When we last saw our intrepid command staff, they had just concluded a briefing. The Prime Minister was to be notified! So was the Privy Council’s Office and the RCMP. Things were moving far too slowly but they were moving and there was a real possibility of seeing something happen next time these characters appeared on page.
Now, after forty pages of reading Bill Whitefish’s briefings and Will Boucanier’s insufficient recce we get…another briefing. There’s no word on anything that may have happened in the interim, and a few of the characters we saw in the previous chapter are being introduced as though we’re seeing them for the first time. I hadn’t noticed this the first time around mainly because, in the absence of a better description, all the names had just slid past me on the page. But now, going over things with a fine tooth comb I got to wonder, did anyone edit this?
‘General Bishop had deliberately chosen Conference Room C, a room just big enough that he could frankly brief Minist of National Defence Jim Riley without the inconvenience to too many of the minister’s political staff or his own staff officers around him to inhibit the discussion. It was precisely 1900 hours as the CDS held the door for the minister to enter the room first.’
For once, we actually get a fairly concise description of Gen Bishop’s appearance, demeanour and recent past in a couple of quick paragraphs. This serves as a lead-in to his detailed briefing for the Minister of National Defence, a nondescript extra named Jim Riley.
‘Andy Bishop was a tall, thin man with dark hair cropped close over a narrow face and long nose. It was difficult to imagine how he’d ever squeezed his frame into the cockpit of fighter plane. But he had, and was by reputation a superb pilot as well as a proven creative tactical commander. In January 2010 he commanded the Commonwealth Humanitarian Intervention Force, CHIF, deployed to Zimbabwe under a UN “responsibility to protect” mandate issued by the Commonwealth leaders. He personally conceived and directed the strategy that destroyed Zimbabwe’s in two days, eliminated its army’s combat capability in seven, and put a Commonwealth “Save the People” directorship in place immediately afterwards. His reward was the thanks of Parliament, promotion to full general, and appointment as CDS.’
In the novel Uprising, a man named Andy Bishop is the Chief of Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces. In case we don’t quite get the reference, he’s also a pilot. It’s then mentioned that he’s a war hero as well. Eventually Bland gives up on the innuendo and straight up explains the connection with WWI Canadian Flying Ace Billy Bishop. Because otherwise we might have missed this connection.
So he’s got a famous pedigree and a storied career. Anyway, this General…
Wait…wait…wait wait WTF!!! How did this guy become the CDS?
Okay back it up. Before we even touch on Bishop’s description and it’s seriously sketchy implications, we’re going to need to unpack this last paragraph.
In the world of the novel Uprising, Canada’s involvement in the Afghan conflict has come to an end unceremoniously, and is hardly mentioned. This is some rather unfortunate timing on Bland’s part since, at the time the novel came out the war was just starting to get nasty. The summer of 2006 saw the first all out attempt by the resurgent Taliban to actually seize Kandahar and the surrounding Panjiwai valley. They were thwarted in part by Task Force Orion, the Canadian Battle Group built around 1rst Battalion PPCLI in a running series of battles that became known as OP Medusa.
Since then, the Canadian AORs have seen an ongoing series of attacks, counter-attacks, searches and raids as Task Force after Task Force rotated through and took their turn fighting the Taliban. By the time the mission finally officially drew to a close in 2014, 159 Canadian Soldiers and 5 civilians had been killed (this is including combat, accidents, illness, and suicides in theatre).
So why not just have the Afghan War continue, and use it as an excuse for 1 RCR being out of the country?
I suspect this is because the Afghan mission (along with the overall US-led War on Terror) falls too much into his concept of a ‘good war.’ That is, one where the Real Soldiers® can fight real enemies without a bunch of government sissies and red tape to ham string them. Bland largely dismisses UN and international missions as Balkans-style messes: poorly planned and organized, with little chance for the ‘Real Soldiers®’ to do their thing.
Yet it’s necessary for the premise of his novel to remove 1 RCR (in his mind, the only infantry unit worth discussing) from Canada, and to have this removal as something he can easily blame on liberal wishy-washiness. And so we have something called the Commonwealth Humanitarian Intervention Force (CHIF) deploying into a recently destabilized Zimbabwe. A nice, appropriately liberal sounding mission into a part of the world in which Canada can honestly be said to have no pressing strategic concerns. Such a mission is a perfect straw man target for anyone wanted to criticize the ill-conceived missions of the 1990s or rail against the notion of Canada’s ‘Traditional Role as Peacekeepers.’
So a bit of historical background: Zimbabwe in the late 2000s was in a state of crisis. A combination of corruption and mis-management had left the economy in a state of free fall, combined with the rise of a popular opposition party (the MDC) put the rule of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party (who had run the country since it had achieved independence) at serious risk. In response to this, Mugabe deployed mobs of so-called ‘war veterans’ to intimidate and threaten anyone threatening their hold on power. This included MDC party members, activists, and land owners. Particularly white land owners.
Essentially ZANU-PF was using the white farmers and landowners as scapegoats while beating the crap out of the opposition. And while it was the suppression of the MDC that would secure Mugabe’s next decade of power, it was the plight of the white farmers that caught the world’s attention. Regardless of the popular image, the country was in bad shape, the economy was in free fall, and the population was hurting. As a result there was serious talk about sending in some kind of intervention force to restore order.
So in the alternate universe of Uprising, this is exactly what happened. Douglas Bland didn’t want the War on Terror to be the conflict that pulled CF troops out of the country (especially the irreplaceable 1 RCR), so he hit upon Zimbabwe as an alternate conflict. Even though it’s ongoing, we won’t get a lot of details about this mission (it’s not even mentioned in Col Dobson’s prayers briefing yesterday) but the impression is that it is some kind of ‘traditional peacekeeping’ mission and unworthy of the efforts of Real Soldiers®. Which…okay fine, that’s a point you can take.
And apparently, our first act in this hippy drum circle of a mission was to bomb Zimbabwe’s airforce into oblivion. Then its army. Then topple its government and install a ‘Save the People Directorship’ in its place. No details are given as to who is running the Directorship (SDP?), but the tone of the text seems to suggest it’s not the MDC and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
This was done by a Canadian General, leading a Commonwealth Task Force, under the aegis of a UN resolution, and presumably with Canadian troops and planes serving some major part of the plan.
There’s no talk about a declaration of War on the part of the Canadian Government, or the…British Commonwealth(?), or whether or not the UN had authorized this as a Chp V or VII intervention. Throughout the novel, the conflict is never referred to as ‘The War’ or ‘the Zimbabwean War.’ It is not seen as a source of stunned shock or bursting pride by Canadian Soldiers or the Canadian public. When it is mentioned at all it is derided as a waste of time and manpower and, from the very first chapter of the novel it’s primary purpose is to draw 1 RCR out of the country, leaving only the loser Regiments behind.
But it’s right there in black and white. In Bland’s alternate universe, a Canadian General on a UN mission blew up an air force, then an army, then toppled a Commonwealth country and installed a new government in its place.
So in this topsy turvy world of Uprising, we have the UN authorizing the British Commonwealth to carry out a 21st Century version of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War on a sovereign African nation. And they turned to a Canadian Air Force General to do it.
We’re told that this mission secured Gen Bishop’s ascention to the post of CDS and enabled him to bring a cadre of like minded officers with him (more on that in a second). At first it seems as though he was appointed to his position by a previous-possibly more conservative-government. However it’s later revealed that the Double-PC party was in power four years ago, making him one of their appointments (CDSs generally serve three year terms). This is particularly odd since, throughout the novel Bishop is viewed with open contempt and suspicion by the civilian government. Meanwhile the Minister of National Defence is portrayed as a clueless dolt rather than a man holding the leash on a very dangerous animal. I suppose it’s entirely possible that Bland meant to have Bishop promoted for name recognition only. Although there’s nothing in the text to support it, this would explain how he was allowed to assemble his loyal officers unnoticed.
It’s also not clear if the Zimbabwean mission was the PPC government’s idea in the first place. The government seems to openly distrust Bishop, but they have continued the mission even after being in power for years. Since the Zimbabwean mission is bad, can we assume that it naturally flowed from the bad party?
This never gets properly explained in the novel.
All debate aside, I think I know the reason for this mind boggling war record for our hero Gen Bishop. As we’ve seen for Gabriel and Bouccanier, all of Bland’s good guys (the Real Soldiers®) must have heroic backgrounds. Not just long, proud careers in the army but actual, acknowledged heroism. They must have proven themselves in combat. In the case of lower ranking characters, it is relatively easy to concoct a ‘forgotten battle’ or incident for which they can receive their deserved recognition (sadly, Canada has been hit-or-miss in terms of recognizing our military heroes, even in Afghanistan).
The problem is that a General, especially one who has risen to the post of CDS is going to be much more in the public eye. So any action that could distinguish him will have to be far more obvious and large scale. Fabricating a fictional mission in which he could make his career is a workable solution from a writing perspective. But if this is going to be even remotely plausible, it might have been better not to chose a campaign that might overturn the entire international order. But hey, if that’s what Bland wants to go with, fine, I’ll meet him on his terms. Bishop is a CDS who has personally smashed an army and overthrown a nation.
Keep this in mind as the story progresses, as the NPA launches it’s campaign and the country is paralyzed.
Keep this in mind when the CF response is half-hearted and falls apart before the NPA warriors.
Keep this in mind when the novel reaches its inevitable, and as Bland sees it, deserved conclusion.
‘General Bishop was also the first CDS in the history of the Canadian Forces to earn a Ph.D., having studied law and international relations at Queen’s University, Kingston, and at Oxford. But he wasn’t a people person. He was considered a cold fish by almost everyone, except intensely intellectual officers like himself. While he was not well known by the rank and file, he was greatly admired by the young, “new model” fighting officer corps he led. No matter his aloofness, nobody disputed his ethical principles or his orders once he had made a decision. The new Canadian Forces Headquarters he had established was, as another Canadian general officer in another era had demanded, “a small, thinking headquarters devoid of administrative detail.’
I’m being pedantic here, but Bland will portray Gen Bishop as having some kind of superior ethical framework from that of his civilian masters. One that is obvious to anyone sharing his intense intellectualism. Well, in keeping with the tradition of people who like to quote the manual to prove their street cred, military values and Canadian values are considered not just complementary but inseparable as part of the Canadian Military ethos. That’s not just my opinion, it’s from Chapter 2 Section 1 of ‘Duty with Honour’.
I get the sneaking suspicion that ‘not well known by the rank and file [but] greatly admired by the young, “new Model” fighting officer corps he led” is a case of accidental honesty. Throughout the novel the emphasis will be on the high level commanders rather than the ordinary soldiers (CF or NPA) on the ground level. Almost as though the average soldier, the proverbial Pte Bloggins watching his arcs in some forgotten corner of an unremarkable front, isn’t worthy of notice. It’s also telling that, for all his earth shattering military genius, his greatest achievement in the eyes of his beloved officers is the reforming of the Canadian Forces Headquarters. Not the expansion of the military itself, not the securing of new equipment and manpower. No. General Bishop’s great achievement had been the rebuilding of the Headquarters, principally with his own people.
‘The CDS would listen carefully to briefings and discussions but cut in quickly if they wandered from the point or glossed over crucial issues, and he was notoriously impatient if his incisive queries elicited vagueness. He trusted only a few staff officers – “Bishop’s brats” as outsiders referred to them, though only out of earshot – chosen because they were well-educated and experienced in the field and at sea. They knew they could speak bluntly with Bishop; “frank unto the Kaiser” was the norm. They knew also that whenever the chief fell quiet or seemed unresponsive it was a good idea to keep quiet as well. Inexperienced officers, even senior ones, had been stiffly rebuked for interrupting the man while he was thinking over a question or situation. Thus Colonel Ed Conway, a senior “brat” who had followed the general through several positions, stood silently waiting for the CDS to speak.’
Okay. So he’s a guy who comes down hard on people he doesn’t trust when they can’t give him the straight answers he wants (never mind if there is no straight answers and vagueness is all you can legitimately give)? Meanwhile the guys he can trust are trustworthy because they’re educated, and while they’re allowed to be ‘frank unto the Kaiser’ they also know to shut up when he feels it’s necessary to think quietly.
So, another historical example:
Probably one of our best Generals was Sir Arthur Currie, the commander of the Canadian Corps during the First World War. In terms of educational background he had his High School certificate and an incomplete University degree and he’d started his military career -gasp!- as an enlisted man in the Militia! As a leader he was highly protective of his soldiers and spent much of the war innovating ways for Canadian troops to fight their way through No-Man’s Land with fewer casualties. However he was not a very charismatic man and often struggled to build a rapport with his subordinates.
One of the things that made him so devastatingly effective as a battlefield commander was that he listened to everybody, and was prepared to give authority to any person who had a workable plan or field of expertise that could help. This had the effect of turning the Canadian Corp into a sprawling laboratory of warfare, eventually transforming the four-division formation into a force that would smash entire German Army Groups during the final year of the war.
There’s a story about Gen Currie that used to be a regular staple in CAF Primary Leadership Qualification courses (PLQ):
The gist of it is that the Canadian Corps was planning a major mining operations (literally tunnelling under German lines) and one of the staff officers had located a Sergeant from one of the infantry battalions who’d had extensive civilian experience as a miner. This Sgt was escorted into the Corps HQ to meet with the General and his staff and provide them with advice.
The Sgt was sitting patiently in a chair when Currie and his staff arrived, only to be completely ignored as the officers began discussing the impending operation. Listening to the conversation, the Sgt realized that the plan was already far along the development process and, as he continued to listen, contained many basic errors and assumptions about what was possible for such an operation. Unable to listen any longer the Sgt stood up and interrupted the HQ staff, declaring loudly that their plan was ill-conceived and foolish, and that the men who had authored it clearly did not know what they were talking about.
At this outburst a stunned silence descended upon the assembled officers, and Gen Currie demanded to know who this Sergeant was. A pale staff officer reported that he was the mining expert they had brought in. Currie studied the Sgt for another moment, then simply asked him what they needed to do in order to fix the plan. The HQ staff spent the rest of the planning session listening closely to the Sgt, and altering the plans accordingly.
PhD or not, there’s no such thing as the perfect mind. Even if there was, that single mind couldn’t possible direct all the actions of all the people involved in moving even a single Battle Group let alone the entire CAF. So this hypothetical overmind will have to rely on other, lesser minds to actually run things directly. Which means he’s going to have to listen to them.
So here’s what we got so far for Gen Bishop’s introduction: He’s a highly educated man who at the same time seems unhappy with ambiguity or interruptions. He has surrounded himself with a clagg of likeminded officers who cater to his preferences rather than challenging him and keeping him on his toes. We’ve already seen how he holds the Canadian media in contempt, and his selection of Conference Room C hints at his utter contempt for his civilian leadership. But most of all, he has commanded a heretofore unheard-of ‘Commonwealth Humanitarian Intervention Force’ and been the architect of the overthrow of a sovereign African nation and the establishment of a foreign-based ‘Directorship’ in the place of its government.
As messed up and ass-backwards as this all seems, I’m going to drop a hint of foreshadowing here and reveal that this may be the first character description in Douglas Bland’s work that is actually spot on for how the character eventually develops over the course of the novel.
General Andy Bishop is a very dangerous man. And not in the way that Bland intends him to be.
Part 20 Here!
 We’re going to hear in a moment how Gen Bishop’s staff all know not to interrupt him when he’s thinking, so I’m not sure why he’s worried about them interrupting him during this briefing.
 I’m putting this in scare quotes because the average age of the ‘war veterans’ engaging in political violence was early 20s while the youngest veterans of the war for independence would have been in their late 40s.
 This has had the effect of making Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia, as they prefer to say) a cause celebre with white supremacist groups around the world. Among other things the shooter at the Charleston Church massacre sported a Rhodesian flag on his jacket in one of his Facebook pictures.
 To the best of my knowledge, the closest there has ever been to a Commonwealth force was the Commonwealth Division formed during the later years of the Korean War, which was itself a UN authorized ‘police action.’
 First published in 2003, Duty with Honour is a CF booklet that outlines such concepts as military ethos and military values. Although reading through it you may be tempted to just shrug your shoulders and go ‘well duh’ the fact was this was one of the first official publications to lay it all out succinctly in one place.
 There’s no way to know for sure if the term ‘New Model’ is deliberate, but the original ‘New Model Army’ was the Parliamentary army of Oliver Cromwell which fought in the English Civil War against King Charles I in the 1640s. Although the founding of the New Model Army included a number of organizational, training and technological changes, the most crucial among them was a commitment on the part of the Parliamentarians to fight and defeat the King and overthrow the English Monarchical system utterly. Just saying’ it’s a loaded term.
 The literal story is likely apocryphal, but less dramatic versions of it it happened frequently in Currie’s HQ throughout the war, making it a useful story nevertheless.
 There’s a further note in the PLQ lesson plan that tries to raise the point that, while the Sergeant was in the right, he should have spoken in a more diplomatic tone out of respect for the General’s rank. I say fuck that. If there’s lives on the line and the bosses have made the plan before consulting the experts, then they need the loudest wakeup call you can give them.