We jump now from the ITAC, to Stevenson’s headquarters in Winnipeg. It’s possible that we, the readers, still haven’t figured out what the western units of the NPA are planning, so just to be on the safe side Bland has his man Col Sam ‘Steele’ Stevenson spend the next two pages explaining it all over again to a staff that should already know all of this.
The usual afternoon ops staff sat around the large map table, notebooks at hand. Colonel Sam stepped up to the map. “Okay, let’s go over the outline operation to make sure we’re clear on objectives and how we’re going to reach them.”
“The Western strategy is uncomplicated: control Winnipeg and we control the region. The Red River Brigade is assembling battle groups across the province; Alex Gabriel’s Group Riel is assembling in Winnipeg. Group Winnipegosis is being activated in Flin Flon and the Pas. Group Metis is still undercover but ready to form-up on short notice for action at the Winnipeg airport. And in the east, near Kenora, and farther west, in Saskatchewan and Alberta, other contingents are increasingly ready.”
It’s a surprisingly large area for a single Brigade commander to be covering. Shouldn’t there be other commanders covering Alberta and Saskatchewan? Especially Alberta since Bland made such a big deal about all the kilometres of unguarded pipeline out there. Given the level of ridiculous technical detail involved for Radisson and Winnipeg, I’m tempted to ascribe this brushing over of nearly a third of Canada’s landmass as basic laziness on Bland’s part.
“The assault teams and columns in each group are commanded by cadres of seasoned, ex-regular Canadian Forces officers and NCOs who’ve hastily trained their civilian ‘warriors’ to handle small arms, work as teams, and, usually, follow orders.” Light-hearted banter and smiles eased the tension.
I’m not sure why the amateur nature of the Warriors is supposed to be funny here, since Stevenson’s staff officers are (I’m assuming, since no description is given) just as amateur as the troops who will be out on the firing line. Wouldn’t they be worried about their friends on the front lines? On the other hand, if Stevenson’s HQ staff are all ex-military members, I would think they should be especially worried, given that these are the people that will be in between them and the inevitable government counter-attack.
Passages like this leave me wondering if Bland’s career ever saw him exposed to real action in which people he knew and cared for were injured or killed. Or maybe his experiences were limited to training scenarios where you really could treat other units on your side like rival sports teams.
The warriors that Stevenson’s putting in scare quotes are fellow Indigenous people. It never gets specified but, Alex Gabriel’s redeployment aside, most of the NPA seems to recruit locally. Meaning that these ‘warriors’ who aren’t even worthy of having their name capitalized or without scare quotes, are probably recruited from within Manitoba. Either drawn from the various reserves (which often have populations in the low thousands or less) or from the somewhat larger urban populations (who might still have close ties to their reserves or other urban natives).
These ‘warriors’ are going to be in the front lines. They’re going to be the ones toe to toe with police and the military and if/when bullets start flying they’ll be the first to die. There will be a scene later at the Akwesasne Complex where one of Molly Grace’s staff officers appears to have a moment of panic and doubt as casualties rise, so the notion isn’t totally foreign to Bland. Maybe Stevenson carefully recruited his headquarters staff from non-local Movement members in order to avoid empathy for the people on the front line. Even so, you’d think they’d care a little bit about the possible success of the mission. Or at least reserve some hatred for the enemy.
When you’re training in peace time, there’s a really strong…I’m reluctant to say tribalistic given that it’s a loaded term but I really can’t think of a better word. Basically soldiers have an instinct to side with their unit, but this instinct expands or contracts depending on the scale of what you’re doing. Typically, Regiments maintain a healthy competitive rivalry with each other, but band together the instant a threat comes from he outside. Within the Regiment are Companies, Squadrons and Batteries, further divided into Platoons, Troops, Sections and Detachments.
Your section might compete fiercely against the others within your platoon, but if one of those slugs from another Platoon talks shit about them? Them’s fighting words. And if the trash talk is coming from some bozo in another Regiment? That’s a vendetta to carry with you to the grave. Unless of course you deploy to an operational theatre together in which case heaven help the enemy who might dream to harm a fellow Canadian soldier.
In a training scenario, there’s no lives on the line. You can afford to hurl your abuse because you’ll all go home at the end of the day. In a war, that trash talk may be the last words you say to a person before you see their flag-draped coffin carried by in front of you. In war, the priorities change. Your family expands.
I’m not sure how to segue into this, since it’s stepping out of my experience, but there’s an early scene in Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary Kahnesetake: 270 years of resistance where she interviews some of the original protestors and warriors who confronted the SQ when they launched their ill-fated raid on the Pines. Ellen Gabriel (below) describes the moment when she first came face-to-face with the SQ SWAT team:
“It’s our obligation to do that, to protect the land. Protect our mother…and I can remember looking at the faces of the SWAT team and they were all scared. They were…they were like young babies who had never met something so strong. Who had never met a spirit. Because we were fighting something without without a spirit. There was no thought to it. They were like robots.”
This was a moment when a group of people, many of whom were likely not sure of themselves, suddenly found themselves in a confrontation with the government, and realized that they had the strength to stand and face it. Whatever your feelings about the protest and the violence that resulted from the SQ raid, this is probably one of the better articulations of that moment when you realize the enormity of what you’re in for, but you’re willing to go on anyway.
Keep in mind, the Ellen Gabriel wasn’t a ‘seasoned, ex-regular CF officer or NCO.’ There were a few Mohawk Warriors at the protest camp by this time, but most of the protestors were ordinary people. They were ‘warriors’ in Bland’s eyes. Worth a few laughs at an O-Group before the boss goes on with outlining his plan:
[Stevenson continues] “Nevertheless, we need to keep things as simple as circumstances allow. In the first phase, and on my command, three mobile columns from the north and east will take the offensive in Manitoba. Column Cree will move from The Pas on Highways 10 and 60, then rapidly along Highway 6 to an assembly area spanning Warren on Highway 67 to Stonewall. Column Pelican will follow from Flin Flon via Highway 10 south to threaten Brandon and block western approaches along Highway 1 and southern routes into Winnipeg. Column Ojibwa will move from its assembly area near Kenora and move to block Highway 17 at the junction of Highways 17 and 44. Alex Gabriel’s Battle Group Riel and his combat teams will capture the centre of Winnipeg. In the second phase, we’ll threaten the real targets.”
This is less a strategy and more of a ‘giant arrows on a map’ type plan. Just to clarify: The NPA Battle Group Winnipegosis is going to be stood up (that is, assembled openly with their weapons and vehicles) is small isolated towns hundreds of kilometres north of their target of Winnipeg. After BG Riel launches their attacks within the city (and several days after similar attacks will have happened in Quebec and the Robert Bourrassa Dam is captured), BG Winnipegosis will roll out along rural highways, openly moving south the rural Manitoba highways. And this is seen as a good plan.
The featured image for this post is what became known during the First Iraq War as ‘the Highway of Death’ (actually two highways, 8 and 80 between Kuwait City and Basra). The Iraqi army, retreating in the face of the American advance, was forced to follow two multi-lane highways as their escape route. With air superiority, the highway became a massive shooting gallery for American planes. A final death toll was never formally established, with estimates ranging from several hundred to nearly ten thousand, but around two thousand vehicles were confirmed destroyed, leaving around 70,000 soldiers on foot in the desert where they would eventually be captured.
Open highways are a death sentence for troops when the enemy has air superiority.
So the first impression here might be to treat this as a tactical fail on the part of Douglas Bland. In the interest of having his big arrows on a map and a scene with a literal motorized column of native warriors bearing down on a defenceless ‘white’ city, he completely misses the threat that air power would pose.
But that’s not what’s actually happening here.
Remember that the Canada of Uprising exists in an alternate universe of Bland’s own imagining. In this universe, what we have here is actually a well thought out plan that is taking advantage of critical weaknesses within the in-universe Canadian government (as well as any real-life liberal governments).
In Uprising, these columns of warriors will be perfectly safe on their road trip to Winnipeg, because the Canadian government won’t allow the military to launch airstrikes.
Yes, that’s right. Sorry about the spoilers (not that it would have been a surprise worthy of the wait) but when the NPA launches this poorly conceived ‘operation’ and roll serenely down the open highway, the civilian double-PC government will whine and cringe, but refuse to allow the military to ‘do what must be done‘ in order to save the country. Essentially, the government will hamstring the military, meaning that there will be no air threat, and the NPA knows it.
This is one of the other uglier subtexts from the novel.
Okay so let’s revisit something else from Obomsawin’s documentary. Remember this bean-head? The Quebec mayor from the time of the Oka crisis who equated negotiating over a Mohawk claim to their own cemetery to handing over 75% of the Province? Yeah him. This guy is the living embodiment of the subtext that Bland is trying to propagate here.
I’m not sure if there’s a formal name for this sort of thing, maybe invitational weakness? It’s the idea that weak leadership not only exposes you to the risk that an enemy could attack, but that such weakness would inevitably invite attack. It’s not that the enemy could take advantage, it’s that they will.
In other words, weak governments cause terrorism.
Bland takes this concept even further, arguing that not only will weak government’s invite attack, but they will prove unable to defend against it. This is something of a newer concept in the world of the near-future ‘techno-thriller.’
One of the common themes in author Tom Clancy’s earlier novels the idea that a Democratic President would be more likely to plunge the US into a war. The reasoning was that, because the Democrat would hesitate to engage in smaller acts of deterrent violence, this would invite escalation which would eventually result in said President being forced into a much bloodier confrontation that might have otherwise been avoided. Now I have some problems with this line of reasoning, but one thing I do agree with is that this hypothetical liberal political leader would eventually use force.
People have a tendency to want to stay alive, and governments have a tendency to want to stay in power. When both life and power is threatened, even the most weak-kneed leaders will eventually cave in and decide to fight.
Except not here.
So the message here is that, unless your leaders stand firm on every issue, unless they take the line that even the most basic land claim is an existential threat to the nation, then they will come for you. Those people been waiting, you see. Off in the shadows, cowering away from the strong leaders of yore, nursing their grudges and waiting for the chance to strike. It’s all they think about even if we seldom think of them. But if we make the mistake of electing weak leaders, of thinking that everything is all right and that reasonable people could disagree, they’ll know their time has come. Then they’ll strike without mercy, and march openly on our homes. And as we turn our eyes to our ineffective leaders and cry out for help, all we’ll get is a stuttering ‘Uh…’
Think I’m exaggerating? Keep reading. Unlike Douglas Bland, I’ve actually got proof of what I’m saying.
 To be exact, 763 km from Flin Flon, 639 km from The Pas (according to google maps).
 Among other things, GPS was still in its infancy as a technology and not available as an off-the-shelf technology. So bugging out cross country (when said country was a largely featureless desert) was not really an option.
 Bland can hand-wave away air power all he wants, but Blowpipe missiles can’t even reach the altitudes from which a CF-18 can drop a JDAM.
 This presumes of course that the enemy wouldn’t dare attack a strong leader, and when faced with such a being they will simply slink off into the shadows to seethe in anger and wait for their chance. See for example, the oft-touted claim that there were no post-9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States during George W. Bush’s Presidency.
4 thoughts on “29-Open Road”
You don’t even need a CF-18 at altitude to drop a bomb – trucks on the road would be vulnerable to a treetop skimming helicopter with a doorgun. and a fair chunk of the highways from Flin Flon and the Pas are wooded on either side of the highway. It’s hard enough to hit something with a blowpipe when you’re standing and you’ve got good lines of fire, now add in shooting from the back of a truck at something that just pops out over the trees, and flies past at a fair clip. .. The convoys would be cut up.
That being said it is the uglier racist and fascist undertones of this book that should give it a special place in literary hell. The NPA is presented as a ruthless but dangerous organization, but give the way it actually operates – beating recruits, displaying open contempt for subordinates and those who aren’t ex-military and starting off with battle plans that would result in a surprisingly large number of valiant last stands would likely result in the Uprising falling apart by D-Day+2. Seriously, nothing says “We don’t give a rat’s arse about you Rifleman No.3 or your hopes and dreams” is to put them in a position where there is very little hope of getting out if things go sideways and putting some new guy in charge who doesn’t trust any of the coalface workers.
The government isn’t just presented as weak – it give directions that are directly against the best interests of the people. The military is presented either as heroes (the brave staff officers mostly, putting in the hours to get the flawed plans to work), or as active traitors (General Bishop, for an action not yet revealed), yet surprisingly they are the centrepiece of the “good guys”. And the Canadian people aren’t much better – apparently only the CAF in Bland’s world are Canadians capable of taking decisive action.
As a literary trope its horrid – there is no nuance, just monolithic blocks of things that are destined to be lead by the Great Men.