Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The general's wife as the nation?

As I continue to work through issues surrounding Roméo Dallaire, the 'anti-conquest mean' peacekeeper role, and Canadian nationalism, a professor made an interesting comment about the departing Canadian commander in Afghanistan, Rick Hillier, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Dallaire. (Both are unabashed Liberal party supporters, are credited with having a certain folksy and conversational charm, and are perhaps too outspoken about the government's lack of support for their troops - though, to Hillier's detriment, he lacked the unassailable moral-authority that Dallaire acquired as the commander of the Rwandan mission. Hence, his recent resignation after taking a lot of criticism from the Conservative government.)

That interesting comment pertained to the way in which Hillier first hinted at his resignation, as the CBC notes that "speculation had already begun that Hillier was set to retire. For one, the general had brought his wife, Joyce, to the war zone for the first time, raising speculation that this was a farewell tour." The aforementioned professor likened Joyce Hillier to a maternal national figure, which would provide an interesting contrast to the masculinized national figure in Dallaire that I've been thinking about endlessly for many months. It also caused me to recall that Roméo Dallaire's wife, Elizabeth, likewise accompanied her husband when he returned to Rwanda ten years after the genocide that he witnessed.

Clearly, there's something here about these women functioning as witnesses and representatives of the people 'back home', but I'm wondering whether there's a much older convention at work here with which I'm not familiar. If journalists were picking up on Hillier inviting his wife to Afghanistan as a sign that his resignation was imminent, then there must be something there, right?

1 comment:

Paul C said...

Some sort of colonial trope, maybe? The governor and his wife passing over the masses one last time?

Could be more prosaic. If it's a dangerous posting, you wouldn't bring the wife out until late in the game - otherwise it would undermine your image as a warrior (particularly somewhere like Afghanistan) and also be a subsequent security risk.