Friday, February 6, 2015

Notable Quotable: Sir Thomas Seaton On The Qualities Needed In A Soldier

Thomas Seaton was a Victorian soldier in the Indian Army, and a veteran of the Indian Mutiny.  His autobiography, From Cadet to Colonel, is available online.


I do not, however, consider hunting and shooting as waste of time, but, on the contrary, beneficial to the soldier, inasmuch as such active and manly pursuits prepare men for service in the field. The men wanted to fill commissions in the army are not bookworms, whose strength lies only in their brains, but men with good constitutions, hardy and bold, with a fine hand and a good seat on horseback; a quick eye for the country, fertile in expedients, and well-endowed with common sense. I would back such a man to conduct an expedition, settle and govern any country better than ninety-nine out of the hundred of "competition wallahs." - Major-General Sir Thomas Seaton, K.C.B., Cadet to Colonel, Vol I, 1866

Courtesy of The Regimental Rogue.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Remembering The Four Chaplains


A friend of mine reminded me that yesterday, Feb 3rd, was the anniversary of the sinking of the US troopship Dorchester during World War Two in 1943.  This incident made famous the story of the Four Chaplains, a Rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest, and two ministers  (Methodist and a Dutch Reformed).  The story of how they gave up their lifejackets and were last seen, praying and singing as the ship sank in the frigid North Atlantic, is told here.

An American scholar, Kevin M. Schultz (Tri-Faith America:  How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), has noted how this story of cooperation was turned into a symbol of religious pluralism in postwar America by those who wanted Catholics and Jews to enjoy the same privileges as Protestants.   One of the Hollywood studios even considered making a film about the story, but to my knowledge it was never made.

The Four Chaplains are icons of selfless service and interfaith comradeship for all military chaplains.



 Kevin M. Schultz, Tri-Faith America:  How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 5

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Advise and Assist In Iraq, Not Combat, Says Canadian Commander

Image released by Canada’s Department of National Defence, shows Canadian advisors working with Iraqi military personnel.

A few days ago the Military Times noted that “American troops in Iraq appear to be more cautious than Canadians”.  The article noted that while US advisors to the Iraqi military are working at the headquarters level, Canadian Special Forces advisors are working on the front lines, and have exchanged fire with ISIS militants.

Since then, a Canadian Armed Forces spokesman has confirmed that there have been two more firefights between Canadian military personnel and ISIS militants.  The spokesman said that the Canadians, among some 69 Special Forces personnel in Iraq, were “acting in self-defence [and] effectively returned fire, neutralizing the threat”.

On 20 January, General Mike Rouleau, commander of Canada’s Special Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) confirmed that while his personnel, including snipers, had “neutralized” ISIS machine gun and mortar positions, their work was “very much in the advise and assist role”.

At present there are 69 confirmed CANSOFCOM personnel in Iraq, besides a larger number of Royal Canadian Air Force personnel who are also involved in the mission, known as OPERATION IMPACT.

Friday, January 23, 2015

No Stereotypes Here

Oh Canada …..

You may be confusing this lady with Celine Dion’s latest act in Las Vegas.  She’s actually our Miss Canada, competing in the Miss Universe pageant national costumes.  At least she didn’t go dressed as the Alberta Tar Sands.  I’m not sure she’s any less garish than Miss Ireland.  Decide for yourself here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Vanishing Internet (And Why It Should Be Archived)

I’m currently writing an MA thesis, and as I start piling up the chapters and the footnotes, I find that perhaps a quarter of my citations either include URLs to web-hosted versions of sources that are also available as print sources, or exist exclusively as web-hosted sources.    In “the Cobweb”, an article in this week’s New Yorker magazine’s Annals of Technology series, Jill Lepore notes that the problem with sources hosted on the web is that they don’t stick around as long as we think.  “The web”, she writes, “dwells in a never-ending present.  It is - elementally - ethereal, ephemeral, unstable, and unreliable”.

Lepore talks about something called “link rot”.  Here’s an example from my own research.  Yesterday I was checking a secondary source where the author cited numerous references in the form of URLs hosted on Canada’s Department of National Defence servers.  However, when I checked one of those references, the URL no longer existed.  It had been taken down or overwritten.  The secondary source I was using said at the top of its list of footnotes that “All web citations were active at the time of the writing of this article” or something to that effect, but in the two years since the author had written that article, at least one footnote no longer worked.  Probably more than one no longer worked, if Lepore’s data is right.



Lepore cites a 2014 Harvard Law School study which found that “more than 70% of the URLs within the Harvard Law Review and other journals, and 50% of the URLs within United States Supreme Court opinions, do not link to the originally cited information”.   Another study suggests that of 3.5 million scholarly articles published in academic journals from science, technology and medicine published between 1997 and 2012, one in five links “suffers from reference rot”.

Libraries have always been subject to attrition, loss, rot and even physical destruction, but somehow they’ve survived and knowledge has been transmitted over time.   To make that transmission easier, scholars invented the footnote.  But now the footnote itself is in danger of being made unstable as more and more knowledge moves to the shifting sands of the internet.

Here’s an example of how the internet vanishes and why its loss matters.   After the downing of the Malaysian Airliner over the Ukraine last summer, we knew that Russian-backed separatists were likely behind it because they boasted of it over social media.  Those media traces were soon scrubbed, but they were captured by self-proclaimed internet archivists. As Lepore puts it, “One day last summer, a missile was launched into the sky and a plane crashed in a field.  “We just drowned a plane,” a soldier told the world.  People fell to earth, their last passage.  Somewhere, someone hit “Save Page Now”.

But, because most pages aren’t saved, knowledge is vanishing, paradoxically, as the capacity of the internet expands.  

These thoughts will remain here until I either delete this blog or some VP at Google decides that Blogger is no longer part of its business strategy, and Blogger, like Geocities before it, is bulldozed.  Just a small example of what Lepore is talking about.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Military Picture Of The Week

Happy New Year.  January’s not over yet so I can say that, since I haven’t posted here since 29 December.  Finishing my MA thesis has taken much of my time but while I have been updating the wargames blog, this one has been awkwardly silent.  Maybe it’s felt too much like work.
At any rate, time to pick things up a bit.  This image from this week’s Foreign Policy The World In Photos This Week caught my attention as a splendid example of how cultural traditions can live on in together with contemporary, utilitarian military uniforms.  The caption reads: “Recruits of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force Constables stand in formation, Jan. 16”.
The CRPF is a paramilitary organization.  You can see them going through their paces here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Incarnational Ministry In A "Suicide Wagon": A British Army Padre's Story Of Afghanistan


During my time working with the staff of British Army Training Unit Suffield, I was fortunate to get to know many fine padres from the UK’s Royal Army Chaplain’s Department.  Several kept in touch with me once they left Suffield and deployed shortly thereafter to Afghanistan.  This story is from one of them,  who was in Helmand Province sometime in 2013, and I was reminded of it recently while sorting some emails.  It's as good an illustration of the work of an army chaplain as any I can think of, and it’s too good not to share.

  Some time ago, a young man spoke to me about his role as the resupply fuel truck driver.  He makes journeys to forward patrol bases carrying 50,000 litres of fuel and he affectionately referred to his vehicle as the ‘suicide wagon’.  I made a mental note to travel with him on his next trip and, as the Sergeant Major had to cancel his plans at the last minute, I was fortunate enough to take his place alongside the driver only a week later.  We lined up in a convoy of vehicles waiting to leave the base and the conversation went something like this - Me:  “Shall I say a prayer before we go?”  Driver:  “Go on then, when you’re ready, Padre!”

I gave him a set of ‘dog tags’ with a Scripture verse and a cross and these are now hung by their chain from the seatbelt cutters mounted in the cab.  As we chatted the driver asked about my sharing the risks and not carrying a weapon for protection.  (As chaplains we are ordained ministers from our sending Churches and although we wear uniform we are not soldiers and do not bear arms, we are here simply to serve).  I always take the stance that the lads are my protection; “we’ll be alright, Padre” he said, “you’ll see!”


The Church calls this ‘Incarnational’ ministry – in the same way that God emptied Himself of all the glory of heaven and lived an earthly life among us as Jesus – so we seek to share the same lives and conditions as those we serve.  That young man is getting married in October at the end of the tour.  He didn’t need me to say I would pray for him, although I do – he needed me to travel with him along the road.  Oh, and he was right too, we were fine!

I’m happy to say that this Padre and the young driver returned safely from their tour.  MP+


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Canadian Christmas On Salisbury Plain, 1914



This post is taken from the Advent/Christmas edition of the newsletter of the Anglican Military Ordinariate, for those of the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service of the Canadian Armed Forces from the Anglican Church of Canada.   In each edition I have been writing a piece looking at the ministry of Anglican chaplains in the Great War a hundred years prior to the writing of each newsletter.  This piece focuses on the first Christmas of the Canadian Expeditionary Force overseas. MP+

Christmas On Salisbury Plain, 1914


Over thirty thousand Canadian soldiers, most of them living under canvas, spent their first winter of the Great War on Salisbury Plain, a large military training area in the south of England.  George Anderson Wells, who went on to be a famous Bishop, was there as padre to the 6th Fort Garrys, and described the camps as “an endless field of mud” where “tent peg would loosen and the tents blow down in high winds”.   The cold and wet conditions put many on the sick list and claimed some lives due to illness.  Morale was further tested by deficient equipment, including shoddy boots with heels made of compressed paper that simply rotted in the mud.  While few could imagine what lay ahead, this first taste of mud and misery was preparing them all for the trenches in France and Belgium.



Canadians in the mud on Salisbury Plain, winter of 1914-15 


Chaplains busied themselves with visits to the many sick in hospitals and infirmaries, and tried to organize evening concerts and activities to maintain morale.   Many padres found themselves torn in one direction by their allegiances to the powerful temperance movement back in Canada, which was supported by their prohibitionist commander, Sam Hughes, and in the other direction by their soldiers’ frustration with the alcohol ban and the so-called “dry canteens”.   Local pubs in the area tempted many thirsty troops.   In the words of the Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War, this led to “quarrelsome” and “disorderly” conduct, which was not solved until local villages were placed off limits and “wet canteens” were allowed as per British Army practice.   Problems arising from alcohol and discipline issues must have kept the padres busy indeed.


While some men were granted leave in the weeks leading up to Christmas, military training kept up at a brisk schedule all through December.  For example, the War Diary of the 2nd (Eastern Ontario) Battalion mentioned that on 23 December, drills were conducted on The Company In The Attack.  Christmas Day saw some respite.  The War Diary of the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion describes “a holiday [with] no parade of the Bn.”, parties in various Messes, and in the evening “a bon-fire for all ranks and an open air concert” with a special dinner provided by the Toronto City Council. 


Unlike their Roman Catholic colleagues, Anglican and other protestant padres could enlist local churches for Christmas services.  Canon Frederick Scott  obtained the loan of the church of St. Mary and St. Melor, Amesbury, from its Rector for a midnight eucharist, and sent notice of the service through his Brigade. 

Interior of the church of St. Mary and Melor, Amesbury, Wiltshire, Diocese of Salisbury, taken 1905


Canon Scott describes the service that Christmas Eve.


“In the thick fog the men gathered and marched down the road to the village, where the church windows threw a soft light into the mist that hung over the ancient burial ground.  The church inside was bright and beautiful.  The old arches and pillars and the little side chapels told of days gone by, when the worship of the holy nuns, who had their convent there, rose up to God day by day.  The altar was vested in white and the candles shone out bright and fair.  The organist had kindly consented to pay the Christmas hymns, in which the men joined heartily.  It was a service never to be forgotten, and as I told the men, in the short address I gave them, never before perhaps, in the history of that venerable fane, had it witnessed a more striking assembly.  From a distance of nearly seven thousand miles some of them had come, and this was to be our last Christmas before we entered the life and death struggle of the nations.  Row after row of men knelt to receive the Bread of Life, and it was a rare privilege to administer it to them.  The fog was heavier on our return and some of us had great difficulty in finding our lines.” 

Wishing all readers a peaceful and joyous Christmas, and every blessing in the year to come.  Michael+

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: Military Chaplaincy in Contention: Chaplains, Churches and the Morality of Conflict

This review was written earlier this year and appears in the Advent/Christmas edition of the Newsletter of the Anglican Military Ordinariate, Royal Canadian Chaplain Service.  MP+

Military Chaplaincy in Contention: Chaplains, Churches and the Morality of Conflict. Andrew Todd, editor. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013.

 In this compilation of essays, British military chaplains and theologians reflect on the United Kingdom’s decade long engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Canadian readers of this book will immediately notice differences between our two chaplaincies. The military chaplains who contributed essays were or are members of the Royal Army Chaplains Department (RAChD), so there is no experience of tri-service chaplaincy here. As members of a Christian organization, they lack the nuances and multifaith awareness that CAF chaplains have been gaining since 2003. Their ecclesiastical relationships are not as strong as ours are, and they are aware that their churches share British society’s uncertainties about these wars. Nevertheless, their struggles with the moral ambiguities of asymmetric conflict, with the demands of military missions and theology, and with the changing role of religion in the military and society, will be struggles that any CAF chaplain can identify with.

The book’s title, Military Chaplaincy in Contention, was deliberately chosen by the editor, Andrew Todd, Director of the Chaplaincy Studies program at Cardiff. As Todd notes, the ministry of chaplains is “in contention” not only because the Iraq and Afghanistan missions were/are contentious, without a consensus of support within UK society, but also because the chaplain’s role, often doing “instantaneous theology” within the complex demands of military operations and under the media gaze, raises the public question, “to what extent is a largely Christian, religious presence appropriate in this public context”? The essays that follow take their tone accordingly. They are provocative, challenging, and provide ample food for thought.

Andrew Totten, currently the Assistant Chaplain General, RAChD, and a veteran of many deployments including Afghanistan, carefully explores the differences between two words that every chaplain must negotiate, “moral” and “morale”. While “morale” speaks to the chaplain’s pastoral role of caring for and encouraging soldiers, Totten notes that chaplains must also engage with “moral” issues of right and wrong. This engagement can be difficult when British Christian churches are conflicted about war and give their chaplains little support or framework to reflect on the morality of warfare. If chaplains avoid issues of morality and default to merely being“morale sustainers of soldiers”, Totten argues, then they have failed their primary role, which is to help soldiers distinguish between right and wrong. As Totten notes, military duty in Helmand Province comes with an ethical component. He writes that he has often observed British soldiers enduring great discomfort and risk while “encouraging local nationals to support the people and processes of civil society”, and so chaplains must share and engage with “soldiers’ needs and experiences”.

Likewise, Philip McCormack, Chief Instructor at the UK Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre, argues that chaplains and their churches cannot sit quietly on a comfortable and removed moral high ground, but must “become active participants in a dialogue on how to create a moral/ethical resource or framework for those who find themselves in the most morally challenging situations of our time”. Other contributors in this section address moral aspects of interrogation of suspected terrorists and the implications of the increasing use of robotics in warfare.

Peter Howson, a retired RAChD padre and Methodist pastor, examines the sometimes strained relations between chaplains and the British churches, which often think and act like “functional pacifists”. This chapter made me especially grateful for the role of our own Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplaincy in the life of our Branch, and led me to conclude that our chaplaincy is markedly ahead of the British in terms of our relations with Canadian faith groups. Jonathan Ball, a retired RAChD padre and Anglican priest, offers a strong essay on the role of liturgy in deployed contexts. Ball examines the experience of padres with British Army deployments in 2010, when an astonishing 78 soldier deaths in one brigade proved that vigils and memorial services show that liturgy, carefully planned, still has the power to console and comfort, even in the British context where society, especially male society, is increasingly estranged from religion. Two final essays both address the Christian just war tradition as a resource for chaplains, and examine the connection between military mission and morality.

The essays in Military Chaplaincy in Contention highlight some of the differences between our Branch and our British colleagues. However, the contributors to this thoughtful book all recognize a universal role of our vocation, namely that effective chaplaincy must be located “within the military community: providing space for military personnel to air their doubts, or raise questions about the rules that govern military life; acting as a critical friend to the commanding officer; questioning, when necessary, the way in which military strategy is carried out”. In those respects our role is the same, regardless of the uniform or faith identifiers we may happen to wear.

Reviewed By Padre Michael Peterson

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Canadian Armed Forces Chaplain Branch Is Now the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service


I am remiss in blogging this piece of news from October, and am still getting used to the fact that the organization I work for now has a new name. This announcement follows in the path of previous moves to rebrand components of the CAF with their historic names and royal designations.

From the point of view of the MA thesis I am currently writing, on the Branch’s …. errr, Service’s (this will take some getting used to) move to pluralism in the last decade, it is interesting that this press release stresses both the traditional identity of the Chaplaincy and it’s new religious diversity as “an interfaith team that includes representation from … over twenty Christian denominations and from the Jewish and Muslim faiths”.   That’s a pleasant contrast, new wine in old bottles.


Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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