From Cold War to New Millennium book cover

From Cold War to New Millennium book cover

From Cold War to New Millennium - The History of The Royal Canadian Regiment, 1953-2008

by Colonel Bernd Horn

Toronto: Dundurn, 2011
496 pages, $39.95
ISBN 978-1-555488-896-2 (bound)
ISBN 978-1-555488-895-5 (paperback)

Reviewed by Michael Goodspeed

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In his newest book, From Cold War to New Millennium, The History of the Royal Canadian Regiment 1953 -2008, Colonel Bernd Horn adopts a unique approach to the telling of regimental history. Most histories of this sort generally attempt to portray their subjects using a chronological stream of close-ups of regimental life in peace and war. This is not surprising, since regimental histories are, by their nature, tactical and personal examinations of a unit's exploits. Variants of this conventional form of regimental history have been a tradition for the last century and a half, with all too often unit actions and personalities not only viewed at a very short focal length, but also in a uniformly complimentary light. However, From Cold War to New Millennium is different.

Horn has deliberately and successfully steered clear of this more predictable model of regimental history. In this, the most recent study of the RCR, he goes to considerable lengths toplace the Regiment's activities in light of their larger political, strategic, and operational context. At the same time, Horn provides sufficient detail to give his reader a thorough and inclusive understanding of the Regiment's accomplishments over this period. The book is liberally peppered with quotes and anecdotes from a wide variety of Royals at all rank levels, and his description of the individual perceptions of events is sufficiently detailed so that the numerous dangers, challenges, frustrations, and triumphs of the Regiment are clearly portrayed. Anyone who served during this period will have little trouble relating his or her experiences to the narrative.

In addition to these very personal glimpses of the Regiment's history, Horn has gone to considerable lengths to examine and assess the detailed background and the larger, overarching factors that served to shape the RCR in the post-Korea period. In combining the tactical and broader environmental perspectives in one book, From Cold War to New Millennium becomes as much a wide-ranging examination of the political and military mindset of the period as it is a Regimental narrative.

Although the book is divided into nine chapters, Horn effectively examines his subject within the confines of three periods: the Cold War, the Nineties, and the New Millennium.

In studying the Cold War, Horn covers the Army's key tasks: national survival, the Defence of Canada, the nation's NATO commitments in Central and Northern Europe, peacekeeping in Cyprus, and the debilitating double tasking and training problems that characterized Canadian based battalions during the leaner years of the Cold War. He also provides his own perspective on such varied subjects as unification, the disbandment of regiments, and the now-unthinkable doctrinal emphasis of the late-fifties and early-sixties of having infantry employed in the immediate follow-up exploitation of battlefield nuclear strikes.

In his assessment of the nineties, Horn analyzes the Regiment's participation in the Oka Crisis, its limited participation in the first Gulf War, its extensive and distinguished service in the Balkans; and in addition, as viewed, at least in part, from the perspective of the RCR's 3 Commando, he presents an examination of the Canadian Airborne Regiment's experience in Somalia. Lastly in this period, he studies the post-Somalia crisis of confidence and trust in the Canadian Forces, its various manifestations, causes, and downstream effects.

In the New Millennium section, there are brief but comprehensive descriptions of operations in Eritrea and Haiti, as well as an assessment of the new post-Somalia spirit in the army. The book's strongest element is Horn's description of the Regiment's participation in operations in Afghanistan. He assesses the RCR's participation in the security of Kabul in the UN-mandated Operation Athena, and provides a well charted and illustrated synopsis of Operation Medusa. He is equally as good describing the actions of successive RCR Battle Groups and Provincial Reconstruction Teams, as the nature of Canada's phase of the war shifted from conventional combat to counter-insurgency.

From Cold War to New Millennium has been created with an obvious effort to use primary sources wherever possible. The book is amply, but not pedantically annotated. Of note, in documenting his story, Horn frequently uses his endnotes to provide additional commentary or telling details. His references and endnotes are worth reading. The book has been well laid out; the photographs have been judiciously selected to give a sound representation of the period, and the maps and charts are simple, clear and in sufficient number. At $39.95 the book is admittedly pricey for a paperback, but not exorbitant.

Horn's numerous useful insights into such varied subjects as the impact of unification, and the nature of 'jointness,' the defence of Canada and its North, the nature of peacekeeping operations, and counter-insurgency are matters of continuing concern to the CF and to Canada. From Cold War to New Millennium will be of interest first and foremost to members of the Regiment, but the book will also appeal to a considerably wider readership than is normally associated with this kind of volume.

There was not much in this book that I did not like. It is not a simple recasting of events, nor is it a jingoistic paean to regimental tradition. It is regimental history as it should be told. In writing this book, Horn gives his readers a thoughtful and thought provoking examination of the Regiment and its place in Canadian history. From Cold War to New Millennium is highly readable, informative, provocative, and probably as insightful a synopsis of this period of Canada's military history as one will find. In this volume Horn has provided an irrefutable case for the Regiment's value to Canada. It is a fitting account of the last fifty-five years of the RCR, for as the author has tacitly demonstrated, it remains one of Canada's finest and most faithful institutions.

Lieutenant-Colonel (ret'd) Michael J. Goodspeed, is a former infantry officer in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), and a distinguished author of Canadian military fiction in his own right. He is also a frequent contributor to the Canadian Military Journal.