Futile controversy around new KofC uniform

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My father made his entry in the ranks of the Fourth Degree of the Knights of Columbus in 1978.

Earlier this month, the board of directors of the Knights of Columbus voted for a radical and welcome change to the uniform of the Fourth Degree (the patriotic degree of the Order).

As a member of the Knights of Columbus and its Fourth Degree in his forties, let me tell you why I applaud this long-overdue decision, which is notably based on:

“[…] consistent reports that the old regalia presented a barrier to Fourth Degree membership, especially among younger men.”

I’m one of those people who felt uncomfortable – and let’s admit it – very unhappy with the old regalia. I use the word “old” on purpose.

Historically, Knights of the Patriotic Degree wore their regalia with great pride and purpose. I will always remember with great joy those occasions when my father got ready to dress up with his cape, his beautiful hat and his sword. Ah, the sword, that’s what made us all Catholic boys dream of becoming members of the Fourth Degree when we got older.

But you see, times change. And people too. I became a proud member of the Third Degree right after I turned 18. I got involved, walking in the footsteps of my father. But I always felt itchy about taking the next step. Dressing up like my father no longer appealed to me, because I found it too folkloric and not very humble. How many parish priests did I hear complain the color guard was just too much? How many Brothers of the Third Degree felt uncomfortable to the point of not joining? I know, because I was one of those.

Make no mistake. I have absolutely nothing against history and traditions. As a historian and military buff, I’d be the last guy on the surface of the planet to criticize any form of belonging reflected in uniforms, regalia, medals, etc. The same understanding makes me observe that, over time, uniforms and outfits have changed in different organisations. For example, the British soldiers are no longer dressed as they were during the Seven Years War or the Napoleonic period. The infantrymen of the Civil War era certainly would not recognize the current uniforms of the US servicemen and servicewomen. The same applies to Canadian soldiers, who abandoned the soup bowl looking helmet since World War II.

Of course, there are some who run to the barricades to condemn that change and threaten to quit the ranks. That’s very unfortunate. I don’t need a colourful uniform to show my patriotism. What I need is to be proud, vigorous and consequent with my beliefs. In a true spirit of humility and service. In other words, I don’t need to be dressed like my father was to be committed to the Church, my fellowmen and my country. Such is the true sense of being a member of the Fourth Degree.

Besides, don’t you think that a beret conveys more patriotism than an old fashioned chapeau?

Forgive me saying so in a blunt way, but if you want to quit the ranks because you are unhappy with a decision taken by the chain of command, you might reflect on why is it you joined first?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but nobody changed the basic principles of the Patriotic Degree. They just said “OK, guys, now’s the time to think about the future and the best ways to engage the new generations.”

That’s why I’m comfortable pursuing my involvement in a changing world while always being animated by the same core values. The values my father taught me, those I’m teaching my sons.

Over time, the vast majority of members will salute the visionary leadership of the board of directors’ decision.

Give it time. Blessings are often disguised as wrong turns.

Commemorating the Victory of 1967

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King and Country figurines IDF006 (Radio Operator), IDF001 (General Moshe Dayan) and IDF004 (Officer w/UZI) pictured on a flag of Israel.

Some time ago, I was thrilled to learn that King and Country was about to release the very first IDF (Israel Defense Forces) figurines of its fantastic collection, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War in June 1967.

To quote from the text accompanying this collection:

“This dramatic new postwar military series of figures and fighting vehicles will tell, in miniature, just why Israel had to do what it did and how with a relatively small regular and part-time army it fought and defeated some of its most numerous, best equipped and belligerent neighbors.”

That says it all and I’m very happy that King & Country has decided to honour the sacrifice of these men and women at a time of great peril for their homeland – the State of Israel.

At the same time, we have to be lucid enough to recognize all the courage it took for this company to make such a bold decision and go forward. In a world where Israel’s enemies are always prone to deny it any quality and even its basic right to exist, it’s imperative to salute those who are not afraid to row against the current. The brave men and women who serve Israel in its armed forces deserve it. Fully.

Who was responsible for the Kippur War?

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Ariel Sharon (in the middle) and Moshe Dayan (on the right) during the Kippur War.

I have always been interested in the origins, the conduct and the military actors who participated in the 1973 Kippur War, which was launched against Israel by Egypt and Syria.

I was therefore very pleased to find this recent article written by David Tal and published in the pages of Middle Eastern Studies recently.

According to Professor Tal, the responsibility of the Kippur War lies at Egyptian president Anwar Sadat doorstep.

Contrary to the school of thought supporting the assumption that “[…] the 1973 October war could have been avoided if Israel had responded positively to Sadat’s peace offers during 1971-1973”, David Tal goes in detail to demonstrate that Egypt did everything to arrive at a settlement through the battlefield, advancing proposals that were unacceptable to Israel and refusing to move an inch on its demands.

But why was that?

“[…] Sadat was offended by the Egyptian military defeat in 1967”, Egypt’s pride was damaged by this outcome and the only way to repair the situation would be either through “[…] regaining the territories without having to negotiate with Israel, or by going to war.”

Sadat’s war aims were nevertheless very modest. A symbolic gain of territory would permit Egypt to proclaim a victory and wash its humiliation.

Everyone knows that Israel won the war, but less known is the fact that the terms accepted by Sadat within the Camp David Agreement framework were those espoused by Israel before the October war and rejected by the Egyptian president.

This war of choice solely happened for Sadat to claim a symbolic victory allowing him to don the mantle of peacemaker few years later.

For anyone interested in the contemporary history of the Middle East and Israel, David Tal’s work is great food for thought.

At the going of the sun, we will remember them

cenotapheThe days leading to Remembrance Day are always a privileged moment to think about the sacrifice of these men and women who, throughout the ages, have sacrificed so much for our societies and our world. Remembrance should not occur exclusively in the morning of November 11th. It should be a daily exercice. That’s why I was so happy to take a picture of this King & Country figure, FW162 “The Last Goodbye”, last night in front of the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Ontario.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

Towards a closer Turkish-Israeli military collaboration?

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Israeli M60 tank

Defense News informed its readers yesterday that Turkish officials are considering the options about the upgrade of “hundreds of German-made Leopard 2 and U.S.-made M60 main battle tanks.

Of particular interest in these news is the fact that the M60’s upgrade would be realized using Israeli expertise, marking “the first Turkish-Israeli defense deal after the two former allies froze their diplomatic ties in 2010 but agreed on détente recently.” But it would not be a first, since a previous upgrade realized by Israeli Military Industries occurred in the 1990s.

Those who follow military affairs and the Middle East will also remember that, last April, a Turkish M60T tank – “[…] a version of the US-made tank upgraded by Israeli Military Industries (IMI)” – survived an anti-tank attack launched by soldiers of the Islamic State using a 9K129 Kornet ATGW.

It goes without saying that Ankara’s decision to use Israeli military expertise in its upgrading of the Armed forces is not only savvy to contribute to a better political climate in the region but also wise in terms of providing its troops with the best possible equipment.

The Resilience of the Red Army Soldier

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King & Country Red Army “Attack” set (RA073)

I’m always happy when The Journal of Slavic Military Studies releases a new issue. Since 80% of the Wehrmacht losses occurred on the Eastern Front, I’ve always thought it is primordial to be interested in that vital aspect of World War 2.

The current issue of the JSMS features a very interesting article by Valerii Nikolaevich Zamulin about the difficulties related to the supply services before the battle of Kursk.

Since the soldier of the Red Army was the one who carried the burden of fighting the Germans, it is astonishing to read about those: “[…] tens of thousands of men each day who were under the stress of moral danger were unable to receive the most basic needs – a clean uniform and a decent meal.”

We can also refer to those commanders who “[…] bullied and mistreated subordinates, who were daily shoveling dozens of cubic meters of earth, erecting defensive lines, while being half-starved, unwashed for several weeks, and drenched in sweat in winter tunics and trousers.”

Wasn’t it Napoleon who declared that: “An army marches on its stomach”? Under those circumstances, the soldiers of the Red Army had a tall order.

General Nikolai Vatutin – commander-in-chief of the Voronezh front – had to find a solution to this situation and to other challenges, like lack of transport and replacement issues, encountered by the Red Army in that sector before the battle.

Against all odds, Vatutin succeeded.

Along with his subordinates, “[…] they managed to organize the system of rear services on an acceptable level”, they “[…] expanded the infrastructure of the territory where the Voronezh Front’s armies deployed and practically from scratch managed to create a logistics system that supplied the troops with everything necessary” and they ensured that “[…] all of the rifle divisions and the artillery and tank unites were not simply replenished but essentially brought back to table strength […].”

Under heavy duress, the Red Army soldier was therefore given the tools to fight with gallantry against his enemies.

Zamulin’s article is truly fascinating and deserves to be read by any student of the Eastern Front and the Red Army.

 

 

How Foch became the Victor of 1918

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Marshal Ferdinand Foch

One of the things I love the most as a military history enthusiast is to read articles published in the British Journal of Military History.

In its last issue, the Journal featured a fascinating article about Ferdinand Foch – the unsung hero of the First World War – by Australian historian and author Elizabeth Greenhalgh.

She writes that, in 1916, on the occasion of the Battle of the Somme, “Foch learned much about alliance warfare and worked hard to build a relationship with [Field Marshal Douglas] Haig that benefited him as Generalissimo in 1918.” Without question, that year was a difficult one for the French General. He was overruled by Joffre in his choice of the sector where he would intervene, he knew he did not possess the required resources to achieve success and the Battle of Verdun reduced the role of the French army on the Somme. To cap it all, he was sacked from his command of the Northern Army in the middle of the month of December. Things could hardly get worse. But what could have been the end of the road for many was a learning curve for the future Marshal. The success of 1918 was forged in the difficult moments of 1916.

In sum, a fascinating article that you can’t miss if you’re interested in military history or World War I.

And since the whole content of the Journal is free, you have no reason to miss it.