THE LAST GOOD WAR An Illustrated History of Canada in the second World War, 1939-1945 J. L. Granatstein Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2005. x, 2$2pp, $55.00 cloth (ISBN 155054-913-8)
As one of Canada's best known political and military historians and as the director of the Canadian War Museum who won the long, exasperating struggle that ended this year with a final, fitting monument to Canada's war veterans, Jack Granatstein has earned the right to produce the book that can easily serve most Canadian families as their own home memorial to our greatest and most necessary war.
While Jack and I may be rivals about the relative significance to Canada of the two world wars, who can now doubt that the second World War had to be fought? Not until the war was ending in Europe did most Canadians begin to grasp the full hideous bestiality of the Nazi regime. The notoriously vicious and deceitful propaganda of the early world war had captured most Canadian minds and led us into unimaginable sacrifices. Early reports of the Holocaust and other Nazi and Fascist horrors were too easily dismissed as more of the same. Instead, Hitler really did threaten freedom, democracy, and pluralism with a military machine that almost overcame his remarkably similar rival, our accidental ally, Josef Stalin.
Though far more Canadians died in the First World War-about 60,000 of them, compared to about 44,000 in 1939-45-the second World War represented a far greater mobilization of volunteers-close to 1.2 million out of ii million-and a far greater industrial output. In the earlier war, for example, Canadians had thrown themselves into manufacturing artillery ammunition; by 1943, there was very little vital to the war effort that was not being produced somewhere in Canada, including significant components of the two atomic bombs that persuaded Japan to surrender in August 1945. The six-year war effort transformed Canada and Canadians. Above all, it laid the foundation for the durable postwar prosperity that lifted most Canadians from poverty to affluence. From that transformation came our release from the politics of bigotry and racism. A generation that grew up for the most part with enough for everybody simply lost understanding or tolerance for those who measured out jobs, social welfare, and fundamental human rights only to those who shared their faith, ethnicity, and gender.
No doubt the war years mattered to Canada and no doubt it needed to be fought. Chicago journalist Studs Terkel had early established, in the title to his account of the second World War, that it was "a good war." However, was it really the "last" one worth fighting? Veterans of Korea, Vietnam, the Yom Kippur war, and other conflicts during the so-called Cold War may find the claim breathtaking in its arrogance. However, an author who has promised to tell us "who killed" Canadian universities, Canadian history, and the Canadian armed forces may well prefer sales to moderation.
Ever since he composed his doctoral dissertation on the evolution of Canada's Tories into the Progressive Conservative party during the 19405, Granatstein has focused most of his writing and research on the politics and personalities of Canada during the second World War. Though some of his opinions have evolved with time, no one who follows the text will find many surprises. In the spirit of a memorial, there are fewer harsh words for old villains. Sending two thousand Canadians to Hong Kong to die and suffer in brutal Japanese prison camps was plainly a blunder; so was launching six thousand soldiers at Dieppe the following August at a cost of more than half of them. …