So I was just thinking…there’s been so much action in the last few chapters, it would be nice to have a quick exposition passage to let the reader get caught up…

…yeah, it’s another briefing.

General Bishop’s assistant flipped on a projector.  “Prime minister, ladies and gentlemen, the Canadian Forces are deploying the appropriate units available in Canada to the most threatened and dangerous areas in Quebec.  

In my years as an instructor, I’ve had to give lectures in what are basically garages with a wheezing laptop hooked up to a projector aimed at a portable screen (or in some cases, a wall), and hoping everything would work properly.  Those times it did, it was usually because I had time to set up in advance. 

Loading Screen 2

Right now I’m imagining Gen Bishop starting into his dramatic briefing while the projector is still warming up and the image from the laptop hasn’t loaded yet. 

“The Canadina Forces with the assistance of CSIS and the RCMP estimate that upwards of 300 members of the Native People’s Army, the NPA, are active in Montreal  A less reliable figure places from 150-200 so-called warriors in Quebec City, Sherbrook, and Trois-Rivières.  Another 100-plus warriors and supporters are probably on the reserves ready to join the operation.  CSIS, on information from their own sources and as yet unconfirmed information from American sources, estimates that as many as 700 Canadian and American natives and sypathizers are moving from the United States towards Quebec to join or support the rebellion.”

Now, academic types should instinctively be envisioning that classic margin note: “citation?”  If you don’t know for sure, you don’t go giving hard numbers.  If you’re making an educated guess, then say so and be prepared to explain your reasoning.  Don’t try to paper it all over with words like ‘probably.’  Either one hundred or so “warriors” are moving to support the forces in Québec City or Trois Rivières or they aren’t.  Don’t go saying words like probably.  

The same goes for the seven hundred others coming in from the rest of Canada or the US.  

Bishop noticed the prime minister twist in his chair, but continued before his term “rebellion” could be challenged.  “Further spontaneous activities by aboriginals across Canada may also occur, but that’s our estimate of the hard-core people actively coordinating their activities at the moment.”

It’s easy to just list numbers, but it’s worth remembering that these numbers are actual people with uniques perspectives and decision-making processes.  It’s not like an Ork WAAAAGH!!! where 700 Indigneous people just picked up and started marching while an RCMP officer watched from the shadows and counted.

Consider Thomas King‘s desription of getting inspired to go join the AIM activists who had taken over Wounded Knee.  He and a group of friends her the call from a group of activists as they described the desperate standoff on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and made the decision to just pick up and roll out to join them.  Like many such ill-conceived plans, they were spotted by the cops and stopped on a lonely highway, held at gun point and had their vehicles towed.[1]  Yeah, a hundred people might be making their way across Canada to join the fight…but not all at once.  Each individual group is going to have their own story, make their own decision and take their own route.  Using Thomas King’s example, we’re going to need dozens of separate reports about individual groups that are heading off to join the Uprising.  

The CDS nodded to his aide and the projector shone a wide-angle, very detailed, satellite image of the Radisson area then zoomed in on the generating site.  “This image, prime minister, taken at about eight o’clock, shows the main building here …” He indicated it with his laser pointer.  “…and the barricades on the road, here, and here.  Each barricade is guarded by approximately ten armed people in covered positions.  These more recent images pointed to several small figures in the fields surrounding the site, who appear to be mining or stringing wire in the area to guard against any attempt to retake the facility.”

So they got two barricades covered by ten people each.  Plus more people who are stringing barbed wire.  Out of a total force of thirty.  Okay cool.  So who’s replacing these guys tonight when they get tired?  

This is just a rhetorical question, of course.  We’ve already covered Bland’s lack of understanding when it comes to sentry rotations and manpower distribution.  

Hemp interrupted.  “I didn’t think we had satellites like that.”

Given that PM Jack Hemp likely presided over Gen Bishop’s invasion of Zimbabwe, I’m a bit surprised by this.  You’d think Hemp would have been exposed to tons of satellite photos, bomb camera footage, and what is uncomfortably referred to as “Predator-porn.”[2]

“We don’t, prime minister.  We don’t have any sophisticated ways to monitor Canadian land and sea spaces.  The project that was to come on-line last year is still in the government’s procurement decision stream.  The images you see were provided to us by the Pentagon after I requested the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff to position a satellite over the region, as is permitted under the North American Command Arrangement signed by our government two years ago.”

“The Pentagon?” Hemp yelped.  “I don’t want the bloody Americans in here.”

It may be that a Prime Minister wouldn’t be intimately aware of just how closely Canadian and American airspace defence is tied together, but he should know something.  Seriously, NORAD is probably the most successful bilateral defense organization in history.

Now, it does make sense for a scandal-adverse politician to cringe at the thought of a much bigger fish entering their pond, but Jack Hemp is supposed to be a savvy and cynical political operator.  He should have recognized instantly that the capture of James Bay would bring the Americans into the equation.  

Bishop pointed to the screen.  “This is a source of information critical to our operations.  We are going to send units into the area and I am not prepared to send them in blind.  Besides, prime minister, General Leonardo, apparently on the direction of the president, told me directly that the attack on the James Bay facilities and the cutting of the hydro transmission system into the United States made the matter a vital concern for the United States homeland security.  He was preparing to put the satellite over James Bay whether we asked or not.  At least now we know about it and car use this very valuable resource.”

Now that I’m thinking about it, a really nasty political operator would be seeing this as an opportunity.  Here’s a chance to drop the heaviest hammer on the NPA and blame it all on the threat of American intervention.  “Look, I’d love to sit around and negotiate, but the Pentagon’s already started moving satellites!  If we don’t end this today, they’ll end it tomorrow!”

If he played his cards right, he could even throw a certain CDS under the bus as well.  “Gen Bishop was on the phone with the US Army before he ever bothered speaking to the civilian government!  He wanted to turn Canada into another Zimbabwe!”

It’s a blind spot that a lot of military people (that I’ve met, at least) seem to have when dealing with the rest of the world.  Politicians?  Journalists?  Protestors?  They all got their own version of fighting dirty and if your background is pure military, then you’re walking in unarmed.  

There’s a further passage about Chisasibi that basically re-hashes what we already know, so I’m going to skip over it.  I’d skip over the next paragraph as well, but there’s an important tidbit I want to highlight:

The next image clicked onto the screen.  “To the south, there are no obvious barricades on the signle road leading to Radisson from Montreal and Matagami, although native groups – we are not sure how many and in what numbers – have knocked down transmission lines here, here, and here, and two actual transmission towers are down here and here.  The natives in this area are lightly armed, basically rifles and shotguns, but have enough firepower to keep police and repair crews out of the area.  

If this were a better novel, a line like this would have carried more weight.  Gen Bishop has just made a serious mistake.  Lacking evidence that the NPA cells along Highway 109 have received heavy weapons and explosives, he’s made the dangerous assumption that they don’t have anything beyond basic hunting firearms.  If this assumption gets passed on to any troops who might be travelling that highway, then those troops will be walking into a very nasty surprise.   

“Now for friendly forces.  Units from Valcartier and Gagetown are moving into the most difficult spots in Quebec.  The first convoy out of Valcartier was attacked by a roadside car bomb on the road near Quebec City.  Two vehicles were destroyed, but no one was injured.  This event has slowed the deployment, but we are now using our few serviceable CF helicopters, as well as aircraft requisitioned from civilian sources, to move light infantry companies into Montreal.  These units will clear the renegades out of the cities and destroy the barricades on the main roads.  This operation may take several days.  

Wait, what!!!???

Two vehicles were destroyed but there were no casualties???

For those who are unfamiliar with how IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) work, let me be clear: There is no way for an IED to be powerful enough to destroy two vehicles and not cause casualties.  A car bomb (technically, a Vehicle-Born Improvised Explosive Devise) that is powerful enough to destroy two vehicles is going to leave dead and wounded. 

If the vehicles are soft-skinned, then the occupants are likely to get shredded by shrapnel that will cut through the vehicles like a hot knife through butter. A huge part of the vehicle that was bearing the IED will be converted into fragments and hurled into the targetted vehicles which will themselves be torn to pieces that will in turn be carried by the propagating blast wave.  Pieces of metal will be flying everywhere, and the average soldier will only have body-armour for their torso and head.  

If the vehicles are armoured, then you’re still going to see injuries from concussions and trauma[3] from the vehicles crashing.  A thing that’s not always understood about armoured vehicles is that – by definition – they don’t have a lot of the safety features like crumple zones to protect their passengers.  The essential problem is that you’re in a rigid metal box that’s supposed to hold its shape against external forces, like an explosion.  If the armour fails, the inside of that reinforced box is filled with shrapnel and spalling, which will then riccochet around and shred the soft bodies within.  But if it holds the vehicle itself can still roll or crash.  This means that you, the squishy, breakable passenger is going to be bouncing around inside the undamaged hull.  

Never mind the risk to anyone up in a turret who might get hit by shrapnel which failed to penetrate the body of the vehicle, or crushed by the vehicle body if the explosion causes it to roll.[4]  

But that’s just the technical details.  What’s really important here is the fact that there was an IED attack at all.   

The fact that a Native rebellion was using IEDs would send a shockwave through the CF.  Bland isn’t specific, but it sounds as though this was just a bomb inside of a parked car that was detonated by remote control when the convoy passed.  But to the soldiers who just got hit in the attack, there’s going to be a real horror as they scramble to figure out if there was a person inside the car (making it a Suicide Vehicle-Born Improvised Explosive Device or SVBIED).  I’m hesitant to assign certain tactics to certain nationalities[5], but something as extreme as suicide bombing does actually require a certain cultural mindset.  Whether it’s Japanese Kamikaze, the Tamil Tigers, or the Taliban and so-called Islamic State there needs to be some kind of way to reconcile not just destroying yourself but doing it as a way to harm harm other.  For a particular group to engage in pre-meditated suicide attacks requires some kind of philosophical, cultural or religious tradition to in order to make the tactic viable, and this is not something that Indigenous people in North America are known for.  The horrific possibility that this could have changed should have dropped like an anvil in the middle of conference room.  

Just to be clear, this shouldn’t be paralyzing the Van Doos convoy for very long.  At this point in Bland’s alternate-Canadian history, the Canadian Forces should be a veteran military with years of experience in Afghanistan that went on to topple the African nation of Zimbabwe (and is currently involved in a protracted security mission there).  The convoy should have immediately pushed out a perimeter to contain the bombing site and flush out any follow up action by the enemy.  Casualties will be treated, damaged vehicles will be recovered, and the mission will be resumed.  

Crucially though, this should be a moment that hardens the situation.  Instead of “Dear god, what are we going to do?” it would be more of a case like “Oh?  So that’s how it’s going to be?

“At James Bay, we are mounting a major airborne operation that will retake the Radisson site and the Chisasibi airport and the town and restore the connection to Radisson.  A second force forming now in CFB VAlcartier will move today to a staging base at Matagami, here, and move north on Highway 109 and clear the road to Radisson.  

“Let me add, prime minister, that logistical challenges make this a very demanding operation regardless of the enemy’s strength and tactical abilities.  It’s more than 500 kilometres from Valcartier to Matagami, and then some 620 kilometres from there to Radisson.  The road north is limited, isolated, and filled with potential obstacles.  Just driving a large military convoy to Radisson unopposed would take time.  If the force has to fight its way north, the operation will be difficult, to say the least, and it will be slow.  

In a better novel, this would be a line that would send shivers down the spine.  Bishop has screwed up his analysis.  He’s sending a convoy up that very same highway under the assumption that the locals (who might resist) won’t have anything more than ‘rifles and shotguns.’  

This should be a moment of grim foreshadowing, laying the groundwork for a violent payoff later.  Instead, it’s just another footnote that’s left uninvestigated.  The next several pages will be spent on what’s really important, why the French all suck as a people. 

No really.  That’s what we got to look forward to.    

_____________

[1] For those not familiar, the Wounded Knee standoff took place in 1973 when a group of AIM (American Indian Movement) activists and local Oglala people staged a rebellion in the community of that name, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  Given that this was the 1970s and King’s party was stopped in the Utah desert, there was a non-zero probability that they could have been murdered.

[2] This is the term for video footage from UAVs, especially the Predator and Reapers employed by the Americans.  It typically consists of video showing an enemy getting blown up by bombs or missiles (which is sometimes chillingly referred to as a ‘bugsplat‘).  I got no problem watching a film where someone gets killed if there’s some actual information to gain from it.  During workup training we watched dozens of films of IED attacks so we could better understand the tactics being employed by the Taliban at the time.  But there’s a certain unhealthy fixation some people have with watching random unsuspecting people[2b] get killed without warning, and I’m not the only person who thinks so.

[2b] I’m saying ‘people’ and not ‘insurgents’ here because there’s a couple of videos that were especially popular when I was on workup training where it turned out that some of the people killed were random civilians caught in the crossfire.   

[3] The guy who taught me how to drive an HLVW showed us a picture of himself getting lifted out of the (armoured) cab of his HL in Afghanistan after he’d taken a direct hit from an RPG. The windshield was spiderwebbed and the door was barely hanging off its hinges (once they’d managed to open it). But while every piece of armour had done its job, the guy was bleeding from his nose and ears from the concussion.  

[4] It’s not clear exactly what vehicles Bland is referring to here, but in a later scene he mentions LUVW (also known as the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon), so let’s use it as an example.  The up-armoured version of this vehicle can withstand a surprising amount of punishment, but that doesn’t necessarily protect the people inside from the trauma I’ve just described.  In particular, anybody in the turret is very vulnerable to getting crushed if the vehicle rolled.  In the example pictured above, the two soldiers in the front seats suffered injuries from the crash despite having been protected from the explosion itself by the vehicle’s armour.  

[5] There’s a really gross mindset that assigns racial characteristics to certain military (really insurgent) tactics.  The sort of mindset where bystanders will attribute a particular ethnic origin to a reported terrorist attack before any reporting has confirmed the perpetrator.  

 

10 thoughts on “63-The Plan

  1. “Further spontaneous activities by aboriginals across Canada may also occur,”

    I can’t say I know much about the language of social and racial issues in Canada, and I don’t want to insert my linguistic preconceptions onto a terrain where they might not fit, so this isn’t meant as a leading question in any way, but is using the word “aboriginals” in this manner considered proper? To me it _feels_ like a bit of a racist record-scratch, something that would make people go “wait, did he really say that?”, similar to “you people.” Am I misreading it?

    > So they got two barricades covered by ten people each. Plus more people who are stringing barbed wire. Out of a total force of thirty. Okay cool.

    Also doesn’t leave many men inside the complex to guard the prisoners and mind the explosives.

    “The project that was to come on-line last year is still in the government’s procurement decision stream.”

    If the project is still in the ‘procurement decision stream’, how could it have been meant to come on-line the previous year? I mean, decision tardiness is a thing, but even government projects doesn’t usually get a deployment deadline until they’ve actually decided to fund it.

    ” Besides, prime minister, General Leonardo, apparently on the direction of the president, told me directly that the attack on the James Bay facilities and the cutting of the hydro transmission system into the United States made the matter a vital concern for the United States homeland security.”

    Just _how bad_ does the diplomatic relationship between USA and Canada have to be for this kind of message to be delivered by having generals speak to generals?

    “although native groups – we are not sure how many and in what numbers – have knocked down transmission lines here, here, and here, and two actual transmission towers are down here and here. The natives in this area are lightly armed, basically rifles and shotguns,”

    So what exactly did they use to knock down the transmission towers? Harsh language?

    “This event has slowed the deployment, but we are now using our few serviceable CF helicopters, as well as aircraft requisitioned from civilian sources, to move light infantry companies into Montreal.”

    … Did they just pivot from moving troops around with convoys to an improvised air-lift of several companies worth of infantry in a few hours? With no prior planning?

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    1. “Aboriginal” is not really a racist term in Canada as much as it’s dated. ‘Aboriginal’ was one of the first terms adopted as standard by the government after they gave up using the term ‘Indian’ and it’s only about a decade ago that they started to shift to “Indigenous” as an alternative. It still shows up a lot in government documents (including the 1982 Charter of Rights & Freedoms), and in the time that Bland was writing Uprising, it was still considered standard. So not appropriate for the time, kind of dated now. Using it in day-to-day conversation today will usually get you a polite correction rather than a stern rebuke.

      Now, Gen Bishop’s use of the term ‘renegades’ is _very_ inappropriate. That’s a loaded term with a lot of baggage especially in the USA. Among other things, it implies that the individual or group are deliberate traitors to “an honourable Treaty and the civilizing benefits of the generous ‘white’ man.” Historically, renegades were hunted down and killed, regardless of their grievances or how poorly they and their people may have been treated.

      I LOVE the idea of Will Boucanier setting up the perfect defense against an airborne assault only to have his hostages get loose and disarm the explosives!

      You aren’t wrong about the rest either. Especially the helicopters. In a future scene, we’ll hear about the Van Doos reaching Montreal in record time (we won’t see it, but we’ll hear about it in a briefing), but there will be no mention of the magnificent feat of logistical genius that allowed them to transform a road move into an airlift. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. Based on the experience of the Afghan War, the response to an IED attack should be “Keep going, but change your route in case there’s another one.”

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      1. It wasn’t so much the word itself I reacted to, as they way he used it as a general noun clause: “Further spontaneous activities by aboriginals across Canada may also occur,” — not “by aboriginal activists” or “by aboriginal terrorist cells” but just “by aboriginals.”

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        1. Hmmm….
          That’s actually something I haven’t thought of. Most of the time I’ve run into references of Indigenous people referred to as a group, it’s usually been in the form of proper nation names (like ‘Mohawks’). Think I might need to do a bit of reading up on this.

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  2. So 2 IEDs (whether VBIED or SVIED is irrelevant) are detonated targetting the convoy departing to regain the Radisson Dam and the General is presuming that the insurgent forces only have small arms and suficient explosives to bring down transmission towers?

    Particularly when they have satellite imagery showing people looking like they are planting a mine field? And they have a list of what munitions have been stolen from CAF depots (or a least they should have)?

    Every military theorist from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz to Fuller, Mahan and Giap cautions you about not underestimating your foe (and also about not overestimating them, but that’s another story). The NAP has just demonstrated that they have explosives in quantities sufficient to wreck 2 CAF vehicles. At this point the staff should be presuming that all elements of the NAP have IED capabilities until proven otherwise and that they have the tactical skill to use them. Doing otherwise leaves your forces vulnerable as your troops will not be taking the appropriate countermeasures with the right resources.

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    1. Yes. And when the (correct) assumptions of the commanders on the ground are contradicted by the assumptions of the higher-ups, it’s only going to cause distrust and paranoia. Especially when we get into how the government and the CDS view French Canada.

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    2. Also, even besides the IEDs raising the question of how heavily armed the opposition is, shouldn’t the revelation that they had anticipated and planned for the CAF response with considerable amount of coordination and preparation cause people to sit up and take notice?

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      1. In a world where the job of the higher staff is to take information from the ground troops, add it to information from other sources, synthesize it into a reasonable co-ordinated plan within the limits placed on them by civilian authorities, yes.

        But this appears to be the world of bad 80s action films where the military and civilian components are mutually antagonistic others, and the high command is disconnected from the front, so no.

        The reality is that with the frequent use of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan prior to the publication of the novel, the CAF in this world should have expected that any insurgent force would be using them, until proven by events that they don’t. With the depots at Petawawa and Halifax having been hit prior to the commencement of hostilities, the planners definitely should have realized that IEDs, plus the soon to be revealed anti-air and anti-armour threats weren’t just likely, they were definite. Staff training and miltiary theory stresses knowing your opponent – and the safe bet is to presume that whomever is on the other side is as competent as you are. And in the novel Stephenson, Gabriel and Boucannier are known quantities with extensive recent experience and the training and skills for counter-insurgency, so that just makes the comments here indicative of poor world building by the author.

        It’s a sad state of affairs when the CAF that had 6 years of combat ops in Afghanistan and recent experience in conquering an African nation is less competent at anticipating threats than the force we jury-rigged out of nothing but part time soldiers to deal with Louis Riel.

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        1. Indeed. For a staff officer, Bland doesn’t seem to have much of an idea as to how the headquarters engine really runs. It’s like, the pieces are there. They should be able to put together a fairly coherent picture based on facts from which they can make some pretty reasonable educated guesses.
          And if they’d passed information downward and warned the local police forces, there was at least a chance that Alex Gabriel could have been arrested in Winnipeg with a freakin’ MARKED MAP in his possession.
          I mean, it’s not unheard of for Intelligence to fail or for information to get jammed up before it could reach the ground level, but usually when that happens in a novel, it’s a tragedy.

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      2. It struck me more as a failure of the convoy commanders to not anticipate an attack right at the gate. This was something they hammered home a lot on work up training: The enemy knows where the FOB is, and they can see the gate. While you can vary the route you take, there’s only so many ways to physically exit the FOB, so departure and arrival should be treated like high-risk phases in a combat operation, rather than a routine activity. The same guy who taught me to drive HL who got blasted with the RPG? He once described getting caught in a mortar barrage when his convoy bottle-necked at the gate to a FOB and presented an easy target for the watching Taliban. In this case he got lucky and his truck just caught a few bits of shrapnel.

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