Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XLIX

The question of a unified Empire again--The disastrous speech of Lord Halifax

AS military history repeated itself at Ortona, on the Hitler Line, on the Gothic Line, and in the muddy valley of the Po, political history was being repeated elsewhere. The conscription issue was approaching its boiling point of 1917. And the question of the bravely battered Empire and where it was going to go stood forth again in all its old complexity.

In perhaps the most eloquent and generous speech he ever made, King in 1941 had addressed a notable assemblage at the Mansion House in London. There, in the darkest hour of all, he had pledged for Canada: "We will be with you to the end."

There was not time then to analyze rhetoric, but as the pivotal year of 1943 turned into the victory year of 1944, Britain and the dominions began searching for their future. As it had been in the time of Laurier, Borden, and a younger Mackenzie King, the point under examination was whether the ties between Britain and the dominions should be firmer or looser or remain as they were.

Jan Christiaan Smuts, still as highly respected in the councils of the Empire as when he and Borden had sat in the Imperial War Cabinet, put forward a twofold plan. Under it Britain would seek closer associations with smaller European democracies and the administration and tutelage of the colonies would be transferred, wherever geography recommended it, to the self-governing dominions.

Smuts foresaw and thought he knew how to avert the coming upheaval in Africa. He also foresaw that the world was shaking down into two kinds of nation-the Colossi and the rest. Germany, France, and Italy were finished as great powers. So, probably, was

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