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Diplomacy Doesn’t Have a Rank

Heroes Remember

Diplomacy Doesn’t Have a Rank

Diplomacy, I guess, doesn’t necessarily have a rank. I mean, if your in a foreign country, we used our soldiers as diplomats in Korea when we built schools for them. I’ve seen it applied by battalions, the VanDoos in Haiti three times because I was their honorary colonel then and I would travel to Haiti to visit them and often pin their medals on their chest because they had done ninety days or something. And I would go out with one of their patrols near Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince then I would go into the hills and I would see Canadian soldiers working at a small building. I said, “Well, lets go in and see what they do.” And I meet a Sergeant Dumont or something that’s organizing a school. He’s building a school. He and his guys on a bit of spare time have gone to a local village and say, “You know, I notice your children are not going to school anywhere. So we’ll help you build one.” So they would do that. Well that’s diplomacy. That’s a diplomat! And you don’t have to have an official appointment to do that and, in fact, because of their approach, which is trying to all the time gain the respect of the people that you’re there assumably to protect but also in certain cases to stop from hurting the other one, you interposition yourself to try the classical ‘peace making’ if you want. That forces you in to that kind of position. I think Canadians are particularly good at that. We pay the price sometimes because we travel in lighter vehicles. So if you have a mine, you know, it’s easier to get killed in a jeep-sized vehicle but on the other hand if you’re in a big armoured vehicle, you don’t talk to the kids. You don’t talk to anybody. You’re just a great big strength moving around. And you may be intimidating but your not making friends with them You’re not gaining support of the population. So somewhere in there, there’s got to be a balance between the two. You need your own security, you need to be protected because of the kind of tactics that some, you know, insurgent’s, for instance, are using now in places like Afghanistan and Iraq but at the same time you must also realize that you lose out on the side of trying to be able to help people. And I think that the Canadians are particularly good at that latter part at every level; CO’s... We’re approachable. Not scratching ourselves on the back. I think it’s a statement of truth. We’re an approachable people. Most people react to this more positively than they would to just great big guns flailing around all the time. But you won’t stop the insurgent’s that way necessarily, but you gotta be prepared to do both. That’s why today they’re talking about developing more and more the drills or the doctrines - what we called the three block war. Well, three block war means that within a few blocks in the city you can have some people doing some humanitarian working and have people fighting for their own survival, you know, and the other ones are doing something else, you know, they’re preventing somebody from coming in so you just . . . we’ve always done that to a certain extent. We didn’t have a term for it. We didn’t call it the three block war but in the early days of Cyprus or in ‘74 it was very much the same sort of things we did. And, in fact, after the cease fire in Korea it was the same sort of things. We built schools, our medics would go to their villages in Cyprus, we’d do medical inspection of their facilities, we’d test their waters and things like this. We’d do all that. And, but we didn’t have a name for it. We just thought, “Well, that’s just what a soldier does when he doesn’t need his rifle.”

Mr. Belzile discusses the Canadian military’s predisposition towards diplomatic solutions.

Charles Belzile

Lt.-Gen. Charles Belzile was born in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec, on March 12, 1933. As a youth, he was exposed to the armed forces as troop trains passed by his home during the Second World War. He joined the reserves, then the regular force with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in 1951. In 35 years of service, Lt.-Gen. Belzile has served in Korea, Germany, Cyprus and Canada. His appointments have included regimental duties with the Queen’s Own Rifles, Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion Royal 22e Régiment, Commander 4th Canadian Mechanized Group and Canadian Forces Europe in Germany. Since retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces, he has held numerous posts as a consultant and honorary chair. Mr. Belzile Chaired the VAC 60th Anniversary Committee on VE-Day commemorations and was Grand President of the Royal Canadian Legion. International honours include Commander of the Legion of Honour of France and recipient of the Vimy Award.

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Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Charles Belzile
War, Conflict or Mission:
Canadian Armed Forces
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
Lieutenant General

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