Feud between top soldiers centrepiece of memoir

Paul Gessell, Canwest News Service

Published: Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two of Canada's best-known soldiers, retired generals Lewis MacKenzie and Romeo Dallaire, have been battling each other behind the scenes for the past 11 years.

The fight has now become public because of a newly published memoir by MacKenzie called Soldiers Made Me Look Good.

The fight is over leadership priorities. According to the book, Dallaire believes a general must always put his mission first, his soldiers second and himself third. MacKenzie largely agrees, except he says there are rare situations when the soldiers must take priority over the mission.

Specifically, MacKenzie argues, Dallaire, now a Liberal senator, should not have insisted on putting his United Nations peacekeeping mission first while serving in Rwanda when the country exploded in violence April 6, 1994. Ten Belgian peacekeepers under Dallaire's command were massacred as the bloodbath began. Had Dallaire ignored his peacekeeping mandate and taken up arms to save the Belgians, their lives might have been saved, according to MacKenzie.

"I will go to my grave arguing that there are times -- important times, albeit rare -- when a commander's responsibility for his or her soldiers comes before the mission," MacKenzie writes. "The trick is to recognize the times. Senator Dallaire, who has filled his life with good works both during his military service and since his retirement from the military, offers dangerously bad advice on this aspect of leadership when he argues the contrary."

MacKenzie says he felt compelled to write about the Rwandan controversy in his book because of actions taken by Dallaire since Rwanda. In 1997, Dallaire was invited to the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College in Toronto to address students, mainly senior majors destined for promotion, on the issue of leadership.

During the presentation, Dallaire emphasized his belief that the mission must always come first, according to MacKenzie's book. MacKenzie had addressed the same audience a few weeks earlier and emphasized his different view.

"The disagreement between Dallaire and me regarding priorities was obviously confusing for aspiring senior leaders in the Canadian Forces," MacKenzie writes in his book.

Dallaire was still in the military at the time, with the rank of lieutenant-general. MacKenzie had been retired for four years, his last rank being major-general and, in an attempt to put a halt to the growing controversy, he met with the then chief of defence staff, Maurice Baril, to suggest both of the generals stop lecturing students on leadership. Baril disagreed.

"He viewed it as a healthy disagreement for future colonels and generals to hear."

This "healthy disagreement" has been quietly debated in military circles for the past decade. Finally, MacKenzie decided to go public.

"I spent more time crafting the Dallaire chapter than all the rest of the book put together."

Soldiers Made Me Look Good hopscotches around MacKenzie's life, dealing with many issues, including his childhood, his early days as a soldier, his brief, unsuccessful career in federal politics as a Conservative candidate in 1997, and his star turn as a UN commander in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

Soldiers is MacKenzie's second memoir. The first, Peacekeeper: The Road to Sarajevo, was published in 1993.

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