Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Report: Marching As To War, by Pierre Burton

It's a big book. 600+ 6"x9" pages of small print. It covers close to fifty years, the formative part of the 20th century, in terms of the wars in which Canada participated.

As a child of the last half of the 20th century, I had no idea what had gone on before my advent. Anything before about 1980, when I suddenly became aware that the larger world existed, was prehistory and VERY BORING. This book remedied that, although I can't say I'm grateful. The nice thing about ignorance of history is how easy it is not to notice the same mistakes being made. I'm now denied that. Much of what Berton says about the Boer, World I, World II and Korean wars, about the bureaucratic bungling and political games that cost so many lives, can be said about the current situations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However I have discovered that although historically we are a passive and pacifist people, we have proven to be remarkably good at war when we are well trained and supplied. Canadians have served with distinction on the front lines of all the major conflicts, proving to be more resilient and effective than troops from many other parts of the world.

Berton does a remarkable job of putting the wars into perspective, humanizing them by balancing overviews of the action with first-person anecdotes of the events. However, as with the Arctic Grail, I found there to be a sufficient number of characters and events that they tended to become jumbled together in my mind. More than in the Arctic Grail, this book lacks a single through-line that would provide some perspective on the events and their impact. He discusses sovereignty and nationalism, but the book is not about that. He talks about Canada coming of age on the world stage, but the book is not about that either.

Still, although it was a difficult read, it was educational and enlightening and opened my eyes to a period of Canada's history, of my history, that I had never contemplated before.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this.

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