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Home arrow Religion arrow Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces


-1980: Becoming a Modern Bureaucratic Force

During the years following the Second World War, despite the continuing threat posed by the Soviet Union, and after the Korean War (1950-1953), Canadian and other NATO forces adapted to a new, mostly peaceful, environment which itself posed different types of challenges and dangers. Reforms that would eventually result in the so-called 'postmodern military,' a concept I will examine more fully later in this chapter, began to take shape during this period. During this time, chaplains continued to provide spiritual services to soldiers, sailors, and air force personnel on bases, in operations during conflict, and on peacekeeping missions and later combat operations around the world (Fowler 1996, 72, 147).

New Alliances, New Obligations

Until the end of the war years, the vast majority of soldiers were young single men who lived in barracks on base (Bercuson 1996, 61-2). As service personnel returned from Europe and adjusted to family life, for the first time 'military bases began to fill up with young wives and children' (DND 2003b, 1.3). Although cost-saving efforts after the war meant a significant reduction in the number of personnel, including chaplains, some clergy were retained for the new role of caring for families on the bases (DND 2003b, 1.3-1.4; Morton 1990, 227-9). In fact, during this period the chaplains' primary job was finding adequate housing for young married couples and families! This interval marked the beginning of the base as a thriving community incorporating living quarters, schools, and grocery stores, and places of worship in the form of temporary structures sometimes shared by Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations (DND 2003b, 1.3). Unlike during the war years, chaplains during this period added family and marriage counselling to their list of formal duties. At the same time, the Roman Catholic priests were formed into a Roman Catholic Military Vicariate under the direction of a senior priest reporting to the local bishop (1.3). Since the Department of Defence paid for the construction of military chapels, military congregations were free to maintain their link to civilian charity, social service, and missionary efforts by directing their Sunday offerings to local and foreign projects, a tradition still in place today (1.3).

In the context of the Cold War as well as American military activities in Indochina, Europe, and Cuba, Canadians reformed the military services on a more American model and created a stronger alliance with the United States (Granatstein 1993, 134; Milner 1999, 168-71; Morton 1990, 229-30).6 By 1949, Canadians and Americans had joined forces with 10 other European countries to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) based 'on the common belief of the North Atlantic union in the values and virtues of Christian civilization' (Morton 1990, 233) and, of course, to keep an eye on communist forces (Mahoney 1997). The invasion of South Korea by North Korean communists raised concerns that the USSR might attack Europe while allied forces were distracted in Asia. As a result, Canada posted troops and their chaplains on bases across Europe in fulfilment of NATO commitments (English 2004, 89; Morton 1990, 232-3).7 Elsewhere in the CF, cost-cutting measures meant that roles previously exclusive to military personnel, such as engineering jobs, were outsourced to civilian organizations. Moreover, given the controversies over mandatory service and conscription during the Second World War, Canada began to rely on all-voluntary armed forces participation in times of conflict such as the Korean War (Booth, Kestnbaum, and Segal 2001).

Throughout the 1950s, Canada continued to contribute to NATO projects by supervising truce agreements around the world. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson formalized this role in 1956 by establishing the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF I) that halted the Suez Canal Crisis and gave birth to modern-day peacekeeping (English 2003, 2; Holmes 1979; Morton 1990, 241-2). The growing threat of nuclear attack and the need to defend North American borders resulted in even closer ties to the United States through the signing of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in 1958 (Morton 1990, 242).8 Despite UN and NATO commitments during the Cold War, Canadians continued to see military spending as a drain on Canadian resources, and military budgets diminished significantly throughout the 1960s (Pinch 1999, 163). Following three years in Korea, and in response to the American employment of conscription to fight the war in Vietnam, Canadians vehemently opposed both mandatory service and unnecessary involvement in other countries' battles (Morton 1990, 238), although they were in favour of peacekeeping initiatives (Taylor, Cox, and Granatstein 1968). 9 Throughout this difficult era, Canadian chaplains, in numbers reduced from the war years, continued to serve with enlisted personnel during the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, on peacekeeping missions worldwide, and, for the first time, in base chapels and in chapel spaces on ships at sea (Fowler 1996, 61; Howie 2006, 72, 147; United Nations Association in Canada 2007).10

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