An Interview with LGen Maisonneuve
by Scott Nantes, a current RMCSJ cadet who wrote it as part of an English assignment.
Bosnia represented a new era of peacekeeping for both Canada and the international community. In the words of LGen (Ret’d) Michel Maisonneuve, “It was a peacekeeping mission in a place where there was no peace.” As the Chief of Operations for the UN mission in Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia from 1993 to 1994 he reported directly to the Force Commander. His duties included organizing and coordinating all operations of the ground by all contingents, updating the commander each day, and even negotiating with warring factions. He felt Bosnia was the first of the new peacekeeping mission. It was unlike missions before, like Cyprus, where there were two clear-cut sides, a UN Force in the middle, and a peace to keep. Bosnia was a much more complicated conflict. It was a mixture of ethnic conflict and religious conflict which was further complicated by the fact that the alliances of the different factions would change depending on where you found yourself geographically. The members carrying out this mission, like many other UN missions, faced self-doubt, frustration, indifference from the international community, and sacrifice to maintain the values that they held true.
One of the struggles faced by any officer that’s been to a combat zone is going to be questioning themselves if they made the right decisions, if they did all that they could do? The conflict in Bosnia was no exception. When this question was posed to LGen Maisonneuve he soberly replied, “Absolutely… you wonder if you made the right decision.” There was a situation in during the conflict called “The Medak Pocket” where the Croatians had broken the cease fire and moved in and had taken control of a piece of land that had previously been held by the Serbian forces. Maisonneuve had the responsibility of negotiating with the Croatians to move out and to have the UN take control. While moving in, the UN Forces were fired upon and had to fire back resulting in the death of approximately thirty Croatians. At one point in the retreat the Croatians employed a “scorched earth policy” which essentially means they were killing people and livestock, and destroying houses as they went. To try and stop this from happening one of the officers on the ground wanted to move ahead faster and Maisonneuve was faced with the decision of moving ahead to try and save the civilians while putting the mission and his troops in further jeopardy or carrying on with the mission as planned. He decided not to move faster. To this day he maintains that it was the right decision but says you can’t help but wonder if it was the right thing to do. It would appear that those difficult decisions are something that all officers are going to have to make at some point and a burden they will have to bear. “Because you’re an officer and you have to be pretty decisive, you don’t show any weakness… you show that you’re sure of your decision.” He says that after the fact sometimes you need to talk it out, maybe write it down but that it’s just one of those things that you have to learn to live with.
While Bosnia may be considered the first mission of its type it certainly would not be the last. Maisonneuve says that there were definitely lessons from Bosnia that we were able to apply to Afghanistan. An important lesson from Bosnia that Canada has employed on every mission since is, regardless of how the UN describes the mission requirements, be prepared for full fledged combat operations. Out of Bosnia, came an understanding of how to have our troops better trained and prepared. The training, he says, is much more realistic now. A lot has changed since Bosnia and a lesson from Bosnia was to ensure that your troops have good general purpose training for whatever task they may undertake. This is extremely relevant to our current mission in Afghanistan as he asserts that troops today are better trained than they’ve ever been. He adds a quote from Carl Von Clausewitz who said, “You should never meet something in battle that you haven’t trained for before the battle.” In closing his thoughts he says that there was certain sadness to Bosnia because, “There was a realization that the old peacekeeping was actually dead … now you were going to have to do peacekeeping with muscle”.
La Fin de Semaine de Réunion à CMR SJ
Le Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean a tenu sa fin de semaine des Anciens du 11 au 13 septembre. L’événement, le second depuis la réouverture du Collège en mai 2008 fut un énorme succès. L’horaire très chargée du weekend consistait en une soirée rencontre le vendredi au Vieux Mess; l’assemblée générale annuelle le samedi matin; des compétitions sportives élof contre Anciens l’après-midi, suivies de la présentation des trophées au nouveau mess des élofs – le Saint-Maurice; du dîner dansant le samedi soir; et finalement d’une visite guidée du beau musée du Fort Saint-Jean et des environs suivis d’un lunch au pavillon Dextraze le dimanche matin.
Nous avons mis tous les détails, et beaucoup de photos sur notre site web. Pour arriver là, visitez www.rmcclub.ca, choisissez anglais ou français, et cliquez sur le bouton pour « Réunion à St-Jean »
Merci encore à tous les anciens (nes) qui sont venus, à l’équipe qui a travaillée assez fort, et au Commandant du CMR SJ qui nous a accueillis au collège!
Reunion Weekend at RMC SJ
What a weekend! The ex-Cadets gathered at the Vieux Mess to start the festivities with a Happy Hour / Meet and Greet on Friday and continued the celebration through the Annual General Meeting Saturday morning; sports competitions against the Officer Cadets, a dinner dance and finally a tour of our beloved Fort St Jean Museum and lunch at the Dextraze Pavillion on Sunday morning.
We have posted all the details along with lots of photos on our website. To check it out, go to www.rmcclub.ca, choose french or english, and click on the blue button marked St-Jean Reunion.
Thanks again to all the ex-Cadets who came home for the weekend, the team that worked so hard to make the reunion a success and to the Commandant who welcomed us all back to RMC SJ!