Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner: Canadian Prisoners of the Japanese During World War II. Dave McIntosh. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Ltd., 1997.
Are Canadians an "unmilitary" people? We might be forgiven for thinking so. Since the 1950s, Canada has become peacekeeper to the world par excellence. Canada has consistently provided armed forces to serve the United Nations on peace support missions throughout the world. And, understandably, Canadians take pride in this role. Images of peacekeepers adorn coffee-table books, monuments, stamps and even our money. At a time when other nations resolve their differences through war, Canadians claim to be the world's observers and umpires. All of this, however, has a tendency to overshadow two important facts. First, while peacekeepers may preserve peace, they are none the less trained soldiers. Second, Canada does have a significant military history that both predates and coincides with our career as a peacekeeper. This history includes participation in five wars during this century alone.
Military topics in Canadian history continue to attract public and academic interest. Early work in the field of military history often produced little more than "blow by bloody blow" accounts of battles. While this writing served a purpose, its preponderance resulted in the neglect of significant dimensions of the Canadian military experience. Aside from the tales of war heroes, the human element was overlooked; the experiences of the "ordinary" soldier remained largely untold. The "new" military history has made progress by recovering these unheard voices from the past and expanding the range of subjects considered worthy of study. Topics now include training grounds, the home front and even the reactions and experiences of "the enemy." The books examined in this review each reveal something of the changes in the way military history is being written. All of them remind the reader of the individual, or collective, human cost of war.
Allan English's The Cream of the Crop is a significant departure from traditional military history. There are no accounts of air battles and bombing missions in this study of Canadian who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War. Instead, English provides a "behind the scenes" exploration of key issues that had a direct bearing on the effectiveness of the Allied aerial war effort. Aircrew selection and training receive considerable attention, as does the controversial issue of crew removed from service on the grounds that they had demonstrated a "lack of moral fibre" [LMF]. By taking into account these two issues, English's analysis sheds new light on the overall effectiveness with which British and Canadian authorities organised people in the production and operation of the machinery of war. This, English suggests, was of "fundamental importance" to Canada's war effort (5).
Early work in the field of aviation medicine, carried out during the First World War, is discussed and provides context for English's assessment of this medical field's development during both the inter-war period and the Second World War. He finds that lessons learned in the earlier conflict, particularly those relating to aircrew training, went unremembered. None the less, scientists and medical practitioners came to play a prominent role in the organisation and assessment of aircrew. In Canada, psychologists were regularly used in the development of candidate screening and training. While in Britain, psychiatrists became very influential; as specialists in human behaviour, they provided explanations for the mental breakdown of aviators. These explanations focused primarily upon "the inadequacies of the individual aviator" (68). Both physicians and psychologists are clearly seen to have played a significant role in the "managerial metamorphosis" that took place in the conduct of air warfare during the first half of this century (146).
The issue of airmen labelled LMF is a sensitive one. English's balanced treatment of the subject gives the reader a sense of what aircrew faced when they either refused or were unable to carry out their duties for psychological reasons. He also assesses the overall cost or "wastage" that resulted from inadequate responses to psychological casualties. For instance, he suggests that "psychological disorders among Bomber Command airmen caused the force to lose 23 per cent of its flyers every year" (100). English departs from previous authors, who have suggested that the RCAF and the RAF were equally harsh towards LMF cases. He demonstrates that there was a significant divergence in views between British and Canadian air forces over the treatment of aircrew removed from flying duties. The Canadians resolved this difference by establishing separate policies and administrative structures for dealing with such cases. In so doing, English argues they asserted "independence from British control, and won a victory for national pride and political sovereignty." (129- 30) It is a strength of this study that it is able to examine an issue as specific as the treatment accorded psychological casualties and still place it within the wider contexts of both strategic military planning and Canadian-British relations.
The evidence and arguments presented by English also contribute to the historical debate over conscription. Was conscription made necessary because of a shortage of recruits, or did it become a necessity as a result of the poor management of Canada's human resources? By 1937, Mackenzie King had recognised that strengthening the air force would appeal to moderate opinion (12); he needed a defence policy that would alienate neither moderate anglophones nor moderate francophones. The air force could be seen as a national defence force with less emphasis on overseas service. Until the fall of France, King pursued a war effort of limited liability. In this context, Canada's support and sponsorship of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was seen as a way to support Britain without facing the "prospect of insupportable Canadian losses" (133-34). The government hoped to avoid a repeat of the massive loss of life suffered by the army during the First World War, which had in turn resulted in a political crisis over conscription.
Yet, as English argues, things did not work out the way the government planned. The RCAF required a large number of recruits: only one in ten would eventually make it as a trained RCAF aviator. Moreover, recruits who did not make it were not always redirected by the RCAF "into essential wartime occupations, including the army" (142). And, in the end, nearly as many Canadians were killed while serving outside Canada with the RCAF or RAF as there were "Canadian Army 'battle casualties'" (144). For English, inefficiency in the training, selection and retention of air force personnel, especially in the early years of the war, was a key factor in air force and army demands for manpower that eventually contributed to the need for conscription.
Battlefields in the Air is Dan McCaffery's contribution to a vigorous debate, fuelled by the CBC documentary The Valour and the Horror, over the role played by Canadians in Bomber Command during the Second World War. McCaffery's work will appeal to a wide reading audience and will be of particular interest to those who have been following this historiographical dispute. A good attempt has been made to balance readability with the need for documentation. Research for the book is drawn from "dozens" of interviews with veterans of the campaign, as well as letters, diaries, logbooks, combat reports, memoirs and official documents. In the end, it is the interviews that make this a book worth reading. McCaffery has excelled at presenting the "human" side of the conflict by giving voice to Canadian aircrew responsible for carrying out the bombing raids and Germans, both civilian and military, who were at the receiving end of the air offensive.
Central to this book is the question of whether or not the Allied bombing of Germany was a significant factor in bringing the Second World War to an end. McCaffery argues that the Allied offensive was justified because Bomber Command did help to bring the war to a close. Nevertheless, the issue is made complicated by the fact that bombs were dropped not only on industrial or military targets of obvious strategic value, but also on residential areas clearly occupied by civilians. McCaffery concludes that "by bombing civilians the Allies lost some of the moral high ground they held in 1939. That, however, was infinitely better than losing the war itself" (175).
Battlefields in the Air begins by establishing context for the military and moral issues of conducting air warfare during the Second World War. In the First World War, both sides were guilty of either deliberate or careless bombing of civilians. German Zeppelin attacks on Antwerp in 1914 demonstrated that civilians could be "killed in their own beds, hundreds of miles from the front" and British officials demonstrated a lack of concern for accuracy while bombing strategic targets, a policy that ultimately endangered civilians (15- 16). During the Spanish Civil War, Luftwaffe attacks on defenceless villages were reported as complete successes by German Generals, even though the aircrews charged with carrying out the attacks were said to have been "ashamed" of the action (23). All of this demonstrates that, by the beginning of the Second World War, the pattern of blurred distinctions between civilian and soldier had already been established by the new front in the air.
After Dunkirk, the only offensive tactic available to the Allies was bombing. McCaffery notes that sitting idly by was not in Winston Churchill's make-up. The British leader recognised that an aerial offensive against Germany was not likely to win the war in and of itself, but would further the effort. Political considerations also entered into the decision to bomb German targets: the campaign against Germany would demonstrate to the Russians that their Allies were doing something at a time when it was not yet possible to establish a second front to relieve pressure in the East (35,47).
Raids against Mannheim, Hamburg and Berlin were successful in destroying industrial infrastructure. German Armaments Minister Albert Speer "was in a better position to judge than anyone," and he believed bombings of German industrial centres reduced production by 10 per cent in 1943 and 20 per cent in 1944. (170) This represented a substantial loss to the German war effort; however, it is important to recognise that the Allies were intent on destroying not only the industrial means of production, but also German morale. A February 1942 directive from the War Cabinet to Bomber Command clearly required that operations be carried out which would destroy the "morale of the enemy civil population and in particular of the industrial workers" (48).
Because accounts are reconstructed from Allied and German sources, the heroism and the misery of both sides are evident. Battlefields in the Air is balanced in its interpretation of these events-not revisionist. With the exception of the bombing of Dresden, which even Churchill later questioned, McCaffery ultimately argues that Bomber Command was justified in carrying out its operations because they dealt a very real blow to Germany's ability to achieve its military aims.
Ian Campbell's Murder at the Abbaye attempts to put a human face on the inhumanity of war. He tells the story of 20 Canadian soldiers who participated in the landings on D-Day, but who fell victim to Nazi SS troops. All were taken prisoner during the first day of the Allied invasion and were subsequently murdered at the Abbaye d'Ardenne, in direct violation of international legal conventions on the treatment of prisoners.
In part, what makes this book such compelling reading is Campbell's holistic approach to the subject. The soldiers' lives are revealed to us not only as they unfolded during the Normandy invasion, but also in the months and years that lead to their final days. We hear about their hometowns and families. Their motivations, as well as their tales of enlistment, training and posting abroad, are also discussed in detail. We are reminded of the regional and local nature of recruitment: most of the young men who lost their lives in the tragic events of this story were Maritimers, although some also came from Ontario and Quebec. Finally, in Campbell's chapter on the home front, the frustrations and pains of the families who searched for further information on the fate of their missing loved ones are palpable.
Historian J.L. Granatstein, author of the book's foreword, suggests that the telling of this story is a useful corrective to "so-called" revisionists who "deny the Holocaust or paint the Allies as the moral equivalent of the Nazis." This holds true. Campbell's depiction of the Nazi military leadership, and especially the 12th SS Panzer Division, leaves little doubt that the Allies were fighting a "just" war. In order to better understand the enemy Canadians faced, Campbell discusses the particular social and ideological make-up of Germans who fought in the SS divisions. After the disastrous offensive against the Soviets cost the Nazis dearly, many Waffen SS recruits came directly from the Hitler Youth Organisation. Thoroughly indoctrinated in Nazi ideology, these recruits were young and fiercely loyal. Significantly, however, not all who were enlisted in the Waffen SS went willingly. A reluctant Jan Jesionek was recruited out of the steel mill in which he worked. He ultimately played a key role in this story as a witness to the war crimes committed at the Abbaye d'Ardenne. Campbell is clear that certain soldiers are villains in this story. The actions of Jesionek, however, receive sufficient attention to demonstrate that not all who fought against the Allies were oblivious to the rules of war and dictates of humanity. Within ten days of the Normandy invasion, 134 Canadians who had been taken prisoner by the 12th SS Panzer Division were murdered (131).
Relatively little time is spent describing issues of grand strategy, Allied or Axis. According to Campbell, Rommel believed that once the allies invaded France there would be only two days to repel the offensive. After this, he was convinced the Germans would be unable to defeat the Allies (47). As the invasion withstood early German counter- offensives, Campbell suggests that "all German field commanders must have felt the impending doom" (96).
One field commander in particular, Standartenfuhrer Kurt Meyer, is central to this story. He was in charge of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and had established his headquarters at the Abbaye d'Ardenne. The 20 Canadians (some wounded) were captured by the Germans after they advanced deep into German occupied territory and failed to receive adequate artillery support and protection of their exposed flanks (76). All were taken to Meyer's headquarters where the Commander was heard to have said "In future, no more prisoners are to be taken" (110). Bodies of 19 Canadian soldiers were later found buried in unmarked, hidden graves in the adjoining Abbaye park. While the bodies of other German and Allied soldiers were buried nearby in clearly marked graves, a great deal of effort went into concealing the 19 Canadians (125). One body has never been recovered.
By "denying quarter," Meyer violated laws governing the humane treatment of prisoners of war that existed in every country fighting in Europe, including Germany (165). After the war, he was convicted of war crimes and served part of his sentence in Dorchester Penitentiary, New Brunswick - the only German war criminal ever to be incarcerated outside Germany. The charges against Meyer were also the first to take advantage of changes in Canadian War Crimes Regulations that made it possible for a commanding officer to be held responsible for atrocities committed by those under his command (145).
In Hell on Earth, Dave McIntosh describes the terrible experiences of Canadians taken prisoner by the Japanese after the fall of Hong Kong, in 1941. The book is based primarily on interviews, archival research and the findings of Dr Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman, who conducted a medical inquiry into the deteriorating health of Hong Kong veterans. Their report supports a compensation claim against Japan, submitted to the United Nations in 1987 by the War Amps and Hong Kong veterans. Hell on Earth is really meant to serve two purposes: it details the atrocities suffered by Canadian POWs at the hands of the Japanese and it is also meant to shame Canadians and the federal government, for not ensuring that these veterans were suitably compensated for the debilitating effects of their imprisonment.
Accounts in this book describe numerous atrocities and war crimes committed against Allied soldiers and civilians during the battle of Hong Kong and the subsequent imprisonment of survivors. It is widely accepted that war crimes violations were more prevalent in the Pacific theatre than in Europe. This certainly holds true for Canadian forces. McIntosh suggests that "atrocities against the two Canadian battalions in the Battle of Hong Kong outnumbered those committed against all five Canadian divisions who served in Europe" (12). At the end of the war, national defence headquarters estimated that 44 Canadians had died of "wounds or 'other causes' while in Japanese hands." According to McIntosh, the actual number was "six times that - 272" (222). Hospitalised sick and wounded were murdered in their beds during the attack on Hong Kong. Later, during their imprisonment, many POWs died or suffered terribly as a result of ailments and diseases related to malnutrition. Quotas of prisoners available for forced labour duties often had to be met by carrying the sick and dying on stretchers to the work sites. Some prisoners even recalled having to dig trenches which they later discovered were to be used as mass POW graves "at the first sign of invasion of Japan proper" (199).
As with Murder at the Abbaye, the notion that justice was not adequately served is quite evident in Hell on Earth. Kurt Meyer was tried and convicted of war crimes, but many others from the European theatre evaded authorities and escaped punishment altogether. Even Meyer's sentence was subsequently reduced to 14 years. This was reduced again when he was given time off for good behaviour. By 1954 he was free. By comparison, almost all Japanese war criminals accused by Canadians were captured, tried and convicted (239). Again, however, sentences were later greatly reduced in spite of protests, particularly by veterans (241-42).
Unfortunately, there is a disturbing aspect of Hell on Earth that threatens to get in the way of the author's principal purpose. The book conveys the horrors experienced by Canadian veterans in order to create empathy for this groups current efforts to gain compensation. From the start, McIntosh clearly states that this is his intent and so this, in and of itself, is not a problem; however, he attempts to do this by drawing a comparison between the Canadian government's decision to compensate Japanese or Japanese-Canadians relocated during the Second World War and the Japanese government's refusal to do the same for Canadian POWs. McIntosh uses the comparison to demonstrate the Canadian government's unwillingness to offend Japan and risk a significant trading relationship. He states, "our government has sent a strong signal to Japan by bowing to Japanese-Canadians and continuing to reject Canadian veterans who received inhumane treatment from Japan" (vi). To compare the pain and suffering of one group with another, however, is a dangerous thing. The horrendous conditions faced by Canadian POWs can certainly stand on their own as evidence of the need to provide adequate compensation for the Hong Kong veterans, without detracting from the right of Japanese and Japanese-Canadians to compensation.(f.1)
Hell on Earth is at its best when the words and voices of the POWs shine through. McIntosh weaves diary entries and primary documents throughout the narrative to great effect. One of the most powerful quotations came near the book's end, following a number of chapters that had described almost unimaginable living conditions. After his liberation from the Fukuoka camp, John Tyson Gardner kept a diary of his return trip to Canada. He wrote, "Clean sheets, blankets, towels, pyjamas. All our meals were brought to us in bed, wonderful meals. The doctor came round twice a day and nurses would come anytime. During the night one of the orderlies wakened me and said that I had better get under the blankets as we were climbing to colder regions" (227).
In Significant Incident, David Bercuson sheds light on the murder of Shidane Abukar Arone, the Somali teenager taken prisoner by Canadian soldiers during the ill-fated peacekeeping mission to Africa in 1993. This incident has plagued two successive governments and has shaken the Canadian Forces to their core.
The events associated with the actual murder are reviewed primarily in the introduction. The majority of this book is devoted to an analysis of the Canadian Army's development, during the post-war period. Bercuson addresses the institutional short-comings that resulted from the Army's inability to adjust effectively to changes in Canadian society and, at the same time, to continue to practice "the age-old traits of successful military leadership" (15). But, he also suggests that these shortcomings were ultimately caused by the "remarkable apathy Canadians have towards their military and their failure to understand that nations that aspire to keep their independence and preserve their way of life must have armies that are prepared to fight wars" (242).
While this book primarily addresses the Army's failings and the inability of Canadians to understand and appreciate the role of the Army, Clayton Matchee and Kyle Brown do not escape scrutiny. Bercuson describes Matchee as "the very archetype of the Hollywood bandito ... a swaggerer and a bully." (9) Brown fares little better. Both soldiers were members of the now disbanded Airborne Regiment that was at the centre of the Somalia controversy. Bercuson's emphasis upon Matchee's primary responsibility for the beatings corresponds with others accounts. Brown is described as "Matchee's accomplice." (11) Since the publication of Significant Incident, Brown has presented his own account of the events in Somalia.(f.2) In it, he acknowledges that he participated in the beating of Shidane Abukar Arone but his version of events places him mostly at odds with Matchee. Brown certainly does not perceive himself to have been Matchee's accomplice, but his damning accusations concerning the conduct of some of the Canadian officers who served in Somalia do support Bercuson's critical assessment of the state of leadership in the Canadian military.
Bercuson suggests that unification and the subsequent bureaucratisation of the Armed Forces had a detrimental impact on military leadership. In particular, the introduction of civilian bureaucrats into the process of military decision-making is seen to have "confused the chain of command" and placed "administrative acumen above military insight on the list of qualities required of Canadian forces officers" (72). For instance, Bercuson believes that attempts to apply civilian career management concepts to the military, combined with two year standardised postings for officers, have effectively removed any incentive to "risk unit stability by trying to root out troublemakers." Instead, the system rewards loyalty to superiors and "keeping one's unit on an even keel" (79).
After the historical and organisational context is presented in the first two sections of Significant Incident, the third and final part focusses on the Airborne Regiment itself. Here we discover that the larger issues affecting the entire Canadian military were compounded by the particular difficulties that had haunted the Airborne Regiment. Bercuson notes that disciplinary problems are not uncommon to paratroop units because "these men are usually young, intensely physical, and combatitive by nature" (181). Evidence is presented to illustrate that problems with the regiment had emerged by the early 1980s, during a tour in the Cyprus peacekeeping mission, and that there were even disappointing results in exercises undertaken just prior to the regiment's departure for Somalia. None the less, the Airborne was dispatched for peacekeeping duty even as it suffered from inadequate leadership, sudden changing directives and unresolved disciplinary issues.
The issue of racism is raised in Significant Incident, but deserved to be addressed in detail. Bercuson does draw attention to the Canadian Forces' inability, in their recruiting, to be more reflective of the diversity in Canadian society (100). The influence of racist attitudes disseminated during exercises with American paratroopers is also noted (205). These points, however, only begin to address the significance of systemic racism as a factor in what went wrong in Somalia.
Bercuson has provided us with a thoughtful analysis of the institutional history of not only the Airborne Regiment, but also the Canadian Army as a whole; and, at the same time, he has reminded us that these institutions do not exist in isolation from the rest of Canadian society.
In The Gallant Cause, Mark Zuehlke presents the experiences of Canadians who volunteered to fight for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil war. Writing in the style of historical literary non- fiction, Zuehlke constructs a narrative that transports "the reader directly into the historical events ... by putting the reader inside the minds of the participants who lived the events" (xv). To achieve this, he has drawn heavily upon taped interviews and the written records left by those who fought in the war. While there are no footnotes, Zuehlke does provide a bibliography listing his sources.
Zuehlke begins his narrative in the decades leading up to his principal characters' departures for Spain. By doing so, he provides a glimpse into the intellectual and social dimensions of the varied motivations of Canadians who volunteered and were recruited to fight on behalf of Republican Spain. The On-to-Ottawa trek and the relief camps, in addition to the appeal of communism, are seen as important factors in the enlistment of volunteers. The Gallant Cause is thus relevant to the history of the left in Canada.
Zuehlke does not ignore the larger political and foreign policy issues surrounding the participation of Canadians in the Civil War. He provides assessments and reflections on the policies of the Mackenzie King government, primarily from the perspective of the Canadian volunteers. We hear that volunteer Lionel Edwards hoped that King might sliently approve of those fighting "under a banner honouring his own paternal grandfather"; while Edwards doubted this was true, he none the less thought that King was not as "loathsome a human being as Chamberlain [Prime Minister of Britain] or former prime minister and now Conservative Party leader R.B. Bennett" (182). At times, Zuelke's own voice and interpretations sneak through, as when King is seen to have danced "to Chamberlain's tune" (230). It is certainly possible to find more comprehensive and scholarly assessments of Canadian foreign policy. This is true also of the military campaigns and battles that Zuehlke recounts. The strength of this book lies in its depiction of the personal perspectives of "ordinary" volunteers that it provides on these events.
The experiences and role of one "not-so-ordinary" Canadian, Norman Bethune, also receive considerable attention in The Gallant Cause. Bethune provided and organised considerable medical aid for the Republicans, including critical assistance with the development of a system for blood transfusions. There is a great deal about Bethune derived from the recollections of his Danish-Canadian assistant, Henning Sorenson. Not all of this is flattering. Sorenson recalls that Bethune was often seen by his Spanish patients as a "beloved, caring father" (112). But, the doctor was also remembered as self-important and as having had problems "putting egalitarian philosophy into action" (62).
In part, the final chapter addresses a significant issue: the repatriation of Canadian volunteers following Franco's victory. During the war, hundreds enlisted and travelled to Spain in spite of Canadian government efforts to prevent this. In the war's final days, volunteers fled from Spain before the Fascists regained control over the entire country. In Canada, The Friends of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion attempted to secure the repatriation of Canadian volunteers. The King government, however, expressed concern over the financial costs of bringing the Canadians home, and the RCMP opposed their return on the grounds that, as mercenaries and communists, they posed a security threat (245).
Together, these books demonstrate that in the field of military history new topics are being raised, and familiar subjects are being reexamined from fresh perspectives. With the clear exception of English's more academic The Cream of the Crop, the books reviewed here would likely be considered "popular history." In the case of Hell on Earth history has been written with an overt, political agenda. The reader has a large role to play in interpreting what is presented in these books and some scholars will undoubtedly find deficiencies in content or documentation. Nevertheless, the authors have put faces, and sometimes names, on those who might otherwise remain anonymous and perhaps forgotten. The memories and stories of Canadian POWs, leftist volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, RCAF aircrew, and other retired and current members of the Armed Forces are key to appreciating the human cost of war. These memories, stories and views have been interpreted by the authors, and will be interpreted again by readers.
(f.1) McIntosh devotes one chapter primarily to the Canadian government's treatment of Japanese and Japanese Canadians but readers should also consult other works that address this significant historical debate. For instance: Patricia Roy, J.L. Granatstein, Masako Iino and Hiroko Takamura, Mutual Hostages: Canadians and Japanese during the Second World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990).
(f.2) See Peter Worthington and Kyle Brown, Scapegoat (Toronto: McClelland-Bantam, Inc., 1997).…