Thursday, 24 June 2010


Over the centuries military organizations have been renowned for their gripes: low pay, poor food, endless polishing, cleaning, and parading, harsh discipline, and years at sea or in distant lands without contact with families at home. Today’s military with high pay, undreamed of perks, instant communication home still finds much to gripe about. So, what do we old veterans have left to gripe about?

Well, we can feel forgotten. We RCAF, who were part of a huge Royal family that encompassed not only the Commonwealth but men and women from all occupied European countries and the United States, were thanked for our major role in settling the unpleasantries of WWII and Korea, then they retired our name, our flag, our ranks, and even much of our terminology. With high casualties we endured operations that they now call missions - a name that conjures up forcing our religion on others in far-off lands whereas we uncouth warriors used bombs instead of bibles. Our highest ranking officers wear maple leafs which they incorrectly call stars. We RCAF, along with the RCN, have been relegated to the seldom-read history books. ‘Twas ever thus. Reminds me of Danton, on his way to be guillotined, yelling at watching Robespierre who sentenced him, “You’ll be next, Robespierre!” He was right.
Having sympathized with so many having to learn English I long ago revolted at us having two languages - one we speak and one we write and too often we allow the same word to have different meanings. If we spell it Gloucestershire we should pronounce it that way, not Glostersheer. And Newfoundland should not be pronounced Noofunlan. I refuse to misuse gay and lesbian to describe homosexuals. I shy away from using “America” to describe only the United States as it implies arrogance at ignoring all the others in two continents who share the name, just as does the use of “England” when the United Kingdom is meant, thus insulting the Irish, Scots, and Welsh. And then it appears this is a highly unsanitary country. No one uses toilets. Instead they use bathrooms and restrooms. How distasteful to clean those bathtubs and sofas! There is widespread use of loos, johns, the poddy, and, in WWII Germany, Winston Churchills (His initials, WC, also stood for Water Closet). When Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet, he called it toilet. Others call it a crapper.

The misuse of history is also a gripe of mine. I enjoy a cup of tea so object to the recently formed Tea Party movement as a protest against government, misusing the Boston Tea party of 1773 which only later became an anti-British slogan. At the time it was simply a move by Sam Adams to protect his profitable dealership of smuggled Dutch tea which was threatened when an East India Company ship arrived laden with tea from Ceylon which the authorities were allowing in without the additional charge of custom duties as Ceylon was another part of the Empire. Sam got a bunch of cronies to dress as natives, board the ship, and throw the cheaper tea overboard. And then there is Hollywood with major distortions in scores of historical films from Egypt and Rome, to the Alamo and the Great Escape, far too many to enumerate here. Truth is usually stranger than fiction so why teach a gullible public false history? The Texas School Board has now joined Hollywood.

Admittedly, in a democracy, opposition and the facts of life prevent politicians from living up to their promises, but this old Arctic veteran who considers the area and the Inuit very important worries that he does not have the time to wait for contracts to be awarded for the ships, research centre, and bases promised so emphatically over three years ago.

On the other hand I should admit immense progress has been made since my first introduction to the Arctic in 1946 - and I should broadcast that governments sometimes do the right thing. A couple of examples:

In WWII Canadian pay was double UK pay so, for those of us overseas, the government withheld half our pay for a post-war nest egg. This prevented the friction that arose when US troops, with still-higher pay, arrived with full pay thus attracting the girls and forcing up prices in the pubs, leading to the UK complaint “The Yanks are overpaid, oversexed, and over here.” My RCAF pay for bombing Germany was $6.25 a day, reduced to $3.20 in the UK.

The Canadian government over the last decade has paid for 2,000 Research Chairs spread among all universities. Recently 19 of the world’s top scientists have moved to Canadian universities with sufficient funding to head up departments, select staff, and pursue their specialties. It is a tonic to see millions of dollars spent hiring scientists rather than baseball, football, basketball, or hockey stars. This brain influx is in addition to all those chairs for the likes of Stephen Hawking in the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo.

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