In case you were wondering what our token “good Indian”[1] with the western sounding name, we’re now back to Gen Lepine’s headquarters….

[Heavy sigh.  Time for a sidebar.]

Okay, so, I’m still not sure what to make of the fact that René Lepine is native.  Because it feels like it should mean something, even though it does’t.

For those not familiar with literature, the concept we’re talking about here is called Chekhov’s Gun: A gun which is introduced in the first scene absolutely must be fired by the third scene.  Otherwise, why was it there?  In layman’s terms: If you bring up a point that seems like it should be significant, you have to follow through on it before the story’s over.  Otherwise, you’re just fucking with your reader’s head for shits and giggles.

Lepine is an Indigenous CAF officer, occupying a key position at the exact moment that a First Nations rebellion is breaking out across Canada.  That sounds like it should mean something.  Bland created this world, so we should be expecting this aspect of Lepine’s background to be significant.  Otherwise, why is it there?

Spoiler Alert!  It’s just there.  Bland didn’t bother to think it through.

[Deep breath, let’s start again.]

So we rejoin Gen Lepine as he sits alone in his Canada Command HQ conference room, contemplating the upcoming war.  Bland sets up the scene for quiet introspection, but rings hollow when it’s revealed that he’s actually not sitting here alone in order to escape the chaos of his headquarters.  In actuality he’s about to hold a video conference with base commanders across the country.  On top of this, in a few pages we’re going to get a pretty blatant continuity error when the conference room is suddenly filled with Lepine’s headquarters staff, ready to lay out The Plan.

It’s yet another example of the hilarious lack of editing that fills this book.

But before we can get to our latest briefing, he takes a moment to contemplate just how awesome Sam Stevenson is:

Lieutenant General René Lepine sat alone at the long conference table waiting to begin a secure video conference call to his base commanders. He had at hand an ordered jumble of data provided by his staff in Canada Command headquarters. This situation looked like a complex, nightmarish game of Clue where there could be any number of villains and losing wasn’t an option. One of the main villains identified by the CSIS and one of the Native People’s Army’s best leaders was Sam Stevenson. Imagine, Lepine thought disgustedly, my once friend and RMC classmate Sam Stevenson in Winnipeg with the radicals. What tricks, Lepine wondered, has Stevenson devised that we haven’t considered? What would I be doing if I were him?

They were classmates at RMC together. They were friends. Stevenson joined the uprising, while Lepine was never even approached.  The Gun’s right there!  It’s begging to be fired!  Yet throughout the course of this novel the two characters won’t even get the chance to speak.

All this common baggage should make these two men the opposite sides of the same coin, but it never occurs to Bland to have the two men even leave a message for each other. Chekhov’s gun, apparently, is just a display piece.

Heat-Table Talk
“Have nothing in your life that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat, if you spot the heat around the corner.”  Sadly, there will be no contrived face-to-face sit down in Bland’s Uprising.  (Heat, Warner Bros 1995.  Image from imdb.com)

Because Douglas Bland is who he is, we are then treated to a couple of paragraphs lamenting the state of Canada’s underfunded military today.  This is a part I can’t really fault him for.

The military was hurting, coming out of the nineties. Even under perfect conditions, it wasn’t going to recover quickly. So fretting over the equipment, manpower and capability gaps is perfectly legitimate line of attack.[2]  I do want to point out that this next passage allows Bland to drop the mask for a bit and let his Regimental Chauvinism fly:

As Lepine and everyone else in the military knew, the Canadian Forces had been running on empty for years, depending on the courage and can-do attitude of dedicated volunteers. They were a fearsome lot, well experienced in the wars of the twenty-first century, but while good people are necessary to military capabilities, they are not sufficient. Without logistics, soldiers, no matter how good, get hung out to dry.

Lepine had too little equipment, too few supplies, and the one thing he had lots of, too much in fact, were under-manned, under equipped bases maintained across the country – many solely for partisan, political reasons. Today, they were vulnerable targets. If he protected them all with real combat troops, he wouldn’t have any units left to deploy. If he left them to the best efforts of the cooks and supply types, the “base defence force,” he might lose the bases and the people left to protect them. The correct military answer was obviously to evacuate those bases of little operational value and concentrate his forces on those of high value. But he knew, before he even hinted at the idea to the CDS, that the prime minister would faint at the suggestion. So you do what you can.

[Emphasis mine]

“Real combat troops” versus the “cooks and supply types.” Never mind the fact that, when Bland wrote these words Canada was embroiled in a vicious counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan which put a fair number of service and support types in harms’ way every time a CLP[3] went out. While the list of Canadian war dead from Afghanistan is mostly dominated by men from the infantry and combat engineers, there’s more than a few truckers, signallers and mechanics in the mix (as well as three women, but we’ll get back to Bland’s sexism later).  So at this point it wouldn’t be unheard of for the ‘cooks and supply types’ to have combat experience even within their trades.[4]

It’s also not uncommon for combat arms types to transfer over to support trades later on in life.  With all due respect to the infantry as a trade, more than a few of their number hit their thirties and realize their knees are giving out, plus their skills as an infanteer don’t always transfer over to the civilian workplace.  I’ve met more than a few middle-aged cooks and clerks who kicked off their careers in the infantry and – even at their age – you wouldn’t want to mess with them.

The video screen at the end of the room snapped to life. After the commanders had checked in, Lepine opened the meeting directly.

Okay it’s a small quibble, but I laughed out loud when I read this sentence. Hey Mr Bland: Who’s operating the screen? We’ve already described Lepine as being alone in the conference room. Was he just sitting there while some unseen signaller in the other room set up his video uplink?

I know it’s not a huge deal, but I can’t help but feel like this is typical Bland to completely forget the troops who keep the headquarters running.[5]

“Ladies and gentlemen, we haven’t a lot of time. So I’ll give you the outline and depend on your to protect your bases and support my operations. You’re all aware of the situation and you have the latest intelligence report issued this morning.

“You are to assume that your bases will be attacked by lightly-armed groups intent on disrupting your operations. I want maximum efforts to secure base perimeters, post armed guards and patrols, and otherwise severely restrict access to the bases. High-value targets on the base, like aircraft parked outside and communications and fuel sites, are to be protected with sandbags and steel barriers and armed guards of the base defence force.

Bland seems to have forgotten where this story began, so I’ll remind you: The NPA had raided multiple CFBs and stolen a couple of tons of weaponry, including machine guns, Carl-G anti-armour weapons and Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles.  Lightly-armed is the description you give to people armed with what are commonly called small arms.  That is pistols, shotguns and semi-automatic rifles.  Basically, the sort of things you could get from your local Canadian Tire store, upgraded with high-capacity magazines.

The weapons stolen during the raids this past Sunday push the NPA’s firepower into what’s euphemistically called ‘medium-intensity combat.’  That’s when the attacking force has the capacity to potentially wreck light armoured vehicles and aircraft.

This is a crucial failure on the part of Lepine, especially with regards to the anti-aircraft weapons.  At this point in real life, there was a growing body of officers and senior NCOs in the CAF with combat experience in Kandahar.  With a background like that, any threat to air power would be seen as existential.[6]

He doesn’t bother mentioning this, however.  Even as he begins discussing the need to move aircraft around.

“Essential civilian employees are to report to work, but you have to expect that some of them might not show up, especially if there is a deadly incident at any of the bases. Soldiers’ families on bases are a particular worry, and without ordering any formal evacuations, you are to encourage members to send their families elsewhere. My words of the day for you are: Dig in and get serious.”

“A major concern is the safety of the scores of aircraft stationed on wide-open bases across the country. They’re highly vulnerable, thin-skinned, and must be protected. At the first hint of real danger, we will concentrate the aircraft on one or two bases. Jim,” Lepine said, indicating the commander at CFB Bagotville, “I want you to prepare to send your squadron of CF18 fighters to Cold Lake. I’d rather hold them in the East, but no base there has the resources to maintain and ready these complicated machines for operations.”

“Sir, we’ve anticipated this move and have made some arrival arrangements with Sandra at Cold Lake. I sure could use a few Herc flights to get some equipment and tech personnel moving.”

“Yes, so could I. Unfortunately, many of these forty-year-old aircraft are unreliable and will be needed to move the combat units wherever. I’ll see what we can do, but we have to ration the aircraft.

“In any case, I want the Hercules fleet to be concentrated at Trenton. It’s the safest base and close to the action in Quebec; the remainder will be moved to Edmonton. We will waive most of the usual safety restrictions and use aircraft currently grounded for precautionary reasons if the situation becomes critical.

[Bold mine]

Lepine is lamenting the fact that their limp-wristed Prime Minister would faint if he took appropriate steps to defend the CFBs, but tells the base commanders ‘dig in and get serious’ a full four days after the raids which left one man dead.[7] Four days before putting out the initial word to do some basic target hardening!

Four days.

Lepine gives his briefing in a curt, manly manner, and he even pauses long enough to lament the decrepit state of Canada’s C-130 transport planes but it should be remembered that he is only now giving the order to protect these aging clunkers and thereby preserve the capability.

Lepine is supposed to be one of the good guys, while PM Jack Hemp is the whiny villain, but Hemp at least cooked up a plan within a day of the raids, and made a point of consulting his staff and other experts (Gen Bishop and Al Onanole) within a matter of hours. Keep this in mind, this is the guy who has an entire country to run and who (according to Bland) has no real grasp on military matters. But, ignorant though he may be, he at least managed to get the ball rolling within hours while Gen René Lepine took four days just to tell his subordinates to hunker down.[8]

Then there’s this:

“Transportation plans are ready to use railway trains in place of aircraft for for short hauls and even cross-country deployments if necessary. But as I am sure you all appreciate, road and rail transportation could rapidly become problematic. The worst situation I can imagine is having an entire combat unit on a train somewhere north of Lake Superior trapped by the sudden destruction of the line before and behind it.

“Even in southern Ontario, previous scattered native blockages of railways have effectively shut down major transportation routes. But I assume in the developing situation local and provincial police will be given authority to clear the routes. That order may inquirese their demands on us for assistance. One encounter with my infantry, however regrettable, will, I think, rapidly clear radicals off the tracks, not only at the offending site but also for kilometres down the line. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, though.

We’re just a few months past the Railway Massacre, and this is what Canada’s top General has to say about the idea of confronting native protestors on a railway track.

What. The. Fuck.

Never mind the fact that we’re overlooking the fact that railways can be disabled without anyone having to stick around to confront Lepine’s infantry, Bland will later describe local police as being paralyzed by political correctness and the fear of being labelled racist for confronting native protestors and agitators. Yet here he has a character blowing off the idea of a lethal confrontation on a railway(!!!) without a second thought.

Hey Lepine?  If the PM would faint over the idea of fortifying CFBs, what’s he going to do in response to another Railway Massacre?

Also, who is giving the police authority to clear the routes? Is this coming from the Prime Minister? Provincial Premieres? It’s not made clear and never will be, but if the police have been given the word that railways are to be kept clear, then it represents a major escalation of force.

So who gave the order? Jack Hemp? Quebec Premiere Commeau? The Premiere of Ontario (who is nameless throughout)? It certainly wasn’t anyone in the military, since their moves have been catalogued throughout the novel and they’ve made made it clear that while information flows upwards, they have no interest in reaching out to any of the local forces who may be confronting NPA radicals directly.

________________________________
[1] Seriously, why did Bland make this particularly character native if it wasn’t going to have any impact in the story?  Tokenism is generally a bad thing all around, but there’s occasions when you can at least acknowledge the author had good intentions.  This is just random.

[2] Once again it is worth mentioning that, while the army still needs equipment and funding, at the time Bland was writing Uprising the CAF was in the process of replacing and upgrading our Hercs, as well as acquiring a fleet of Chinook transport helicopters. We’ve already pointed this out, but these developments would have completely overturned some of the concerns that Bland raised in previous chapters.  Yet another hazard of writing near future fiction.

[3] CLP.  Combat Logistics Patrol.  Pronounced ‘clip.’  Essentially a truck convoy carrying supplies and troops from Kandahar Air Field to the various FOBs in the region.  By the time my tour came around (late 2008), the SOP was to treat any movement outside the wire as a combat patrol, meaning that it had to be planned out in detail as though the expectation was to fight.

[4] Seriously.  On the course where I got qualified on air-brakes then learned to drive an HLVW, my section commander showed us a picture of himself from his previous Afghan tour in which his up-armoured HLVW had taken a direct hit from an RPG.  The cab’s armour plating had cracked, but it held.  He survived and managed to drive the HL to safety, but upon arrival he was bleeding out of his nose and ears from the explosion.

[5] There’s a lot of technical know-how that goes into running a headquarters.  Officers and senior NCOs who don’t get this are a pet peeve of mine.  I once had to drag a backup generator through a snowstorm to restore power to the TBG (Territorial Battle Group) HQ.  Everything had been going fine until some dingbat had decided to plug in one of those 50-cup coffee makers, at the same time that someone else decided to print off a bunch of documents.   The end result was that they blew out our main generator, and I was among those who were awoken to help drag in the alt.

[6] Seriously.  It was the presence of Stinger missiles in Afghanistan that finally broke the Soviet Union’s grip on the region.  The possibility that the Taliban might obtain a similar weapon to sweep NATO forces from the sky was (and remains) a very real nightmare.

[7] Fred McTavish, we won’t forget you!

[8] The fact that the CDS is going to stab him in the back later on is hardly his fault.

2 thoughts on “53-Lepine is loading Chekhov’s gun with blanks!

  1. There’s a number of reasons we have a multitude of small bases all across Canada, instead of a couple of big bases.

    1. National presence – it allows us to stage out them for aid to the civil power, etc and it reminds everyone that the CAF is here to help all Canadians (or to smash them down if it comes to that);
    2. Branch of service – you locate the RCN on the coasts, the RCAF near major airports and the army in areas where their training isn’t going to severely disrupt the locals or won’t cost the government a fortune to go where it won’t;
    3. Economic history – during WWII Canada set up lots of small army bases all across the country so that it could house, train, etc the 600,000 people that cycled through the Army from 1939-45. After the war the military wanted to close a lot of them down to save money (and in at least one case, return the land to the First Nation they signed an agreement with to use it for the duration (we returned it in 1995 – after it was re-occupied)) but were generally prevented from doing so because the local economy of those areas really liked the boost from having them there and politicians from all parties don’t like ticking off voters; and
    4. History – up until the end of WWII the vast bulk of the Canadian Army was the Non-Permanent Militia (today’s part-time reservists) and that was a force that was locally raised and organized. This meant the local population centre had an armoury to store the weapons and equipment of the local unit (usually infantry, because that was cheaper to raise and train), and the local politicians got all up in arms if the military wanted to redesignate the local regiment to a smaller formation because of lowered recruitment because doing so would be a slight to the “honourable veterans of the North Bumbleford Fusiliers who at the Battle of xxxxx in yyyy distinguished themselves by not all crapping their pants simultaneously and their proud traditions as carried on by the current Bumbleford Regiment.” This is why you have armouries in little towns all across Canada, and that formation of 25 soldiers is being commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel…..

    This has been the reality of Canada and the CAF since 1867 (lots of area to defend – not so much in the way of people or money to do it with.

    Like

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