Pettigrew: the military shouldn’t train on campus

The argument against a Canadian Officers Training Corps

Last week, another prominent Canadian restated the proposal that Canada should bring back The Canadian Officers Training Corps, a campus-based program that was discontinued in 1968, but championed in a recent film by Robert Roy.

Lee Windsor, Deputy Director of the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick, supports a program whereby undergraduates register as cadets and get military training on campus while pursuing their studies, after which they may or may not choose to sign up in the reserves or the regular forces.

The new proposal has been widely reported, but not widely endorsed. We should keep it that way.

Though military booster Alain Pellerin claims the project wouldn’t cost a lot of money, the truth of that depends on what exactly the program would entail, and what your idea of a lot is.

Would cadets be paid for their time? Would they get tuition waivers? Certainly there are the costs to administer and advertise the program. Of course, the government could find the money for it, but wouldn’t that money be better spent on facilities, on teaching, or reducing fees for everyone?

Besides, the existing Regular Officer Training Plan allows students interested in a military career to attend university as they prepare for their subsequent military service.

But the point of a revived COTC would not be train undergraduates to be officers per se, but to give them some military experience and teach them the values that come along with military training.

And that is the real problem I have with this idea.

Military training builds discipline, fitness, and teamwork. But so does, say, dance, and there is no call for a national dance program. Before you object that dance is trivial compared to the military, ask yourself this: would you rather live in a world where no one danced, or a world where no one fought wars?

Of course, military service, when performed with honour and dignity, is, at this moment in history, something to be proud of. But we should not fall into the easy, self-congratulatory patriotism that equates all things military with all things good. Service in uniform is a worthy mode of service, but it is not synonymous with “the idea of service itself” as Windsor has it.

We need military officers. For now. But we should not let that practical reality blind us to the fact that if we are looking in the very long term, we ought to be working towards a world where we have no need of armies or commanders to lead them. Presuming that military training is an unambiguous benefit for any student is not a good place to start.

Todd Pettigrew is Associate Professor English at Cape Breton University.