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Reading: General Rick Hillier, A Soldier First, Toronto, Ontario: HarperCollins Publishers, Ltd., 2009: A Review

Updated on February 2, 2016
General Rick Hillier
General Rick Hillier | Source

Heart-warming and puzzling

General Rick Hillier, A Soldier First, Toronto, Ontario: HarperCollins Publishers, Ltd., 2009


There is much in these memoirs of retired Canadian General Rick Hillier to which I warmed. These aspects must surely include his sense of pride in the identity, human qualities and achievements of the Canadian Forces. General Hillier served as Chief of the Defence Staff from 2005 until 2008.

The writer has worked hard to increase the support of Canadians for the military and their families. The value of, and energy with which he directed, his both pre- and post-retirement efforts in this direction, is a strong and positive message which comes through this book.

The various memories of the General's contacts with Canadian Prime Ministers and senior military figures of the US and other countries are inherently interesting and make the work especially readable, as does the straightforward and honest style of the book's writing. The need to treat the fallen and their families with the utmost respect is another powerful thought which runs through the book.

The anguish which he and other Canadian military people felt about what they felt was the underfunding of the Department of National Defence, and the confusing ways of bureaucracy, also make this book a powerful polemic for those who wish to use it as such: perhaps a professional soldier's equivalent to academic historian J L Granatstein's Who Killed the Canadian Military?.

The part which the Canadian Forces played in nation-building in Afghanistan, incurred the respect and trust of President Karzai and many other Afghans, is evidently a matter of emphasis and concern for General Hillier. The whole question of course relates to ongoing discussions and debates about the various rôles of the military.

There are also some aspects of the book which left me somewhat puzzled. For example, he admits at one point that a senior US military figure had told him at the beginning of the 21st century that his military colleagues had not been taking the Canadian military seriously. (Doubtless this was a wrong impression and General Hillier convincingly explains why this impression ought to have been erroneous.)

Then, in another part of the book, he tells of a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who he says was asking him questions about troop levels and deployments in Afghanistan. Oddly, General Hillier seems to boast about the four-letter (actually, six-) word that during the course of this meeting he told the US Secretary of Defense, by way of denouncing Mr Rumsfeld's perceived manner of assuming NATO responsibilities.

He then records without seeming irony that, during this incident, Mr Rumsfeld seemed unwilling to continue this military liaison meeting.

But, yes, as a Canadian citizen I can share the enormous pride and admiration for the dedication of the personnel of the Canadian Forces which he rightly felt very privileged to lead.

December 28, 2012

MJFenn is an independent writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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