Canada and the Two World Wars

Article excerpt

CANADA AND THE TWO WORLD WARS J.L. Granatstein and Desmond Morton Toronto: Key Porter, 2003. xv, 360 pp, $42.00 paper (ISBN 1-55263-509-0)

J.L. Granatstein and Desmond Morton, each a prominent Canadian military historians in his own right, have collaborated to produce Canada and the Two World Wars, a synthesis of their earlier works Marching to Armageddon and A Nation Forged in Fire. This one-volume history of Canada's participation during two world wars is well-written and broad in its scope. The authors' basic thesis is that "more than any other set of events the two world wars shaped our world and that victory was vital to Canada's existence as a civilized society" (1). That might be overdrawn somewhat since they acknowledge that change would have occurred in any event. They are right to argue, however, that war served as a catalyst for every imaginable reform ranging from women's suffrage in 1917 to the birth of the social welfare state during the Second World War. Not only do they examine the myriad of political, economic, and social changes taking place in Canada during the period covered by the book, but they also delineate the continuities of Canadian military history, namely, popular disdain of all things military, woefully inadequate defence budgets, improvisation, and our enviable war-fighting record through two horrific wars.

The authors explore the battles in which Canadian soldiers took part and the effects of those battles on the soldiers, as well as the changes taking place on the home front. Granatstein and Morton argue that Canada's contribution to the First World War ensured that it became a sovereign nation. It did so at great cost, not only in terms of the number of casualties but also because war tore the country apart along political, ethnic, language, gender, and class lines. Some of the most heated debates at home played out against the backdrop of the war-conscription, education/language rights, prohibition, and the place of French-Canadians and women in Canadian society, to name but a few. Not surprisingly, these debates served to divide Canadians, not unite them. Nevertheless, the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers helped pave the way toward independence and gave Canada a voice on both the international stage and within the empire.

The authors move with ease from the battlefield to the factory floor and back again, giving roughly equal attention to the exploits of individual soldiers and the corps as well as rhe experiences of civilians-men and women alike-toiling in munitions factories across the country in support of the Canadian war effort. They are careful to draw out the connection between technology and tactics to the performance of the armies in the field while Canada struggled to meet the ever-increasing manpower and industrial contributions demanded of its politicians and allies in order to secure an allied victory. The authors painstakingly chronicle the rise of the Canadian Expeditionary Force from a force of rank amateurs at the outset of the First World War to the professional force that by war's end spearheaded the Allied advance. This section of the book traces the trials and tribulations of this development, using to good effect numerous diaries and personal letters written by men who participated in the battles. Accompanying the lively prose are a number of excellent photographs and maps to situate the reader geographically.

Similarly, the second half of the text is equally detailed. The authors set the context for this portion of the book with the rise of the dictators and trace events in Europe and Asia and Canada's preparedness, or lack thereof, for the coming conflict. …


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