Courage in the Air:
Canada's Military Heritage

by Arthur Bishop, F. R. Sutherland,
ISBN: 0075513765


by Lavender,
ISBN: 0075514664

Dictionary of Canadian Military History

by David J. Bercuson, J. L. Granatstein,
228 pages,
ISBN: 0195411072

Shadows of War, Faces of Peace

ISBN: 1550134361

Silent Battle:
Canadian Prisoners of War in Germany, 1914-1919

by Desmond Morton,
232 pages,
ISBN: 1895555175

Post Your Opinion
Passages at Arms
by Robert Stamp

Fans of military history need not worry. While the Cold War's end brings an outbreak of peace among superpowers, warrior-historians remain in the thick of battle. In the United States and Britain, military writers now join the attack against international terrorists and drug barons. But in Canada, egged on by Senate committees and veterans' organizations, our military historians engage in a peculiar kind of civil war. Here on the home front, the forces of Valour take on the armies of Horror.

Readers wanting the valour, the whole valour, and nothing but the valour will love Courage in the Air (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 307 pages, $35 cloth), the first of Arthur Bishop's planned threevolume study of war heroes, ambitiously entitled "Canada's Military Heritage." The author inherited valour from his father, the First World War ace Billy Bishop, and tasted it himself as a Second World War fighter pilot. This background puts Bishop firmly in the school of militarists who might be called "Only Those Who Have Seen Bullets Fired in Anger Dare Write About the Bullet Shooters." Other "pseudo-calibre" historians and writers who dare challenge individual "scores" (his father's, perhaps?) only "sully our record" and "should be condemned."

Courage in the Air sullies no records and condemns no Canadian airmen; instead, it offers the "excitement, chivalry and honour of warfare in the air." Bishop senior, Billy Barker, Roy Brown, and Ray Collishaw lead the parade of 1914-to-1918 aces, with Buzz Beurling and Johnny Fauquier shining through from 1939 to 1945. In total, the book presents valuable combat biographies of some 250 Canadian aerial heroes from the two world wars and the Korean war. (Yes, Calgary readers, Freddie McCall and Ian Bazelgette are also included!)

Bishop's focus on individual combat biographies leaves larger questions unanswered. What made these men good warrior-pilots? Was it heredity? training? luck? Did the agony of being shot down oneself balance the ecstasy of downing an enemy? How did these wartime heroes adjust to less heroic peacetime life? But such questions might force us to weigh valour and horror in the balance, and that is not Bishop's intent.

Emerson Lavender and Norman Sheffe serve up more valour in The Evaders: True Stories of Downed Canadian Airmen and Their Helpers in World War II (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 262 pages, $19.95 paper). Like Bishop, both authors are veterans of the Second World War (though not themselves "evaders") and, again like Bishop, they write from a quasi-official, valour-is-all point of view. Combining personal recollections and archival sources, The Evaders tells the story of airmen who "came down" in enemy territory and the critically tense days and nights that followed. The authors also highlight the role of those "helpers" who risked their lives sheltering fugitives and aiding them in returning "to fight another day." Most of the story unfolds in Western Europe, with minor diversions in Ukraine, Italy, and Burma.

This is surely an aspect of the Second World War worth documenting, but unfortunately the story suffers in the telling. Lavender and Sheffe attempt to integrate their own narrative account with lengthy quotations from evaders and helpers, but they lack the skills of a Barry Broadfoot. And by sprinkling pieces of each airman's story over several chapters, they make it difficult for readers to develop a strong sense of identification with any one participant. Finally, their reference to Japanese military personnel as "Japs" is absolutely inexcusable.

Enough of valour. Horror certainly dominates Silent Battle: Canadian Prisoners of War in Germany 1914-1919 (Lester, 218 pages, $26.95 cloth), by Desmond Morton. Of the nearly 3,900 Canadians interned during the First World War, many experienced a gruesome catalogue of torture, beatings, starvation, and medical neglect. That was just the beginning. After their return to Canada, they posed a special problem for a nation proud of its military achievements. For some Canadians, these prisoners were a "flaw in the heroic myth of men, never retreating, fighting valiantly to the death, rather than facing surrender." Others felt that Canadian prisoners of war had largely been the "authors of their own misfortune, or worse, had exaggerated their ordeals."

A University of Toronto historian and college principal, Morton has a long publishing record of fine books that bridge the gap between battlefield valour and post-battle horror. Like his A Peculiar Kind of Politics: Canada's Overseas Ministry in the First World War (1982) and Winning the Second Battle: Canadian Veterans and the Return to Civilian Life (1987), Morton's Silent Battle goes beyond the glory of the Arthur Bishop School of Heroes to probe the larger questions of war's lifelong impact on young men unfortunate enough to be caught up in its horror. "In the end," writes Morton of his prisoners, "like so much in war, both the effort and the suffering were largely in vain."

Valour and horror combine in Shadows of War, Faces of Peace: Canada's Peacekeepers (Key Porter, 160 pages, $29.95 cloth). This large-format book is arranged geographically, with chapters on the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Cyprus, and Central America -wherever Canadian forces have served on United Nations peacekeeping missions. It is very much a group effort, with photographs by Boris Spremo, anecdotes and personal recollections gathered by Douglas Lavender, and historical introductions by J. L. Granatstein - all to accompany a film by the director John Muller. Good editing and handsome production hold the various pieces of the book together and provide a valuable perspective on Canada's recent military endeavours.

Shadows of War reveals a military force with a much healthier linguistic balance (and even the beginnings of gender balance) than Bishop's all-male, English-speaking, very WASPish band of gallant RCAF personnel. Also, Shadows of War, perhaps unintentionally, contrasts the individual valour of soldiers engaged in tricky peacekeeping operations with the horrors Of starvation, homelessness, and ethnic hostility that are encountered on so many UN missions. And by carrying his narrative to March 1992 with the arrival of the first Canadian peacekeepers (peace-makers?) in Yugoslavia, the York University historian (and former army officer) Granatstein raises tough questions about the increasing costs and dangers associated with Canada's continued participation in United Nations operations.

Finally, in what may be the most lastingly important of these new military titles, Granatstein combines with the University of Calgary historian David Bercuson to produce Dictionary of Canadian Military History (Oxford University Press, 248 pages, $29.95 cloth). With listings from Ack-ack (colloquial term for anti-aircraft gun fire) to Zouaves (a force raised by the Catholic Church in Quebec for defence of the Papal States), and from 17th-century colonial wars to 20th-century peacekeeping operations, this 1,500-entry dictionary is touted as the "first onevolume reference to Canada's military heritage."

Dictionary of Canadian Military History provides both valour (See: Bishop, William Avery) and horror (entries on Bomber Command and Hong Kong). It also passes random testing for 20th-century comprehensiveness. Curious about No. 2 (Negro) Construction Battalion? Mutinies, Naval? Oka, Siege of? This is where to begin. Even "Ring Knockers" (RMC graduates) is included. Earlier centuries, unfortunately, do not receive the same attention. Students of the Upper Canada Rebellion of 183 7, for example, will search in vain for separate entries on Montgomery's Tavern, the Caroline incident, or the Battle of the Short Hills.

Granatstein and Bercuson adopt a broad view of military history. At a time of changing military roles and conflicting civilian expectations, they offer entries on war artists, war novels, security and intelligence topics, popular music during the wars, and the role of women during the Second World War. If this work is well received as a reference book, we might look forward to a second edition with entries on such 1990s topics as sexual harassment in the military and gays and lesbians in the armed forces.


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