Few people recognize George Lindsey’s name because most of his work was top secret. For half a century, from Prime Ministers Louis St. Laurent through Brian Mulroney, from the DEW line to the Cuban Missile Crisis to the collapse of the Soviet Union– he was a key military strategist at the Department of National Defence. He was that rare breed: a theoretical scientist who could explain complicated ideas lucidly; and a civilian who commanded the respect of military personnel serving under him.
His specialty was aerospace defence, but rather than nuclear sabre rattling, he was interested in the dynamics of balanced deterrents in order to prevent a third world war. Canada with its NATO commitments was probably the most compatible place for a man of his training and temperament to work for we have the distinction of being one of the very few countries with the wherewithal to build an atomic bomb which has declined to show off its annihilation potential.
As the citation for Lindsey’s 1989 Order of Canada stated: “...he has a world-wide reputation as an authority on deterrence policy, arms control, nuclear weapons policy, naval welfare and strategic analysis...he has published extensively and is a sought-after speaker among defence scientists both in Canada and in NATO.
A “what if?” contrarian, a huge intellect, and a practical joker, Lindsey was an obsessive puzzler of problems both grand and mundane–from verification of weapons of mass destruction, to figuring out the fastest route from home to work, to devising ingenious ways to persuade squirrels to leap for food from suspended feeders. Sportswriter Alan Schwarz called Lindsey the Darwin of the Diamond for his painstaking compilation of baseball statistics. Forget box scores, Lindsey, who shared his baseball obsession with his father, recorded hugely detailed statistics over many seasons, in order to predict the optimum use of left or right handed hitters against pitchers with opposite handedness, to determine whether to bench a good hitter who was in a slump, and how to change the batting line up when the bases were loaded.
No matter the problem he always proceeded in the same way: collect the data, analyze the statistics, reach a solution and implement it. That’s because he had an empirical approach to life both at work and at home.
The son of a decorated soldier from the Great War, and himself a veteran of World War II, Lindsey was trained as a nuclear physicist. But he was wary of the life of an academic scientist with its concomitant concentration on grant applications and managing large teams of researchers. Military defence strategies, practical solutions and the wider world–from athletics to making art to engaging with the Chinese– fascinated him.
Ironically, he ended up at DND running the operational research and analysis establishment for two decades, a unique organization with about eight different divisions and at least 200 people reporting to him, one-quarter of whom were “uniform people” according to Ron Cleminson, a retired Wing Commander in the Air Force and a colleague in arms control and verification studies. Describing Lindsey “as the best mind” on strategic planning at the time in DND with both a wide and a deep grasp, Cleminson said: “He was honest, he was balanced and he was the kind of leader who influenced others to achieve the [desired]aim.”
George Roy Lindsey was born in Toronto on June 2, 1920, the elder son of Lt. Col. Charles Bethune Lindsey and his wife Wanda Casmira (née Gzowski). His lineage reads like a Canadian history text beginning on his father’s side with his great-great grandfather William Lyon Mackenzie, the Scottish born journalist and populist politician, who was elected Toronto’s first mayor in 1834, and later became a fugitive for his primary role in the Rebellion of 1837 in what was then Upper Canada.
Proudly framed in the Lindseys’ Ottawa living room is the Wanted poster issued on behalf of Queen Victoria and her agent, Lt. Governor Sir Francis Bond Head, offering a reward of one thousand pounds for Mackenzie’s capture. He evaded prosecution by fleeing to the United States, although some of the other rebels mentioned in the proclamation, including Samuel Lount, were hanged. Mackenzie re-settled in Toronto in 1850, after the offer of a general amnesty to the rebels.