Don Macnamara lives in Sidney by the Sea and, despite the sparkle of wry amusement in his eyes, one might be forgiven for not taking any particular notice of him as you pass him on the street or bump into him at one of the town’s bookstores.
Yet Macnamara, 79, is slated to travel to Ottawa on Nov. 8 where he will attend a gala dinner held in his honour at the Canadian War Museum.
There he’ll be receiving the Conference of Defense Associations Vimy Award, an honour that, since 1991, has been bestowed on a select group of Canadians who have made a significant contribution to the defense and security of the nation and the preservation of democratic values.
Previous Vimy Award winners include General Rick Hillier, Major General Romeo Dallaire, and General John de Chastelain.
Macnamara is a retired Canadian Air Force Brigadier General who spent 37 years in the Canadian Forces. His various roles in the military caused him to be internationally recognized as a specialist in national and international security affairs. He has advised both the most senior levels of government and the military on these issues.
But his work didn’t stop when he retired from the military in 1988.
Macnamara joined the faculty of Queens University where he was involved in a plethora of roles involving international relations and business management.
Macnamara said that he strongly believes that very clear commonalities exist between the need for strategic analysis and international understanding in both the military and business worlds.
“In either case, we need to learn about what is happening in other parts of the world and how we can act to protect and promote our own values,” said Macnamara.
“You need to develop a 40,000 foot view of the world, and then bring it down to a 4,000 foot view and finally a 4 foot view. That’s where what you do has an impact, but it can only be done within the context of a global appreciation of the issues.”
Macnamara fears that the public doesn’t do enough to educate themselves about world events.
“Fewer people are reading newspapers or seeking real understanding of the issues,” he said.
“Too many people get their information from 140 character tweets and thirty second sound bites.”
He said that without a global appreciation of the dangers and challenges out there, citizens are leaving the decision making to an ever decreasing number of people who are informed.
“That can pose a real danger to the principles of democracy,” said Macnamara.
Macnamara has other opinions based on his own informed world view and a keen appreciation of history.
On warfare: “We are no longer fighting easily identifiable enemies. One has to look at strategies like troop deployments and the use of drone strikes through a different lens.”
On returning veterans: “We have this host of well trained, disciplined men and women coming out of the military who are this tremendous resource, and we’re not using them. We owe them more than that.”
“In some ways I think that some executives are afraid of military men applying for jobs. Afraid of their competence. Scared that they’ll take over.”
On Canada’s changing military role: “The public perception of the blue berets was always a myth. During Suez and afterward, it was in our best interest to act in a way that helped prevent nuclear war.”
“After the wall came down we had a different role. But we’ve always been able to fight for what’s in the best interest of international and national security.”
On military spending on the F35’s and naval vessels: “(It’s) been neglected and the bureaucrats and politicians don’t seem to realize the consequences of not being able to safeguard our own sovereignty. We have massive points of entry and entry to Canada is also entry to the USA.”
Despite his retirement in Sidney, Macnamara continues as a national security analyst and commentator.
He has been to Afghanistan twice and is a member of the Air Command Advisory Council. He continues to lecture periodically at the Royal Military College.