The Human Cost of War in Canadian Military History

By Spooner, Kevin | Journal of Canadian Studies, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Human Cost of War in Canadian Military History

Spooner, Kevin, Journal of Canadian Studies

The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew 1939-1945. Allan D. English. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996.

Battlefields in the Air: Canadians in the Allied Bomber Command. Dan McCaffery. Toronto: Lorimer, 1995.

Murder at the Abbaye: The Story of Twenty Canadian Soldiers Murdered at the Abbaye dArdenne. Ian J. Campbell. Ottawa: The Golden Dog Press, 1996.

Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner: Canadian Prisoners or the Japanese During World War IL Dave McIntosh. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Ltd., 1997.

Significant Incident: Canada's Army, The Airborne, and the Murder in Somalia. David Bercuson. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996.

The Gallant Cause: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Mark Zuehlke. Vancouver/Toronto: Whitecap Books, 1996.

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 Canadians 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" [IMF]. 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.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Human Cost of War in Canadian Military History


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?