Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What's wrong with passing out a strip of cloth and a hunk of metal?

Babble on.

I'm not one of those people who think soldiers should get a ribbon for tying their shoelaces properly, as the Americans do. But I've also thought for a long time now that Canada has been a bit too stingy with decorations.

This story does nothing to dispel that impression:

An employee of the Kuwaiti embassy said his country first presented the 4,097 medals [recognizing the liberation of Kuwait] to the Canadian government in 1993. When they weren’t given to veterans, Kuwait minted another set of medals and gave them to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in October 2005.

The employee, who won’t give his name, said he has no idea why the second set wasn’t distributed.

Lucie Brosseau, media officer with the Governor General’s office, said Ottawa won’t be giving the medals out in the near future. Canada has its own medal to honour Gulf War veterans.

She said that in 1991, the Gulf and Kuwait Medal was given to veterans and Canada has a policy against presenting duplicate medals from foreign countries.

I really don't understand the rationale here. What's wrong with a Canadian soldier getting a pat on the back - and that's all a medal really is - from a country he or she helped to free?

Big organizations like the military need bureaucrats to keep big processes moving. I get that. It's a necessary evil. But this sort of gratuitous bureaucratic stonewalling is uselessly demoralizing.

Babble off.


At 12:38 p.m., Blogger wonderdog said...

I can support a policy of not authorizing duplicate medals, but there's nothing to prevent them distributing the medals, but not authorizing them to be worn, either....

At 1:27 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

I can support a policy of not authorizing duplicate medals...

Dog, I've been trying to think of a good reason for that policy, and so far I've come up blank. What am I missing?

At 3:00 p.m., Blogger Kateland, aka TZH said...

I wondered about that as well. There is a long tradition of countries issuing medals or ribbons as a way to honour the valour and gallantry of an allies' forces but I cannot understand why Canada is almost downright hostile to it.

At 3:24 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Kate, in my opinion, there's no good reason to oppose a foreign award for valour or gallantry, as you so nobly put it. But this is actually a campaign medal - more of a 'been there, done that' decoration. Since we already gave all these fine men and women a Gulf War I participation medal, I can see where the Kuwaiti decoration is considered a 'duplicate'. Splitting hairs, I know.

But I still don't understand the reservation in allowing service personnel to wear duplicates.

At 1:06 a.m., Blogger Eric Johannsen said...

I just graduated from AIT (Advanced Individual Training) in the US Army and immediately had 3 ribbons, two of which were basically for the same thing.

When the Army Reserve recently raised the age limit, I decided it was a great time to serve my country. Basic training and AIT were an interesting experience for me, especially seen with the benefit of maturity (I celebrated my 39th birthday in Basic Training). I entered as a Psychological Operations Specialist, but my ultimate goal is to fly for the Army Reserve. I decided to chronicle my experiences so that others who might be interested in joining the military can get a feeling for what Basic Training and AIT are like. You can read all about it at

At 1:04 p.m., Blogger Chris McCreery said...

I see no problem with the Canadian government refusing to distribute/recognize these medals. Canadian veterans of the Gulf War already received recognition for their service from Canada, with the Gulf and Kuwait Medal, which was awarded in 1992.

Back in 1994 the Government of Kuwait was TOLD by the Canadian government that we would not be accepting these medals. Nevertheless the Kuwaiti government continued to insist that these medals be awarded, so they shipped them over to Canada; hoping that the Canadian government would relent. Thankfully our government has not given in.

In a historical sense, consider the average Second World War veteran. Those who served in Europe usually ended up with 5 medals (The 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and the 1939-45 War Medal), if we allowed every country that they liberated to award them a medal, they would end up looking like Soviet Generals (a medal each from France, Belgium, Netherlands, Lichenestein, Denmark and the list goes on and on).

Today the Canadian honours system is one of the most well rounded in the world, according recognition for a wide range of contributions, both military and civil. We should be wary of going the route of our American cousins who award medals much more liberally than in Canada or most of the Commonwealth.

Check out one of my books, The Canadian Honours System, Dundurn Press, 2005

At 2:13 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Chris, I think you're muddying the question here.

I'm not talking about having Canada award anyone anything. I'm talking about not offending our Kuwaiti friends by refusing a token of their heartfelt gratitude. I'm talking about giving out a decoration that otherwise will sit in a box in a dusty warehouse somewhere. I'm talking about taking the harmless - completely harmless - opportunity to let someone else pat our soldiers, sailors, and airmen on the back.

At the very least, our government could distribute the medals to those to whom they are intended.

The question of whether to allow CF members to wear them on the uniform is a separate one. I have no desire to see Canadians decked out with a meaningless salad bar on their chest either. But is that really a reasonable concern, or just my own traditionalist bias? What harm does it do? Because it's easy to see what good it does: morale.

Tell me, please, how it benefits our Gulf War veterans, the Canadian military, or the Canadian public to deny the recognition from a grateful Kuwait?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home