SUPPORT US

November 2012 Commentary

Too Much Military History?

by J. L. Granatstein

Does the Canadian national narrative focus on war? That was Elizabeth Payne's claim in her column in The Citizen on November 14. "There are reasons for that," she said. "Conflicts and wars are periods when countries and  individuals take a measure of themselves, they can lead to great hardships and change, and details are often meticulously recorded." And she adds, with a backhand slap at the Harper Tories, "Governments also like to use war history...to promote their own visions."

All this is likely true, but Ms Payne then spins slightly out of control. "Canada's story is much more than a story of heroic servicemen and women," as if someone had ever argued otherwise. To overemphasize war, she writes, "would draw a distorted picture of Canada. It would be a shame if Canadians didn't extend their hunger for history to include other stories of Canadians," stories like those of Canadians' lives during periods of peace.

Now there is no doubt that since the 1990s, Remembrance Week has put the Canadian role in the world wars and other conflicts on the front pages. Even The History Channel slows down its endless sagas of ice road truckers, antique pickers, and storage wars to feature some excellent documentaries and films on Canadian (and other) military events. This is all to the good, in my eyes.

But no one who has ever looked at the provincial school curricula or university history department calendars could ever believe that military history has obliterated all the other varieties of studying the country's past. Ms Payne wants family stories and local history to have their place in our past, and so do I. If she looks at what is being published in academic and other journals, if she sees what books are being issued by both small and large presses, she would have no fear for the future of peacetime Canadian history.

Indeed, if she turned her gaze on the sad status of military history in our universities, she might actually call for more work to be done. Only at the Universities of Victoria, Calgary, Wilfrid Laurier, Western, Ottawa, and New Brunswick does Canadian military history merit a place of real importance. Students tend to flock to military history courses at these universities because some superb teachers offer them, but the faculty at most institutions of higher learning want only to study gender, cultural history, social history, First Nations, the environment, or some variants of these approaches.

There is nothing wrong with such historical work, except when their practitioners squeeze out all the others. And, regrettably, they do. Even political history is all but verboten in our university history departments, which likely explains why, for example, there are no full histories of the Conservative or Liberal Parties and no good detailed biographies of some of our prime ministers. Mackenzie King, for example, or Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Unfortunately, political history, along with military history, is seen by most present-day academic historians as merely the stories of boring old white males. Far better to study hairdressers in north Winnipeg than to write a full biography of General Sir Arthur Currie, the greatest soldier Canada ever produced. More important to talk about some obscure strike in the 1920s than to explain how the Department of Munitions and Supply directed the huge Canadian industrial war effort during the Second World War.

Of course, the stories of peacetime Canada matter enormously as we try to shape our understanding of where this nation came from and how it developed. But let us not out of ignorance try to claim that military history has run roughshod over most of the Canadian past. For one week in November out of fifty-two, our soldiers take precedence. The rest of the year, they tend to be forgotten, even those in battle zones. We have almost a thousand soldiers in Afghanistan training that nation's military, but how much coverage does this receive in the media? Is there a single reporter embedded there today? Yes, some media accompanied the Defence Minister when he recently flew in, and yes, some political figures will likely visit at Christmas, and the press corps will take note. But no one is covering the hard, dangerous work our mission to Kabul has undertaken. Someone should, Ms Payne. More military history and more military reportage, please, not less.

J.L. Granatstein is a Distinguished Research Fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
 
UPCOMING EVENTS


No events are scheduled at this time.


SEARCH
EXPERTS IN THE MEDIA

Global Times: BRICS summit displays the potential of a new future

by Editorial Staff (feat. Swaran Singh), WSFA 12, June 24, 2022

Oil's Dive Won't Bring Any Immediate Relief on Inflation

by Alex Longley, Elizabeth low, and Barbara Powell (feat. Amrita Sen), BNNBloomberg, June 24, 2022

China To Tout Its Governance Model At BRICS Summit

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), The Asean Post, June 23, 2022

Soutien aux victimes d’inconduites sexuelles dans l’armée

by Rude Dejardins (feat. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine), ICI Radio Canada, June 23, 2022

Defence: $4.9 billion for radars against Russian bombs

by Editorial Staff (feat. Rob Huebert), Archynews, June 23, 2022

The Hans Island “Peace” Agreement between Canada, Denmark, and Greenland

by Elin Hofverberg (feat. Natalie Loukavecha), Library of Congress, June 22, 2022

What the future holds for western Canadian oil producers

by Gabriel Friedman (feat. Kevin Birn), Beaumont News, June 22, 2022

At BRICS summit, China sets stage to tout its governance model

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), Aljazeera, June 22, 2022

Crude oil price: there are no changes to the fundamentals

by Faith Maina (feat. Amrita Sen), Invezz, June 22, 2022

Few details as Liberals promise billions to upgrade North American defences

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Andrea Charron), National Newswatch, June 20, 2022

Defence Minister Anita Anand to make announcement on continental defence

by Steven Chase (feat. Rob Huebert), The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2022

Table pancanadienne des politiques

by Alain Gravel (feat. Jean-Christophe Boucher), ICI Radio Canada, June 18, 2022

Russia Ukraine conflict

by Gloria Macarenko (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC Radio One, June 17, 2022

New privacy Bill to introduce rules for personal data, AI use

by Shaye Ganam (feat. Tom Keenan), 680 CHED, June 17, 2022


LATEST TWEETS

HEAD OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 150–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3H9

 

OTTAWA OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6

 

Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]
Web: cgai.ca

 

Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.

 

© 2002-2022 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001

 


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email