Australia – Naval Paradise?

Brian Bertosa, 27 April 2021

I’ve just read an article published in The Forge, an Australian defence department journal. It’s entitled “JPME with a Purpose: Breaking through the Mythology.” It was written by a former Canadian naval officer, now a member of the Royal Australian Navy. It’s rather critical of the RCN, to say the least.

I am particularly struck by the writer's seeming lack of awareness that your publication even exists, when he refers to a "lack of think-tanks or institutions in Canada focused on educating the population on naval matters, exploring new ideas, and holding governments to account."

If you have not seen the article, then allow me to mention that it seems to be little more than another example of a mid-to-late-career member of the Canadian Forces who moves to the seeming "military person's paradise" of Australia. Fine, I get that—it's nice and warm there. But it's the first time I've seen our country's "dirty laundry" aired so thoroughly in an Australian publication. My advice to people in that situation: taisez-vous. Just because a former member can criticize the RCN, doesn't mean that he/she should.

Although the writer makes some good points, the paper is dominated by a supreme irony. He bemoans the fact that JPME in the CF was uncritical with respect to the failings of the RCN. In contrast, he lauds the critical spirit that he sees in Australian JPME, and in organizations such as the Australian Naval Institute. But at just those points in his own essay where a bit of balance could be provided—for example, the fact that an entire book has been written about the problems of the Collins-class submarines—he does not do so. Could this be because he feels constrained in what he can write, given that he is now an officer in the RAN?

I suspect that, as a mature adult with the rank of Commander, Mr. MacDonald has now, possibly through that very Australian JPME that he so fulsomely praises, been forced to recalibrate his focus from the specialist to the generalist—maybe for the very first time—and it has really opened his eyes. In so doing, he unfavourably contrasts it with the training he received as an acting subbie when he was a young man in his early 20s. He may have no idea what Canadian JPME, appropriate to a Commander, would have looked like had he stayed in the CF and received it now. For all he knows, it may be asking "uncomfortable questions" too.

Furthermore, he may also be unaware of what kind of training the RAN is giving to its entry-level officers—it may be just as simplified and mythic as what he received here. I very much doubt that they're asking their new officers to think grand strategy, or to dive deep (pardon the punning) in naval history. How many 20-year-olds care about that kind of thing, particularly when they've got so much else on their plates?

He appears to be comparing the training that he now, as a senior officer, thinks he should have received in Canada, with the training the CF was willing to impart to a bunch of twenty-year-olds, and I don't think the comparison is fair. A fair comparison would be mid/late-career JPME in Australia with mid/late-career JPME in Canada. (Similarly, comparing new officer JPME in Canada and Australia would be fair.)

PS: And how is it that unification, of all things, seems to always end up in papers like this? The new uniforms came out something like fifteen years before he even joined.

The article can be found at: https://theforge.defence.gov.au/publications/jpme-purpose-breaking-through-mythology

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