||Other People`S Wars
by F.J. Mcevoy
GWYNNE DYER Is well known in Canada as a syndicated columnist on international affairs and for his CBC-NFB documentary series "War" and "The Defence of Canada." Now he has produced a book based on the latter in collaboration with Tina Viljoen, who directed and co-wrote the series.
Both the documentary and the book make the case that neutrality is not an unrealistic goal for a country in Canada`s position. By breaking away from the current alliance system Canada could set an example to others and show that there is an alternative to what they view as the current "sleepwalk toward oblivion."
This is, needless to say, a controversial position, which attacks vested interests -- not to mention sacred cows -- in this country. The authors have set about their task by surveying Canadian defence policy from the British conquest to the outbreak of the First World War. A second volume will continue the story up to the present.
In reading the book one gets the impression that much of the ground covered is really background to the 20th-century world, and particularly to the period after the Second World War, which is to be the subject of the next volume. There would be justification for this if the authors had new information to impart, but this is not the case. Was it really necessary to provide detailed treatment of such episodes as the rebellions of 1837? This only distracts from their central thesis.
The authors interestingly contrast the disparate views of Canada`s place in the world held by English and French Canadians; their sympathies are with the latter. As the longest-settled European inhabitants of Canada, French Canadians saw most clearly that Canada was North American and they lacked the emotional ties that pulled English Canada into Britain`s wars. As recruiting statistics from the First World War show, even English Canadians drew closer to the position of the French Canadians in proportion to their length of settlement.
Dyer and Viljoen stress that Canada clung to Britain`s coat-tails long after the United States ceased to be a military threat to this country and long after Britain ceased to be either willing or able to defend Canada in the unlikely event of an American attack. They go further, accusing the British of deliberately distorting strategic realities to ensure continuing Canadian involvement in imperial defence. Canadian membership in the British Empire drew us into the First World War, where the slaughter of thousands of Canadians in Europe served no conceivable national purpose.
Later Canada drifted into becoming a junior military ally of the United States. Since alliance systems lead inevitably to war, this too has not been in Canada`s interest, but has been little questioned in this country. The authors are adamant that defence policy must not continue to be left to the military, who have a vested interest in identifying threats to Canada even where none exist.
These are important issues, which should be debated. But a more focused treatment by the authors would have made a better contribution to that debate. The style of the book is not helped by the authors` use of numerous extracts from both primary and secondary sources, which they simply plunk into the text with no attempt at integration. Their aversion to footnotes, on the grounds that they can be used to prove anything, is no excuse for not providing proper documentation on a controversial subject.
Dyer and Viljoen present a revisionist approach to Canadian defence policy that deserves a hearing. The book will raise hackles and stimulate debate -- which is all to the good.