial epithets, even in a harmful way. Racism is a part of life and if you’re writing to reflect that part of life, then this may be both necessary and appropriate. Properly developed as a character, Bob Ignace could be an individual wracked by self-loathing, or even just a deeply vulgar and crude man, and both options would be fine. But when you’re invoking terms with real pain associated with them, you don’t just get to throw it out there for shock value. See also: the n-word and why us honkies can’t use it.
[4] To be completely fair, a key part of Battle Procedure is giving a time and place for delivering orders. The idea though, is to minimize delays and speed up communication. If your subordinates know that orders won’t be given until 1600 hrs, at a location that will take them ten minutes to reach, they can confidently take the time to prepare/rehearse/eat/sleep/take a shit/etc, knowing that they won’t miss anything. Having the Cell Leaders wait for days away from their troops sounds like a good way to waste effort.
[5] About the only way I can see something like this working out is if you get some almost perfectly even brawl between two equally fearsome characters with one guy just barely coming out on top but only after the other guy gets enough shots in to make it a worthy contest that leaves honour satisfied all around. Basically, unless it’s Sean Bean and Daragh O’Malley in Sharpe’s Rifles, you done screwed up.
[6] This is more of a personal observation, but most of the Rangers I’ve met/seen, they aren’t that big on drill. They take ceremony and respect very seriously, but they’re masters of ‘slouching to attention’ in a way that’s weirdly admirable.
[7] Those who’ve taken PLQ more recently than 2005 may not recognize this one. In fact ‘The Principles of Leadership’ have been re-written at least two or three times over the span of my career.

14 thoughts on “10-The Important thing is to establish dominance…

  1. I’m really not sure how the NPA is supposed to ever function as an insurgent force with all the leaders being so genuinely bad at being leaders. Every last one of them uses a leadership style that is antithetical to good leadership – they use bullying, don’t look after the welfare of their troops if someone with a purportedly higher position says “don’t worry about it” and they engage in needless displays of testosterone to establish dominance while not keeping the troops informed.

    The idea that leaders constantly try to establish dominance like a pack of dogs is generally a misnomer about how organizations work, at least those with established chains of command like militaries or insurgent organizations. The insurgent organizations just use different cues than formal militaries to do so. Essentially, in insurgencies the leaders are well established and hold their place by virtue of a combination of personality and competency. And unlike say a conventional force, Bill the Pirate can’t rely on others to back him up if his “I can pee farther than you can” style of introducing himself to the troops goes sideways (and enough leaders have confirmed that it WILL go sideways).

    Essentially, the “let’s take it out back, take off the jackets and settle this” style of determining who’s the leader only works with animals, or in stories. To borrow the example of Lt Sharpe and Rfmn Harper – Lt Sharpe only gets accepted as the leader because he is able to establish that he is a leader worthy of being followed through tactical competence, and through actually going through the principles of leadership:

    1. Being professionally competent;
    2. Recognizing your won strengths and weaknesses and seeking improvement;
    3. Seeking and accepting responsibility; Keeping his subordinates informed of the plan;
    4. Making sure your subordinates know your meaning and intent;
    5. Knowing the subordinates and promoting their welfare;
    6. Developing your subordinates;
    7. Training as a team;
    8. Making sound and timely decisions;
    9. Training as a team; and
    10. Keeping people informed of the changing situation.

    Not because he’s able to beat Harper in a fist fight. As it was explained to be by one of the people who taught me how to be a leader, “If you ever fight one of your troops, doesn’t matter if you win the fight, you’ve lost.”

    Now the CAF isn’t much better in this novel –

    The CDS of this novel will keep a political decision from elected officials that has a major impact on the outcome of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s