Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation’

Dear friends. I have been watching the media traffic on the Mali mission with interest and offer a few reflections. I served in the military for 33 years retiring in 2001 before 911. In my time we were either peacekeepers or cold warriors serving in Europe. The forty years or so of peacekeeping missions saw about 113 killed. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was a period of somewhat ill-fated missions, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia. Then in 2001, we became war fighters, and the military marginalized peace keeping, essentially getting rid of the Pearson Peacekeeping Center. Well, within a decade, and Afghanistan. Libya and Iraq later, we saw 156 killed, more than that in suicides, thousands wounded or with PTSD, and responsible for civilian fatalities and causalities, unintended but 100% foreseeable.

Now with a new government we are tentatively exploring peacekeeping again, almost from the perspective of little experience, and not much evidence of understanding of UN multidimensional peacekeeping under civilian control. So, over cautious and hesitant, and with seeming resistance from the war culture generation of officers, the military continues to budget for heavy warfighting capabilities and the government in turn delays funding and procurement.    Peacekeeping is almost viewed as a nuisance, or an attentive military would already have permanently rerolled, reequipped, and trained a brigade or two, and assigned dedicated air support, for peace operations, and the money would be flowing. In addition, government departments such as GAC should be well on their way to establishing some type of non-DND federal institution for peace and peace operations.

So here we are heading for Mali, and without a new military generation, or a change in mentality in DND officer-ship from war to peace operations. We are entering a conflict where there is a significant risk of being sucked into anti terrorist or anti insurgency operations, and the killing and casualties will begin again. When something happens, watch how fast the warriors take over if we are not careful.

We will not end wars but can respond to them with humanity. Certainly, there will be causalities, there have always been causalities. The military trains for war zones, civilians do not.   Civilians deserve better.

So in principle, seeking to contribute to peace or the relief of suffering in Mali or any conflict zone, is something Canada should be doing in my view. Hopefully we will learn our way from this start. The question is how and with what sense of humanity. Peace professionals have the characteristics of presence in the conflict, of impartiality, talking to all sides, of uncompromising values for human rights, and with non-violent communication and mediation skills. This is what Canada should be in conflict zones.

Good luck to us.  In peace


Perhaps it is time for a review and update of Canada’s role in nuclear weapons elimination.  It may be time to have a debate of such as:

A Canadian Declaration on the Control, Verification and Eventual Elimination of Nuclear weapons

Preamble.   The IPNDV consultation represents an opportunity for Canada to continue to deliver its government mandated “pivot to peace operations’ in regards to international peace and stability, specifically in the area of nuclear weapons control.

However, getting rid of all nuclear weapons does not un-invent the technology or the knowledge for reconstitution of a nuclear threat. Certainly getting rid of existing nuclear weapons is a necessary step but may be impractical in the near term. An overriding need is a new global ethic regarding nuclear weapons to deal with this reality.

This ethic must certainly deal with the treaties, prohibitions, control and verification regimes, safeguards and global pressure, but in parallel, we have to deal with the nature of conflict, the evolution of national and global identities, the responsible use of power, and the mimetic structures that pass on cultures and values of hate, violence, or conflict from generation to generation. Structures that often fuelled by poverty, corruption or extremist politics. We must transcend our identities, live beyond national interest, beyond differences, to the level of global citizen, to that of human being. We are one family.   We must change the language of conflict from “war and enemies and anger”, to a language of “peacemaking, humanitarian operations, reconciliation, of stopping violence and relieving suffering”.

We need to acknowledge the truth that under no interpretations of the laws of armed conflict is the use of nuclear weapons either legal or acceptable in any way.

We also need to consider a new global ethic regarding responses to conflict in the global community to reduce, such as the usage risk of nuclear weapons. We need to codify and consolidate a body of law and convention obligating robust peace operations as a precursor to military intervention, and make military intervention a truly last resort. We need to fund and resource such a capacity.

Whereas, we believe that nuclear weapons are unusable within the laws of armed conflict.

Whereas, we believe that the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons defines the best of human existence for all mankind.

Whereas, in the interim, we believe in the strongest verification regime possible for all nuclear weapons states.

It is therefore recommended that Canada formally adopts a principle of non indifference regarding nuclear weapons. Canada cannot remain indifferent to the threat that nuclear weapons represents to mankind.   Canada should not refuse to do what Canada can do.

  • Canada support and seek leadership of UN forums working towards the verification and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • Canada lead a “renewal initiative” for nuclear weapons treaty verification, adherence and enforcement strengthening to all existing treaties and conventions regarding nuclear weapons, such as involving the NPT.
  • Canada leads a “renewal initiative” involving the development of relational meta environment approaches to address state security needs for nuclear weapons and to build integrity for the primacy of peaceful human values and global human security.
  • Canada create institutions capable of peace operations what can support field verification operations, ideally within a department of peace.
  • Canada lead an initiative to codify “laws for peace operations” in pre, during and post conflict phases, as a strict precursor to invoking “laws of armed conflict” and military intervention.
  • Canada may also consider mandating DND to develop training and expertise, and create deployable units to support verification requirements.
  • Canada consider declaring itself a nuclear weapons free zone.
  • Canada endorse and recognize cities joining Mayors for Peace (Mayors for Peace is a network of over 5500 cities.  The organization was founded in 1991 by the then Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It calls upon cities to stand together for nuclear abolition and world peace. The leadership provided by the Cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an important reminder that these are not abstract threats, but a matter of life and death for cities.)



Paul Maillet  Colonel retired

It is time to try something different.  Military forces can be seen as a study in cultural rigidity. In a military conference I attended this year, a session on encountering child soldiers, trauma, PTSD and moral injury, the response alluded to ”mental health briefings” as a solution to what may lead to depression or suicide. In a strong warrior culture with the suicide rates being what they are (20 per day in the US among military veterans) belies the effectiveness of briefings. “Killing is killing” and anyone doing so, for just cause or not, encounters a traumatic event. The only question is – will they then be traumatized? This is part of what I am trying to address as a peace professional in first nations work and in a current peace and reconciliation project in the Tamils and Sinhalese diaspora, who have severe trauma issues and a child soldier problem.

There is a saying regarding all this, “one cannot drink the word water”. One does not create strong soldiers by talking about push-ups. One needs to exercise and go running every day. The same can be said for mental or trauma resiliency. Briefings are insufficient without strong military life practices. This means adding or changing certain military service practices and their acceptance in military culture. This would take courage because such practices in some ways may run counterculture to a warrior ethos that is not well suited to real independent and critical thinking and living values that are necessary for wellbeing, such as compassion, inner peace and equanimity. A rebalancing of military culture that blends mental health and resiliency with military ethics certainly begins with serious thinking about “military meaning and purpose” in war and conflict. If the trauma issue is to be seriously addressed, military culture should evolve to include continuous practices of wellbeing, mindfulness, breath practices, presence, and meditation. Military culture must understand the nature of suffering and trauma from the perspective of impermanence and that there are alternatives to victimization and depression. Mental wellbeing and causing harm or violence have a fundamental incompatibility. This is a significant and maybe an impossible challenge in a military culture. Good luck to us, or the consequences will be just more suicides and trauma.


Dear friends in peace;

The notion that DND will use recent peace operations funding to training foreign militaries to wage war is not peace building, peacemaking or peace keeping by any means. It is taking sides and enabling war by others. It is not promoting or working towards peace; or even the creation of peace practitioner skills in a country. Training foreign militaries to wage war is not peacemaking. There are enough people around trafficking in weapons and war fighting.

Whether this is in the context of a just war or not, let us be honest here. This violates a core principle of peace operations and that is impartiality. Impartiality enables being able to talk to all sides involved, being trusted by all sides to be fair in peace talks or negotiations, enables the ability to protect civilians in villages, enables creating safe havens, helping refugees, caring for victims on all sides, enables humanitarian aid and development, and even can go as far as training “serve and protect” police forces. Impartiality enables presence in the crisis. Impartiality allows us to assert human rights to all parties.   Impartiality enables us to communicate and mediate.

There is a distinction here – training in killing and “search and destroy” is not what is intended here. It is not what Canadians want.

We can do much much better.

“I am who you are. When you suffer, I suffer.

We are one people on one planet.”

As both a 33 year military veteran and subsequently, since 2001, working in International Development and First Nations in the area of governance, ethics, and peace services, I certainly appreciate the challenges faced in the achievement of mandate of GAC. I appreciate the opportunity to be heard. I would like to offer brief comment on this consultation in the area or peace and security and governance.

I would like to make the point that traditional practices to international assistance must change. The four structural needs of security, economic, governance and social (health, education, housing, etc) are so interconnected and interrelated that expensive short term, narrow and project oriented applications, have limited or only temporary benefit. Transactional solutions of knowledge, material and funding transfers can only be accomplished in parallel with longer term Relational solutions that involve readiness and willingness and “whole of country” or “whole of community” approaches.

I believe we must change our assistance world view from donor-recipient, north-south, in which others bring suffering and we bring superior technology and money, to one of accompaniment. If we are “one family on this planet“ then perhaps the relationship should be one of equality and accompaniment rather than of power and teacher in a superior sense. This means less of very expensive consultant studies, and more sharing, engagement, education, tools and training at the lowest levels.

This may imply changing assistance from being results-based with goals and hard expectations based, to relational, peace oriented, direction-based that builds cultures that responds and works at the structural needs each day and makes progress as it can. Perhaps it is direction and effort each day that better defines success and sufficiency, as opposed to despair with goals that are largely unreachable and often result in failure. One cannot eradicate crime, but can work at it each day with hope.

My most recent work ending Dec 2015 involved a multimillion dollar CIDA project to build an Ethics and anti corruption secretariat in the office of the President in Tanzania. It was very apparent that dealing with elected government and public officials in isolation would not achieve the desired results without involving the meta-environment around these officials. This meant pilot projects with the corporate sector around corrupt practices and social responsibility, projects with civil society around voting for honest people as contributing to honest government, projects teaching ethics and resiliency at lower, middle and higher education; project with ethics and police and military forces; projects in government relating to wrongdoing disclosure and reprisal prevention, and projects with elected and government officials regarding ethics and conflict of interest. The idea that controlling wrongdoing must go hand in hand with building integrity; applies to peace building in that “security and justice’ must go hand in hand with “building peace and reconciliation` and development work.

Currently, we are also involved in “whole of community” peace and reconciliation initiatives with First Nations and the Sri Lankan diaspora in Canada. Our Sri Lankan approach is centered around relational solutions beginning with connecting elders, and creating a group of youth peace practitioners through training and skill development. First nations work involves building trauma resiliency practices in children and youth.

Peace and Security

If we accept a holistic working model of peace that comprises human security, economic livelihood, social needs and good governance, the foundation begins with security. Not much is possible in climates of conflict, hate, fear, war, or oppression.

First, I believe Canada needs to be more sensitive to security needs as essential to assistance. This may mean taking a larger view of 3D (diplomacy, defence, development) so that diplomacy or military activities do not work at cross purposes to development assistance.

The lack of peace has many sources, from poverty, economic depression, to youth lack of jobs and hopelessness, crime, corruption, to lack of resources when others have much, to religious or racial differences, to outright conflict or war.   Traditional constructs of violent conflict involve three phases; pre-conflict, during conflict and post conflict activities. These phases usually define certain military activities such as deployment, hostilities, and reconstruction. What is needed is a peace and development overlay to these phases of conflict, an overlay of peace building, peacemaking and peace keeping. This may involve such as: peace building (governance strengthening, ethics, anti corruption, economic development, policing, diplomacy), peacemaking (mediation, ceasefire negation, refugee assistance, safe havens, humanitarian aid, police training) and peace keeping (reconciliation, justice, development, reconstruction, monitoring). What is also needed is a development approach that first fosters relational solutions, and whole of community approaches, that connects and engages elders, women, youth, men and children in the development of such peace practitioner skills, trauma resiliency, non violent communications skills, dialogue, reconciliation and conflict resolution. This can serve to better enable the clinical trauma responses, and judicial responses regarding crimes, victims and offenders.

Transactional solutions, the military and enforced political solutions where hatred and animosities remain, are usually insufficient and temporary, without good relational solutions. This implies that training military forces and taking sides, and facilitating hostilities, may not be all that helpful to providing peace and assistance to all parties in the longer term. Real security may be better served with constabulary training at village or country levels. Serve and protect is better than search and destroy.

Therefore, essential throughout all 3D activities is attention to peace building and possibly reconciliation needs. This means that all of 3D must have a coherent approach. Peace building in a larger sense, may mean that all 3D actors have a commitment to be present in the country or crisis, to be impartial and not take sides (working with all parties), to be a strong advocate for human rights, to respect and non violence, and to have a capacity for communication and conflict resolution and mediation down to the village level. This may require the development of specialized capacities in 3D departments, or a separate federal department of institution of peace in Canada.


I would like to offer the following main recommendations:

  • That assistance be oriented to a “whole of wellbeing“ approach that includes a holistic attention to human security, economic livelihood, social needs and good governance.
  • That assistance projects be longer term and be oriented towards accompaniment relationships, which remain during implementation phases.
  • That 3D assistance activity be fully oriented towards peace. Defence security activity may be better oriented towards constabulary training and assistance, or refugee camp protection, rather than offensive military force operations.
  • That priority be given to local “whole of community” approaches that connects and engages elders, women, youth, men and children in community development and the development of peace practitioner, reconciliation and trauma resiliency skills.
  • That the Canadian government create a ministry or institution of peace to augment all 3D peace requirements for peace building, peacemaking and peace keeping including mediation and reconciliation. This may include creating a civilian peace service to field such a capacity as part of development assistance projects.

All we need is to live our cherished values, a little courage and the political will.  Good luck to us all.   

In the cause of peace;

Paul Maillet

Colonel retired

Former DND Director of Defence Ethics

Accredited Peace Professional, Civilian Peace Services Canada (CPSC)

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”    Jose Narosky


As both a 33 year veteran and former Director of Defence Ethics   I certainly appreciate the challenges faced in the achievement of the requirements of the Veterans Affairs Mandate Letter from the Prime Minister. I appreciate the opportunity to be heard, and to also use this opportunity to reach out to veterans.

I submit that veterans serving in the armed forces in wars and peacekeeping over the decades deserve a very new and different relationship with the Government and the Canadian public. This is an opportunity to challenge tradition, challenge current practices, an opportunity for hard honesty, and to think critically on issues. This is an opportunity for courage and change.

We must rethink the view that Veterans just retire quietly, to a well earned rest or second career, to frequent the Legion associations; to show up each November to validate the past wars entered into by Canada, and that they consider closure in terms of government medical assistance, funding and pensions. I would suggest that most veterans feel this view is somewhat narrow.

Given what veterans have experienced, and in too many cases, suffered, I believe most veterans should and want to continue to contribute to Canadian military affairs, if only to ensure they did not serve in vain. Veterans have much to offer, and would be a significant and credible voice for the horrors of war, and the promotion of peace and peace operations. We need this balance.

The Veteran

Most veterans have had satisfying careers, a good education, world-wide travel, raised families, made lifelong friends, have good pensions and comfortable retirements, and never saw war. However, many were not so fortunate, and their release or retirement is pain and suffering. From the 1960s to 2000 many saw peace operations. Since 9/11, Canada changed its outlook on military intervention, and many saw war in the Middle East.  Veterans today are a diverse mix of peacekeepers, cold warriors and mid east combatants.

At its very heart, must be a shared understanding that all veterans do not want war; in particular those who suffered in war, do not want what they experienced to happen to others.   I believe there is more pride in military veterans for peace operations than war operations. No injured veteran wants others to suffer what they suffer. Injured veterans need to give voice to their suffering and be heard. Veterans are the voice that war must be the absolutely very last response to conflict.

So what might veterans want from Canada? Perhaps:

  1. The complete hard truth about “why”, the outcomes, the failures, the lessons we have to learn, and apologies if necessary.
  2. A life that has meaning and achievement and not to feel a burden on society and family.
  3. Respect and dignity, that enables self esteem and living well in the company of others.
  4. Wellness and wellbeing. To receive necessary medical care, in an enabling meta-environment of friends, family and community.
  5. To be a listened to. To be taken seriously. To have a role for voice and truth in foreign and defence affairs.

The Government

I note that the 2015 Prime Ministers Mandate letter to Veterans Affairs is very transactional in content. The letter focuses on the details of economic, educational, and medical care of veterans who have found themselves disabled or disadvantaged in retirement or release from the CAF. The mandate seems to solely address a certain duty of care owed to veterans for their service in wars entered into by Canada. I would say that this is extremely important, but misses something. I think we can do far better than that.

Perhaps the relational obligation was not sufficiently addressed before the transactional aspects. In the example of First Nations, we have learned that truth, respect, healing, apology, forgiveness and trust must precede financial restitution and material goods. More money may not equate to more wellness or a better relationship. We may well ask ourselves; what is the relational equivalent in terms of veterans?

In my view, there remains an uneasiness, and sometimes bitterness in the government-veteran relationship. It is almost as if wellbeing and freedom from suffering, fear and trauma can be bought with more money and services. Trauma cannot be erased nor can lost limbs be restored. That is the burden of injured veterans. What Canada has done sending these soldiers to war cannot be undone. The ethic of care begins with acknowledging the truth of this, apologizing sincerely, and making restitution. Why do countries never apologize after wars for the harm to their veterans in which they were directly complicit? Why do they rarely apologize for the harm caused to others, particularly non-combatant civilians? Does a “just cause” absolve governments for the harm and destruction they cause?

The government-veteran relationship is complex. At one level, we certainly have a transactional obligation, which currently involves a government duty to provide for pensions, benefits and allowances, care for injured veterans in terms of basic health care services and livelihood, and to address PTSD, trauma and suicide issues.

At another level, is a relational obligation, which is perhaps less well understood. From a veterans perspective, what is important is remembering the dead for certain, but also remembering the injured who continue to suffer. This has to include enabling purpose and meaning in their lives of the living, enabling dignity and respect; and ensuring veterans are listened to and taken seriously. We have to listen, or they will never heal. Many veterans have had terrible experiences and understand the true nature of war and suffering in ways that politicians do not. What they know transcends the ever changing technology and methods of modern warfare, and we need to be mindful of this.  Veterans bear witness to the fact that their suffering is not due to the weapons we have in the world, but in the violence in our hearts to use them. Otherwise the lessons we never learn just keep repeating themselves.

It is acknowledged that the government works hard at what they do for veterans, but within limits, and issues remain; as we see surface in the media from time to time. I am reminded of an old movie quote; “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Why do the problems and complaints and suffering and suicides continue?


Certainly a healthy relationship can be defined as one of shared values, shared issues or risks, and open communication.

Our overarching shared value is a commitment to international peace and stability. When conflict arises, the question is usually about ways and means – peace operations or war operations? The debate on this is not to be taken lightly, and should never exclude the counsel of those having lived wars in the past.  More time must be spent of dialogue of just cause, just means and reasonable prospects of success. Shared values can therefore be defined in terms of the government having a duty of consultation, a duty of last resort and just cause when considering placing soldiers in harm’s way, and a duty of absolute protection of non-combatants.

Our shared risks involve the conduct of military operations and the possible killing of enemy combatants and collateral damage involving the deaths of civilians. War involves risks of moral injury or trauma resiliency. Risks must be addressed and mitigated.   In war, horrible mistakes are made and soldiers and civilians are killed or badly injured. This may be unintended, but is 100% foreseeable, and as such we are complicit and accountable. Canada must stand accountable for everything we do, and for what our soldiers do in the name of Canada.

Regarding open communication, war is a serious undertaking and it should be a duty of all parties (government-soldiers-veterans-public), to have voice, to be in agreement, to have prior, free and informed consent, before such ventures are undertaken. This is what it means to be in a free and democratic society. Soldiers do not surrender their constitutional or human rights in war.

We should therefore solicit and value the wisdom of our veterans as “elders of military affairs”. Veterans can be the voice of sober second thought when war or military interventions are contemplated.  Veterans can play a role in federal institutions for peacekeeping, and in military training. Veterans can provide a healthy balance to the warrior ethos, by being a voice for the ethic of peace operations and “finding other ways”.


“War is wretched beyond description,  and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.”  John McCain

After 33 years service, one thing I am absolutely certain is that there is no glory in war, nothing honorable in killing for whatever reason. I am not the first military person to say this. Because of this, I do not enjoy attending Remembrance Day ceremonies, and have not attended for some years now.   I do not need to hear being told “thank you” for the suffering, dying and the lives forever shattered. I would rather have a heartfelt apology and resolve to never inflict this on others ever again. I do not want to talk of wars in terms of glory, but in terms of the horrific failures of humankind, and of which we continue to choose to be complicit. I want to face directly the sacrifice we have made, the good we have done (if any), and the harm we have done. I want to apologize deeply to the civilians we have killed and the lives we have destroyed. This is a time for healing and not celebration of any imagined glory and empty words. Too many words are said amid the war drums and preparations for the next war. What changes?

Many soldiers need to heal, not celebrate. Military personnel serving in war were confronted with ethical and moral challenges and traumatic events, all which may involve life and death situations, and all of which have risks for trauma, suicide and PTSD and even moral injuries.

There may be something to “over-valorizing”, that in some cases may undercut incentive to make new lives, to seek jobs, and look to a new and positive future, rather than living in the suffering of the past. Valorizing is healthy only to the extent that is facilitates the full reintegration of veterans back into society. There is a fine balance and sensitivity to be aware of here.

The importance of remembering is not to be understated. Remembering has many levels. It should first involve remembering the good we have done, the sacrifices we made, and the harm we have done.   It should involve remembering the great and small contributions to the cause of peace, human rights, the care for others such as refugees, the relief of suffering or the reduction of conflict. It should involve celebrating those worthy contributions that may have prevented violence, suffering or harm. Perhaps this is also an opportunity for reasserting the utter insanity of war, of people killing their fellow man, and of our complicity. We need speak the hard truth of what we have done, and this has to be an occasion for heartfelt apology and healing.

Canada must also recognize those who everyday makes contributions in the cause of peace. We must honor our humanity and compassion in the cause of peace.   Every life is so precious. Remembrance should also be about the lessons we never seem to learn.

Trauma and PTSD

Regarding our response to trauma or PTSD, it seems like we are missing something really important, that being the meta (or surrounding) environment around the soldier or veteran. We need something effective in the meta environment around the veteran that better enables medical and psychiatric responses. We seem to be in the treatment response mode; and not with any effective prior resiliency, preventative or mitigation efforts. As we know, once traumatized, the chances of soldiers seeking help are not good, and the result is often serious mental health risks. The effects of PTSD are well known and can include dysfunctionality, marriage breakups, depression, violence, addictions and suicide.   This increases the chances that family, close children and friends will also be seriously affected and possibly traumatized in turn.

The care for serious PTSD cases is certainly best served by the medical community and hospitals. However, at that point, medical care is seriously late to need. Dealing with trauma in a clinical setting may not always be successful, in particular, if any outside stigma, family issues, or social isolation factors are present. If social support and safety is lacking, or if family, friends, employers, schools and community lack an understanding of PTSD or how to help, then risks escalate.     People sometimes just need to know how to help; and veterans need to know how to help themselves and how to reach out for help.

Significant benefits may lie in “whole of environment” trauma resiliency approaches.   As the saying goes, “the human heart and the heart of the land must heal together.” A complete and healthy approach to trauma involves everyone.   Everyone must be resilient and heal together, friends, family, unit, community, teachers, employers, and society; everyone around the veteran.   Trauma resiliency approaches should begin on recruitment, and extend into the daily military culture. Everyone should understand practices that can be applied before, during and after trauma events that occur.  Harder yet, is to create a resilient society around a resilient soldier or veteran, in which everyone understands how to deal with trauma and understands resiliency practices. We should not refuse to do what we can.

I attended a talk by the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS) and inquired about trauma resiliency programs for service families and children, and was told this was the responsibility of the leadership. I could only assume it was handled to varying degrees across units, and wondered if is being handled consistently, or effectively at all. This presents a challenge if nothing or little is being done directly for veterans or their families. Help lines are one thing, resiliency practices are quite another.

This can be a problem in western military cultures where “strong bodies and strong minds” means cultivation of toughness, endurance, aggression, and warrior cultures which work against the soldier in post traumatic circumstances. We do not generally have traditions which are comfortable with the practice of meditation, mindfulness or handling suffering; practices which many in eastern cultures have been learning from childhood. Learning to recognize and deal with suffering in life is essential to military cultures. Ideally, veterans should practice together, with friends, families and their children, and with a view to their own and individual collective wellness and resiliency.

A “whole of environment” approach acknowledges that we all experience traumatic events in our lives. The question is – will we then be traumatized? Do we have the internalized practices that will know trauma or suffering for what it is, and be able to deal with it as an inevitable occurrence in life? This may mean a change in military cultures and the cultivation of continuous resiliency practices, similar to the attention we pay to physical fitness regimes. Otherwise unacceptable rates of PTSD will continue for military deployments and for veterans after release from service. We need something supportive in the meta-environment, around, before and after the PTSD clinical response.

This implies a new focus on the meta-environment around the clinical response. In this regard, we may seek to first build an environment around the soldier or veteran that is safe, positive, understanding and with capacities to help.   The notion of building resiliency is to teach soldiers to how to first care for themselves, by being able to recognize suffering or trauma indicators in themselves and others; and having simple practices or habits for responding effectively.

One possibility involves techniques of meditation and presence; which are increasingly common for athletes performing at high levels, for many religious or spiritual practices, or for general wellness.  Why not for soldiers and veterans? There can be significant benefit in building capacity to sit in silence, go to the breath, be fully present in the moment, and to know that suffering and related emotions, although a reality for everyone in life, are impermanent, imperfect and not self, and subject to arising and cessation. To know what is arising, however painful, and to be attentive to its inevitable and gradual cessation is the beginning of resiliency and the mitigation of victimization or suffering. Conscious mindfulness and meditation should perhaps be a daily practice for veterans. To practice meditation as a unit, or with family or friends may be a challenge in our military and social cultures, but one must start somewhere if change is ever to be possible. . There are many other useful coping strategies when stressful emotions or suffering arise. This is a question of routine and habit and culture.

Moral Injury

Without moral validity in war or conflict, we have a direct path to trauma. Intentions, means and outcomes must reflect deeply held moral values. In matters of war and military affairs, the government makes the highest level of moral decisions, involving the possible taking of lives.   Soldiers and the public in turn make moral decisions to be complicit or not. No one can avoid their moral responsibilities in this, and all are accountable for their actions. In the case of veterans, they may hold themselves deeply accountable, and therein lies the risk of trauma.   Killing in war, for whatever reason, affects deeply held moral values and even can affect ones core identity, in particular, what it means to be human.

More and more, the literature is referring to moral injury among soldiers as a violation of deeply held human values and subsequent damaging psychological effects. Soldiers in war may do things like the taking of life, evaluate themselves negatively, and no longer regard themselves as decent human beings.   They feel irreparably broken. In the background may be a lack of sufficient closure with veterans as to why governments did what it did in going to war; and “why I, as a soldier, did what I did”. Who accepts responsibility for all this; the killing, injuries and horror? What is the hard truth of the Iraq, Libya and Iraq and Syrian missions? What mistakes were made? We are left with a lingering feeling that we failed and made things worse. Why did we not go further in exhausting the chances for peace diplomacy or peace operations? No one wants to admit where we failed in these wars, and we tend to avoid discussions about the truth, about the dead, wounded, traumatized and suicides.

The result is lack of closure, and moral injuries unfold into trauma and PTSD, and this continues to take its toll in our veterans.   This subject of moral responsibility and moral injury needs an open and honest conversation, and within a context of accountability, apology, trauma, healing and within both the clinical response and the “whole of community” approach.


“I pledge I will not harm myself or think about taking my life without talking to a good friend or trusted person first.”

This pledge has to be ingrained in military culture. A version is being used in US military veterans programs. They speak of talking to “battle buddies”. In the past, I have written to DND and Veterans Affairs inquiring about numbers of suicides due to recent wars, and the response from VA is that they do not track them. Serving member suicides are tracked by DND, but veteran related suicides – not much unless they receive VA benefits. Between DND and VA they have all the data they need, or could have, about veteran suicides.

The war is not over for many veterans and we continue to sustain casualties and we refuse to formally acknowledge them. Where is the list of suicides among the war dead? Where are the names? This is not honorable by any measures. It is beyond unacceptable that the government does not track veteran suicides. That the department or government does not track veteran suicides is an affront to all veterans and serving members. Every veteran taking his or her own life is a cause for national awareness and mourning. They are casualties of war.

Suicide prevention is a trauma issue and is a “whole of community” responsibility and should also involve everyone around the soldier or veteran. The first line of defence is the understanding of trauma and resiliency practices on the part of the veteran or soldier. Next is the entire military and social environment around the soldier or veteran. This environment should also understand resiliency practices, suicide indicators, and what to do if someone approaches them for help. Last is an effective clinical and medical response capacity.

“I pledge, if called or confronted by a veteran at risk to commit suicide, I will act.  I will be a friend, listen, talk, sit with them, counsel them to seek medical help, or notify the authorities myself if necessary.”


If we want true closure for veterans of Canadian military intervention since 9/11, I suggest it begins with a renewed relationship with serving members and veterans, all who served or suffered, and continue to die and suffer. Simple approaches to closure speak of the need for:

  • The truth: To speak the truth. To acknowledge the truth by all parties. To treat all parties with respect and fairness.
  • Accountability: To accept responsibility and make any necessary restitution. To make space for apology and forgiveness.
  • The outcomes: All parties are satisfied with the outcomes. All parties are able to heal, rebuild their lives, and live in peace, respect and dignity. Lessons learned, social good, a shared future, and harmony is restored between all parties.

At the level of truth.   Closure for those who suffered or are injured is often needed beyond medical care.   As listed above, closure should begin with acknowledging the hard truth, the good we did, the sacrifice we made, and the harm we did.   Both soldiers and innocent people suffered and died as a result of Canadian intervention, and our soldiers continue to die through taking their own lives. Closure means not only listing war dead, but also those who subsequently took their lives from PTSD, those physically wounded, and those currently suffering from PTSD.   The truth must be spoken by veterans, their families, the government, the community and those we harmed. All must be listened to, and taken seriously.

At the level of accountability: At the national level, closure also means speaking and accepting the truth, acknowledging the mistakes we made, the collateral damage, accepting responsibility, making restitution, and all being satisfied with the outcome. This means the soldiers, the government, Canadian society, and those innocent civilians and families we harmed in the countries in which we conducted combat operations.   We must understand that apologies alone do not suffice unless they are from the heart. Otherwise words are hollow. To truly care for veterans is make sure this never happens to others.   Canada is directly responsible for what happens in these wars and need to show that we owe those harmed and their families a “duty of loyalty and care” for the rest of their lives if necessary.

At the level of a shared future: Perhaps to truly honor veterans is to build strong institutions for peace.  Perhaps to develop better options that make war a truly last resort for us. In the global community, being a nation of peace, not a nation of war, is the highest honor and respect we can bestow on our veterans and military.

Way forward

Perhaps it is time to look at a new “whole of community” statement of relationship between veterans, the Government and the Canadian public. Perhaps we may wish to look at something like:

  1. That the government accept a “duty of moral responsibility” to soldiers and veterans to only engage in military operations that are just, with meaning, purpose and conduct that reflects the highest moral standards and values, and clearly in the cause or peace.
  2. That the government accept a “duty of accountability”. The government accepts to enable public remembrance and accept full responsibility for past military interventions that is coupled with the complete truth about the good we do, the sacrifice we make and apology for the harm we have done.
  3. That the government accept a “duty of care”, that is “beyond normal” for soldiers with physical injuries, mental injuries, moral injuries or economic hardship.
  4. That the government accept an expanded “duty of remembrance” to track, remember and record, not only direct war casualties, but ongoing war casualties through suicide, or deaths from war sustained injuries, and to the extent possible those non-combatant civilians we have grievously harmed.
  5. That the government accept a “duty of dignity” for veterans, enabling the voice of veterans as “military elders” in a independent “council of veterans”, with a clear and effective voice in applicable government foreign and military affairs and training.
  6. That veterans accept a “duty of wellbeing and agency” to seek help with physical or mental emergencies when necessary, to contribute to their own economic and social wellbeing, to be a voice for peace, and to pledge to talk to someone before attempting suicide,
  7. That society accept a “duty of living and healing together” with veterans, to enable the economic, mental and social wellbeing of veterans.

The reminder and renewal of all this should be Remembrance Day.


Thank you for the chance to say something. In summary, I am proposing four directions as important to Veteran relationships:

  1. Towards a more comprehensive relationship based on a shared moral foundation of military affairs and building peace;
  2. Towards a “whole of military and community approach” in response to physical injuries, trauma and suicide risks.
  3. Towards a more comprehensive approach to remembrance and rededication to peace and truth.
  4. Towards an inclusive and active “elder” role for veterans as a voice of experience, truth and peace; in decision making regarding foreign and defence affairs.

I can only offer that perhaps when we meet a disabled veteran, and feel inclined to say “thank you for the service” perhaps we can also consider – “I am truly sorry for the suffering you have endured. We should not have done this and hope to never let this happen again”.    If we cannot say this, we can feel this. This is the beginning of authentic closure.  It is time to face the truth together.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”   Dwight D. Eisenhower

I believe there is much good we can do for veterans and them for us. The biggest is we can listen and learn from them, the lessons they have to teach us, and to continually remind us of the hard lessons of war. This is a call to commit to the primacy of peace operations in the world as a response to conflict. The true validation of the sacrifice and suffering of veterans is the achievement of meaningful peace somewhere, celebrating peaceful means, and not in any way celebrating destruction and killing. All we need is honesty, a little courage and political will.  Good luck to us all.

In the cause of peace;

Paul Maillet

Colonel retired

Former DND Director of Defence Ethics

Accredited Peace Professional, Civilian Peace Services Canada (CPSC)

An open letter to Canadian Politicians

Dear Party leaders and elected members of Parliament;

What I find unusual is that the government cannot find and articulate a clear and compelling way forward for a Canadian contribution to peace and stability in the Mid East once our bombing ceases.

The Trudeau government has pledged to restore constructive Canadian leadership in the world, reenergize Canadian diplomacy and leadership on key international issues and to increase Canada’s support for United Nations peace operations and its mediation, conflict-prevention, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts. From this, viable options for Canada become a matter of common sense and of making choices.

I believe that in the mid east, we need to acknowledge that there is no current military or political solution to the numerous mid east crises underway, in all their unbelievable complexities.   Belligerent states or insurgents will change or stop violence when the readiness and willingness for peace arises. It is tragic that this usually happens when they hurt enough, or when they love their children enough. If we cannot help, we should not make it worse.

However, in the cause of peace, we can and should be present in the crises and with those suffering. We should not refuse to do what we can do. We can demonstrate a strong commitment to the values of peace, non violence, compassion, and respect. Perhaps this is a question of an even handed and consistent response to peace operations.   A new peace strategy could encompass all the possibilities of peace building, peacemaking, peace keeping, in pre-conflict, during conflict and post conflict situations in the world, and embrace principles such as the following in their implementation.

Peace Building

  • We can confront all countries regarding violations of human rights, international law, or the laws of armed conflict, no matter who they are.
  •  We can be a voice for diplomacy, truth, mediation, reconciliation and conflict resolution.   We can be a voice for dialogue and consular activity.
  • We can stop pouring billions of dollars of weapons or arms into the region.
  • We can promote principled non-military economic trade and development that can contribute to international peace and stability. Trade and relationships that benefit people.
  • We provide economic and governance development assistance to build ethics and reduce corruption.
  • We can advocate and support the building of institutions for peace operations and conflict management.

Peace Making

  • We can create and protect safe havens. We can protect civilian populations and refugees.
  • We can increase the provision of humanitarian aid.
  • We can assert that we do not contribute to the killing. We can believe that policing “serve and protect” and “apprehend and prosecute”   is better than military “search and destroy”.
  • We can welcome and provide for refugees.
  • We enable the provision of safe spaces, ongoing contact and communication for negotiated peace processes.   We can be impartial and talk to all sides. We can have a commitment to relentless peace diplomacy.


  • We can negotiate or monitor cease fire agreements.
  • We can train constabulary police forces to enforce the rule of law.
  • Eventually and given readiness and willingness, we work to enable truth, justice and reconciliation activity.

No matter how intractable, there is always something positive we can do. The over 500 million dollars we have spent on bombing, could have gone a very long way to saving countless lives with this approach. I believe that it is time we rebuild institutions for peace operations in Canada.   I believe it is time to earn the two Nobel peace prizes we have for peacekeeping. We can become a leader in next generation evolution of peacekeeping and peacemaking and peace building operations and practices. We can regain our place in the world as a country for peace.   This is only a question of courage and values.

In the cause of peace


Paul Maillet Colonel (retired)