Getting Behind Ten Decisions

Getting Behind Ten Decisions

Posted on November 7 by Larry D. Rose in Non-fiction
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We usually think that war is decided by mighty battles and often it is. In the Second World War such battles as El Alamein, Stalingrad and Midway all had decisive effects on Allied victory. However, I wanted to write the book Ten Decisions to show that if you stand back and look at the Second World War, many of the decisions that mattered most, ones which were the most far-reaching, were not always made on the battlefield.

For instance, I examine Canada’s first important decision of the war — the decision to go war itself. It was history-making because it was the first time Canada declared war in its own right. Even more crucial, in 1939 Canada was a nation divided. Most English Canadians wanted to stand beside Britain if war broke out while most French Canadians did not. They thought a war declaration would be the start of another “Imperial” conflict and greatly feared conscription. We don’t often think of Prime Minister Mackenzie King as brilliant but his ability to bring Canada into the war united was masterful. Imagine if he had failed. Canada would have gone to war with protests and riots in French Canada and the prospect of civil war lurking in the background. After all, there had been rioting in 1917 and 1918 during the First World War. How would Canada have survived six years of this kind of division in the Second World War?  Entering the war as a united nation was a huge achievement on King’s part and one of the reasons why he should be considered one of our greatest prime ministers. Here is a vital decision about the war not reached on a battlefield but rather on Parliament Hill. 

A further point in Ten Decisions is that some decisions turned out far differently than expected. Most emphatically the Royal Canadian Navy did not want to adopt the small warship, the corvette, early on in the war. The admirals hated the very idea. However, they were forced to accept the corvette in 1939 simply because there was nothing else. Yet the ship went on to become a legend in the Battle of the Atlantic. This dinky warship, crewed mostly by teenaged or twenty-something land lubbers, decked out in their turtleneck sweaters, played a vital role in winning the war.

The book also describes the Dieppe Raid as one of the worst, if not the worst, decisions for Canada in the war. I thought it was important to include Dieppe, as disastrous as it was, because it still resonates today. There is still something unexplained and unfinished about Dieppe. How could such a dreadful operation have ever been launched? There was heroism on the beaches but the cost was ghastly. Dieppe resonates today because it reminds us of a simple truth: freedom is not free. 

Ten Decisions also covers the contribution of such outstanding wartime leaders as C.D. Howe, Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds and, yes, the baffling but brilliant Mackenzie King.

Canada entered the Second World War as a semi-colony mired in the Great Depression. It emerged as a dynamic and self-confident middle power. The sacrifice was enormous but Canadians won out in a trial such as the world had never seen before. It showed Canadians the real strength of their country; it turned out to be stronger than most could have ever imagined. 

Larry D. Rose

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
Larry D. Rose photo

Larry D. Rose

Larry D. Rose is the author of Mobilize!: Why Canada Was Unprepared for the Second World War. His articles have appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, and other publications. He lives in Toronto.