The military’s unwinnable fight

Enforcing the Canadian military’s blanket ban on soldiers engaging in intimate relationships in a war zone is an unwinnable fight against human nature, some experts say.

TORONTO — Enforcing the Canadian military’s blanket ban on soldiers engaging in intimate relationships in a war zone is an unwinnable fight against human nature, some experts say.

Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, Canada’s top commander in Afghanistan, was relieved of his duty in a very public flogging last week and sent home along with a female soldier for an “inappropriate” relationship.

The military said the relationship — details of which have yet to emerge — defied the strict prohibition on fraternization in the Afghan war zone.

Sue McGarvie, a clinical sex therapist who has counselled dozens of soldiers at her practice down the road from Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, said the need for close relationships is programmed by 100 million years of human evolution.

“(Soldiers) are in an incredibly difficult situation and looking for comfort, and we are expecting them to be automatons,” McGarvie said of soldiers in Afghanistan. “You cannot fight it: You put adults together in any situation and you’re going to have sex and intimacy.”

While some defence experts and even soldiers say the fraternization rule is needed to uphold discipline, McGarvie said she was horrified at the ramifications.

“You’re losing your career because you’re falling in love?” she said. “What a horrible thing for that to be.”

Even retired colonel Michel Drapeau, now a law professor in Ottawa, called for “common sense,” arguing soldiers are not robots.

One officer, who has worked closely with the highest-ranked commanders in Afghanistan, said he supported the relationship ban.

The bigger problem, he said, was that some commanders — picked because they’re tough and daring in situations where lives are constantly at risk — develop a “god” complex.

“If you’re dealing with Taliban and taking casualties, you’re not the normal type of guy — it takes a special personality to be like that and to manage that,” the officer said, speaking on condition he not be named.

“The dark side of that comes with demons, whether it’s booze (or) sex. These guys have to find a way to get their stress out.”

Despite the strict military discipline, Canadian Forces does encourage soldiers in the field to think for themselves. That’s a source of pride for many in the rank and file. However, underlings are also forged as links in a rigid chain of command in which the guy in charge wields enormous power.

Saul Miller, a performance psychologist who has worked with many elite athletes and sports teams, said men of stature can fall prey to an inflated sense of self-importance.

It’s a toxic mix when coupled with the “very powerful” sex drive, he said.

“Some men of position and power — like some generals and some commanders, and some NBA and NFL superstars who are paid tens of millions of dollars — think they’re special and they have licence to cross moral lines,” Miller said from Vancouver.

“Unfortunately, their belief is reinforced by the fawning and adulation of many people.”

Canada’s ban on relationships is perhaps the strictest among the various countries fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Even the United States military has begun easing its attitude toward personal relationships.

McGarvie said the military should not judge Menard or other soldiers by the consensual relationships they pursue, but by their job performance alone.

Instead, she said, defence brass cultivate a culture of perfection that precludes a willingness to admit to human feelings and failings.

“They come back having picked up body parts and having nightmares (but) they don’t feel safe enough to go (for help) within the system,” she said.

“If you try to deny basic needs, it always bites you on the ass.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer County's municipal planning commission gave approval for a new directional sign for a business located near Elnora.
(Image from Red Deer County)
Red Deer County garden centre and winery gets sign approved

Delidais Estate Winery and DA Gardens is located near Elnora

(Advocate file photo)
Red Deer County approves home-based hair salon

Salon would be located in rural residential area just west of Innisfail

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd on May 1 and 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Mom's Diner's Facebook page)
‘No More Lockdowns’ rodeo rally organizers charged under Public Health Act

RCMP issued a notice to appear in court for the organizers of… Continue reading

Red Deer city council has no immediate plans to discuss increasing penalties for non-compliance with the municipal mask-wearing bylaw. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Red Deer not following Calgary’s example to hike penalties for COVID-19 rule-breakers

Mayor says an update on complaince complaints will soon be provided

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Alberta says it won’t give out more first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the time being.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta to stop giving first doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot as supply dwindles

OTTAWA — Alberta says it won’t give out more first doses of… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Here is a list of latest COVID-19 restrictions in effect in Alberta

New mandatory health restrictions are now in effect in Alberta. Additional restrictions… Continue reading

Heidi Illingworth, federal ombudsman for victims of crime, takes part in an interview at her office in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Watchdog worries federal benefit for parents of missing, murdered kids going unused

OTTAWA — The federal ombudsman for victims of crime says she remains… Continue reading

Labour Minister Harry Bains arrives at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, June 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
British Columbia to give workers three days of paid sick leave for COVID-19

VICTORIA — British Columbia will give all workers up to three days… Continue reading

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Coalition says users were shut out of drug decriminalization proposal, demands redo

Advocates are calling on the federal government and the City of Vancouver… Continue reading

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe waits in line at a COVID-19 vaccination drive-thru clinic at Evraz Place in Regina on Thursday, April 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor
Other provinces looking at Saskatchewan’s plan to tie COVID-19 vaccines to reopening

CALGARY — Neighbouring provinces are eyeing Saskatchewan’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions… Continue reading

This undated photo provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows a group of bighorn sheep in North Dakota. Alberta’s environment department has known for years that toxins from old coal mines are contaminating populations of the province’s official animal, the bighorn sheep. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Bihrle/North Dakota Game and Fish Department via AP, File
Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium: scientist

EDMONTON — Alberta’s environment department has known for years that toxins from… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference at Rideau cottage in Ottawa, on Friday, March 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Trudeau rejects Alberta cabinet minister accusation he wants COVID health disaster

EDMONTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rejecting an accusation from Alberta’s… Continue reading

In this June 8, 2017, file photo, fresh nuts, bolts and fittings are ready to be added to the east leg of the pipeline near St. Ignace, Mich., as Enbridge prepares to test the east and west sides of the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac in Mackinaw City, Mich. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Dale G Young/Detroit News via AP, File
On eve of deadline, Canada makes case in court to keep Line 5 pipeline running

WASHINGTON — The federal government is stepping up its fight with Michigan… Continue reading

Denis Shapovalov, of Canada, tosses the ball for a serve to Ilya Ivashka, of Belarus, during the Miami Open tennis tournament Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
Canadian Denis Shapovalov books spot in second round of Italian Open

Shapovalov to face world Stefano Travaglia, of Italy

Most Read