Canada’s military is ‘too woke?’ Hardly — it must embrace diversity to survive

Illustration: Dall-E/HR Law Canada
By Paul T. Mitchell, Professor of Defence Studies, Canadian Forces College

The publication of the latest issue of the Canadian Military Journal (CMJ) has angered some of Canada’s right-wing media commentators.  

The issue on the topic of diversity in the Canadian Armed Forces was branded as “woke” by the right. Furthermore, these commentators implied the military itself has been taken hostage by radical ideological “activists,” specifically the women involved with the issue.

The irony of this, incidentally, seems lost on the Rebel News site that decries the “activism” of others while labelling itself “rebel.”

The opinion pieces are effectively political performance art, more concerned with stirring up resentment against the ruling Liberals than solving the woes of Canada’s military. 

That the Journal has devoted its last three issues to both education and diversity in the military is no surprise to those who have been paying attention to widepsread coverage of the military’s leadership failures over the past decade, nor is it an indication of where the publication’s coverage is heading in the future.  

Improving work environment

If we take this somewhat hysterical reaction in good faith, it reveals a deep-seated concern over the readiness of Canada’s military to deal with a national security emergency. It suggests that social concerns have distracted the military from its proper role to prepare for war.

Setting aside for the moment that Canada remains one of the most secure geographical locations on the planet, the idea that our armed forces are “too woke” misunderstands efforts to improve the work environment for historically underrepresented groups.

This effort is as central to the ability of the CAF to fight wars in the future as acquiring the latest military technology. If diverse perspectives within our own workforce are too difficult to understand, how much harder will be the effort to understand those of our allies and enemies?

“Wokeness” emerged as a term of political activism from the Black American experience in the 1930s. In recent years, it has been reappropriated to mock efforts to re-examine or change cultural norms. 

Now, criticizing something as woke only serves to identify and silence debate.

People are central to military success

People are the foundation of all military capability. 

Historically, the Canadian Armed Forces has drawn the majority of its personnel from rural Canada. Demographically, this source no longer reliably provides sufficient numbers of recruits to maintain the size of Canada’s military. Racialized minorities are now the fastest growing portion of Canada’s population.

War is the province of hardship.  Training focuses on developing individual resilience to such conditions. Training also works to help team members bond and develop camaraderie, so that in the most difficult of circumstances, all will pull together in the same direction with the same effort. 

Research of the kind highlighted in the pages of the Canadian Military Journal shows that the norms and mores that have historically shaped Canada’s military no longer reflect the increasingly diverse population of citizens. 

Canada’s proud military history isn’t motivating young Canadians to enlist. Many of the institutions and traditions of service, in fact, actually discourage people to stay in uniform.  

Many alternate career options

In my role as professor at the Canadian Forces College, I’ve heard older CAF members sometimes argue “you joined us, we didn’t join you.” This is a disastrous attitude given potential recruits and long-serving military personnel have considerable career options to choose from — often with better pay and fewer hassles and hardships that come with military life.  

How we treat military families also has a strong impact on retention. Contemporary military families, like those of Canadian society in general, no longer reflect the tradition of a single male wage-earner with a non-employed female spouse to raise the kids.

The criticism of the Canadian Military Journal‘s content essentially concludes with admonishments that diversity and inclusion efforts are a silly waste of time and resources that should be devoted to “proper soldiering.” 

They ignore the elephant in the room — institutional failures are directly relevant to the ongoing crisis. The solution, they seem to suggest, is to double down on failed policies rather than engage in the hard work of making a career in the military attractive.

In the end, these “woke” efforts are aimed at increasing operational readiness by attracting more recruits from previously underrepresented groups, and building a diverse force representative of Canada and its values. 

Defaulting to the same past approach is, as demonstrated by missed recruiting targets of most western militaries, akin to the observation that “insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” 

It is time for change.

Paul T. Mitchell does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article: https://theconversation.com/canadas-military-is-too-woke-hardly-it-must-embrace-diversity-to-survive-221918

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