How we lost our place in the world
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2003, 220pp, $32.00, ISBN 0-7710-2275-1
Andrew Cohen has written an extended essay on the condition of Canadian foreign policy at the beginning of the twentieth century, and how it got that way, ending with some suggestions for the future. The title conveys the theme. The tone is, not surprisingly, that of a jeremiad, but the work is not, fortunately, a rant. It is the reflection of a well-informed and intelligent observer with a taste for history. Throughout the book Cohen alternates between past and present, drawing on the main characters of the 'Golden Age' of Canadian diplomacy, Mike Pearson, Hume Wrong, and Norman Robertson, to illustrate the facets of Canada's interest and performance abroad.
The result is illuminating and informative, if not always satisfactory. The biographical approach Cohen uses to explain the 1940s and 1950s contrasts with the lack of biography and personal detail for later periods, even for the 1990s and after when Cohen was a personal observer of the phenomenon he is describing. There is certainly a fair amount of detail covering the recent past and the present, but it is often just that, detail. It's useful detail but without the chronological or interpretive framework that would make it truly valuable. Unless the reader already has an inventory of ministers, events, and policies for the 1990s she or he will have some problems with this book. Because historians - including this one - have not yet got around to analyzing and explaining the 1990s, there is a gap in our knowledge, and Cohen does not fill it.
Let us take one example that Cohen does not cover. There has been a great deal of discussion in the press of the contrast between Jean Chretien's conduct of relations with the United States and Brian Mulroney's. Much of the chatter comes from Mulroney himself, as interpreted by his various fuglemen, such as William Thorsell in the Globe and Mail and the various prophets and seers of the National Post. …