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Book Review Essays

Whose War Is It?: How Canada Can Survive In The Post 9/11 World

by J. L. Granatstein

Toronto: Harper Collins, 2007
256 pages, $34.95 (hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0002008459

Reviewed by Kim Krenz

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Book CoverI read this book while crossing Canada by train. The trip left me stunned by the size of this enormous country. The book brought home the task ahead for Canadians who must manage and defend Canada in the years to come.

Jack Granatstein is the doyen of that small group of Canadian military historians, including Desmond Morton, Douglas Bland, David Bercuson, and a few others, who, since the early-1960s, have been fighting a vigorous rear guard action against the neglect and decline of the Canadian Armed Forces at the hands of successive federal governments. A graduate of the Collège Militaire Royal de Saint- Jean, and the Royal Military College of Canada, as well as a professor of history at York University, Granatstein has had a long and distinguished career as a military historian, much in demand by the television networks for commentary on military affairs. He is the past Director of the Canadian War Museum, and the recipient of numerous honours, including appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada. Granatstein has published over 60 books, including the well-known Bloody Victory, a pictorial history of Canada in the Second World War, The Generals, a magisterial account of Canada’s commanding officers in that conflict, and, notably, the recent Who Killed the Canadian Military?

In Whose War Is It?, his most recent publication, Granatstein frankly admits that he has reached the age when he feels at liberty to unburden himself in an honest and direct manner of the concerns that have accumulated over a lifetime of thought and reflection. He sees that, even in the face of current positive trends, Canada is in a parlous state. He singles out six problems that the country needs to confront if it is to survive the 21st Century. These arise from the misleading mythology that Canada is predominantly a peacekeeper, the confusion over what is in the country’s national interest, the problems of dealing with the United States, the question of how Canada is to hold on to its arctic possessions, the necessity to confront a pacifist Quebec, and the effect of multi-culturalism upon Canada’s foreign policy. Each of these problems is the subject of a separate chapter.

Of all of these problems, that of shaping policy in terms of Canada’s national interest is of prime importance, and the one to which Granatstein returns again and again. Too little is done, he feels, to identify in each situation what is really in the country’s national interest. Too often, for instance, decisions are made based upon popular perceptions; that Canada is an honest broker in international affairs; that Canada does not need to project strength abroad; and, hence, Canada’s military posture need not be aggressive. (The thankfully forgotten Defence 2000 report of the University of Toronto comes to mind.) It is obviously not in Canada’s national interest, Granatstein writes, to have a weak and undermanned military. This century will bring dozens of situations where Canada will have to project strength, in its own arctic territory, as melting ice frees arctic waterways to international traffic, in protecting its economic ventures, in supporting its allies in times of need.

This last requirement is particularly relevant to Canada’s relations with the United States. The US is justifiably paranoid in its view of a threatening world, and it is immensely sensitive to what it sees as weaknesses in its Canadian partner. Whatever one’s views, it is a fundamental principle of our national interest to have good and strong relations with the United States. Like it or not, our physical and economic survival depend upon it. Those that fear we shall become ‘running dogs’ of US administrations can be sure that this will be a certainty if we are seen by the Americans to be flaccid and uncooperative. After all, the Americans have their own survival to consider.

Returning to questions of defence, as Granatstein often does, it was General John de Chastelain, a former Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, who said: “Canada will never be defended by Canadians alone.” We recognized this during the Second World War by forming the Permanent Joint Board of Defence (PJBD) with the United States. It is in our national interest to have the cooperation of the US when we need it, and it behooves us to assure the United States that we will do everything in our power to maintain our end of bargains. In this sense, their wars may become our wars.

Bashing the United States, as some Canadians are inclined to do, is not in the national interest. I was surprised to discover, in the chapter dealing with Quebec, that there is a strong current of anti-Americanism in that province. I had thought that the Montreal-New York axis was one with a long and honourable tradition, as is the Montreal-Miami axis. But Granatstein writes with authority on the matter. The French have always been negative on the question of participation in les guerres des anglaises, and this feeling has apparently come to a head in recent years. Granatstein gives case after case in which French Canadians vow to be pacifists. In the chapter on Quebec’s pacifism, he describes how this has come about. It is a fact that not only complicates our relations with the United States, but makes it agonizingly difficult to accommodate French Canada in our national plans, particularly those concerning continental defence.

Granatstein sees Stephen Harper and his Conservative party making the right moves in supporting Quebec’s aspirations for international status, and in assuring Quebec that nothing will be done that will conflict with French Canadian interests. Whether the French can ever be persuaded that it is in their interest to fight at the side of the United States remains to be seen.

Canada’s brand of multiculturalism introduces problems of its own. The recent rescue of thousands of Canadians fleeing the fighting in Lebanon is the most current case in point. Most of these Canadian citizens are of Lebanese extraction, who came to Canada as immigrants, obtained citizenship, and then returned to Lebanon, where some had been living for years up to the time of the Israeli attack on Hezbollah. This is not a unique case. Similar situations exist in Croatia and in other countries that have been the source of immigrants to Canada. In a sense, Canada has become a revolving door for these people. Neil Bissoondath has commented, somewhat bitterly, that many immigrants are using the country as a form of public convenience. However, the results are not all bad. New Canadians returning to their mother country often establish international commercial and cultural ties that can be useful. What concerns Granatstein with respect to this situation is the effect upon determining a foreign policy that is in the best interests of the country. One cannot expect new Canadians with such feeble ties to Canada to enter to any degree into actions demanded by such interests. Granatstein maintains that our policy of multiculturalism is failing miserably in transforming immigrants into Canadians.

Even more of a problem is the confusion of purpose introduced by these ties to other countries. Granatstein quotes John Ibbitson, a respected journalist in The Globe and Mail, as saying, “...problems in India and China and Haiti are our problems, because India and China and Haiti are our motherlands.” In the world seen by Granatstein, this kind of thinking cannot be a basis for foreign policy. Canada’s foreign policy must be based upon Canada’s interests, not compassion for some other country. Compassion is the mainspring of foreign aid, not foreign policy, although the difference is sometimes not clear-cut. China and India, and perhaps even Haiti, would understand.

It is perhaps not surprising that Granatstein sees the building of a strong and capable Canadian military as the first step in dealing with each of these problems. He begins the book with a fictional disaster in which Vancouver is largely destroyed by a major earthquake, and shows how limited our resources actually are to deal with such a tragedy. He closes the book with a repeat of the scenario, in which a properly equipped military deals quickly and effectively with the trauma and chaos produced by such an event, and can even give succor to the Americans, who are also suffering from the catastrophe. Interestingly, the Prime Minister in the first scenario is a man given to swearing in moments of stress. In the second scenario, the Prime Minister is a woman who deals calmly with the crisis. She has an excellent relationship with the American president, and puts one in mind of Mrs. Thatcher.

If one is to find fault with Whose War Is It?, the fault, at least for this reader, lies in the convenient, but sometimes unconvincing, simplification of complex issues so that they can be largely dealt with in military terms. The same can be said of the earlier Who Killed the Canadian Military? It is certainly true that successive federal governments have, until recently, starved the military to the point where it is almost non-functional. It has indeed been unfortunate that a country with the wealth of Canada would expose its soldiers to personal danger without providing them with the best equipment and infrastructure that the country can afford. That this has been so has not always been the result of pernicious neglect on the part of politicians. In our system of government, every politician has a catalogue of demands to which he must answer if he is to maintain his party in power, and these demands often reflect the general mood of society. Since the 1960s and until recently, the mood has been decidedly anti-militaristic. Young men in the crowd spit upon soldiers in uniform attending the trade fairs put on by the arms manufacturers in Landsdowne Park in Ottawa in the 1970s and 1980s. Cliff Chadderton, the WarAmps national president, was once pushed and jostled by young men when he tried to place a wreath at the War Memorial in Ottawa’s Confederation Square. It was hardly surprising that the nation took to its bosom the idea that peacekeeping was the right and proper use of the Canadian military. What is surprising is that a warrior class of Canadians has been able to survive at all in this atmosphere of wishful thinking.

One should be thankful that incidents of this kind appear to be passé. There has been a sea change in the public perception of the military, intensified, it appears, by the seriousness of Canada’s new military obligations. The things that need to be done to improve Canada’s armed forces now seem possible, if sadly, late. Granatstein, and military writers like him, can take some credit for bringing about this change. However, there will always be, in a country like Canada, the need to convince the electorate of the need for military expenditures. If this is to be done, it will be crucial to have a capable Minister of Defence and a Prime Minister who view the military as an important instrument of government.

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Doctor Kim Krenz is a retired physicist and Research Associate in Military Sociology at Trent University.