Shake Hands With the Devil

Free Shake Hands With the Devil by Romeo Dallaire

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Authors: Romeo Dallaire
National Defence Headquarters as a section head, learning the ropes of project management and procurement. Promoted to full colonel, I was appointed the director of the army equipment and research program, a job I relished, since one of the overwhelming problems facing the Canadian military was the lack of expenditure and rational plan for the acquisition of the systems we needed to remain operational. It was a perfect job, with a tolerant boss, Major General Richard Evraire, who gave us guidance, a team of near-workaholics, and the advice of a small inner cabinet to help us keep within the tolerances of the friction war we were fighting with the air force and navy, and with the federal bureaucrats.
    In response to increasing pressure from the United States, which under Ronald Reagan was spending trillions to win the Cold War, Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government announced that it was committed to increase defence spending. The government asked for a white paper that would plot a fifteen-year strategy to bring the Canadian military up to scratch. At National Defence Headquarters, we were jubilant. Finally we could start to think about real defence budgets, maybe in the $18-billion range for the army alone, andabout increasing the forces from about 72,000 to 90,000 regular members, and doubling the reserves from 45,000 to 90,000. Instead of being a shop-window force with no sustainability, we had a chance to become a truly credible defence force able to live up to our NATO commitments.
    We worked constantly on the white paper. We believed that if we could come up with the right arguments and the right fiscal package, we might actually persuade the government and the country of the wisdom of supporting a larger, better-equipped and better-financed military. I worked with my small inner core of about sixty dedicated staff of captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels and my sterling deputy, Howie Marsh. We worked nights, weekends and statutory holidays (some of us had cots in our office) for eight months.
    Then on March 17, 1987, word came down from the Department of National Defence that cabinet had decided that our plan was not affordable. Some of us cried in shocked anger and disbelief. Still, the young and ambitious minister of national defence, Perrin Beatty, decided that we should continue work on the policy document, and table it in the House of Commons, even though he knew it would never be implemented. We expected an outcry from the senior generals and admirals who had persuaded us that this battle for a new policy base and funding line was the closest we would get to the high stakes of war, but none of them uttered a peep of protest.
    I had never seen morale drop so fast and so violently in a group of experienced officers as it did on that day in March 1987.
    I sat in the gallery of the House of Commons on June 5 when Beatty tabled a toothless and even hypocritical document. Over the next two years, the Conservatives hacked and slashed what was left of our acquisition programs. I finally left Ottawa in disgust in the summer of 1989. I wouldn’t say I was disillusioned, but I had suffered a loss of innocence.
    My family and I moved back to the Montreal area. I was promoted brigadier general to take up the position of commandant at the Collège militaire royal. I adored the job. It was not only a magnificent challenge, but it brought me back to the place I had started from and gave me a chance to reappraise myself. The routine helped heal some of thewounds of Ottawa, and my wife and I also revelled in the social life with its extraordinary mixture of academics, officers, and cadets, integrated in one institution and pursuing the same objective: the development of future officers. The principal, Roch Carrier, was an acclaimed writer who hid his strong will and determination behind a calm and serene manner. Our two years together were an absolute joy.
    My interest was to try to improve leadership training.

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