Canada in the Great Power Game 1914-2014. Gwynne Dyer. Random House Canada, 2014.
First published in Foreign Policy Journal, 2014 08 22.
Canada’s reputation as a ‘peacekeeping’ nation has been badly tarnished over the past decade, rightfully so. It is partly because of the current Harper conservative governments attitude of trying to be one of the big boys, front-running and cozying up to any and all directives of the Washington consensus group of establishments and governments. But as this recent work by Gwynne Dyer explains, Canada’s history is not all too different than its current affairs might indicate, more a degree of rhetorical hubris than actual fact. In Canada in the Great Power Game 1914-2014 Dyer outlines Canada’s history of duplicity within the imperial adventurers of their day.
The two main empires over the past century have been from Great Britain and the United States. For Canada, the Great Power games involves several aspects. First is the desire to be one of the ‘big boys’, to be an international player on its own right. A second layer of interest, especially during the British Empire but continuing later within the U.S. empire, was the positioning of the politicians and ‘statesmen’ to curry favour with the larger powers for personal gain - a peerage or honorable title, or corporate financial gain.
An important aspect of Canada’s gamesmanship was - and is - the domestic scene. This involved manipulating public opinion in order for the power players to achieve their own personal ulterior motives - what was opined and argued publicly seldom matched the real goal of the politicians. Similarly, the estrangement between the French and English bases of Canada, especially during the great wars’ calls for conscription, created a double internal layer of manipulations. First was the threat that Canada might actually face its own internal revolution and separatist movement; and secondly was the effort to try and maintain a majority within parliament by playing off the French factions against or with the English, depending on circumstances, for the main ideal of staying in power.
None of this is all that startling as any one who reads about history and politicians understands that much of it is about personal gain, mainly financial but also basic power. As the Great Game involves many wars, Dyers writing focuses on the political features of the Boer War, both World Wars and later wars in Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Korea, and the more recent Iraq/Afghanistan imbroglios.
Dyer’s writing examines the politics around the series of incidents that involved Canada in the Great Game. His focus is on the manipulations of the government of the day, be it Conservative or Liberal, and how they strove for power, how different personalities strove mainly for their own benefit, and how they did this over the dozens of thousands of dead Canadians, most of them needlessly killed in wars that Canada had no real interest in or direct threat from.
Counter to this are the many references from the ‘people’ - quotes and anecdotes from surviving members of the armed forces and their relatives as this work was originally made for a CBC television series in the late 1980s, but was cancelled due to its alternate ideological presentations.
Again, nothing new in that, except that this is a well written refreshing account concerning the very real perceptions of the average Canadians about war, how easily some of them were manipulated into a patriotic fervor for the powers that be - especially with the British settlers wanting to support the British Empire - but also how others were or became fully aware of the jargon and false ideology of the government of the day. As cited by one war writer, “There’s only one reason any of us enlisted, and that’s pure, low down, unmitigated ignorance.”
There are also significant quotes from the politicians own memoirs and writings of their days. After generously rigging the voting structure Robert Borden, Canada’s eighth Prime Minister (1911-1920) wrote,
Our first duty is to win at any cost the upcoming election, in order that we may continue to do our part in winning this war and that Canada not be disgraced.
The same PM Borden wrote about Canada’s intervention into Russia after the 1918 revolution,
Intimate relations with that rapidly developing country will be a great advantage to Canada in the future….our interposition with a small military force would tend to bring Canada into favourable notice by the strongest elements in that great community.
So not for democracy, not for freedom, but so that we are not disgraced and will receive favourable notice among other nations. Screw the infantryman.
But the infantryman has his reply,
...after the failure of the last twenty years he goes back into uniform in the firm conviction that the last war, and this one too [World Wars I and II], are just put up jobs arranged by high finance and the armaments manufacturers to sell their products and reduce employment by killing off a few million soldiers...and its a pretty common opinion among remobilised war veterans.
During the Second World War, Mackenzie King, Canada’s clairvoyant consulting bachelor PM from 1921 to 1948 (minus one five year parliamentary session), “gloried in his role as a vital intermediary between Churchill and Roosevelt.” When sending troops to Hong Kong to fight the Japanese “as a part of the defence of Canada and of freedom”, the troops were really “sacrificial pawns in King’s rearguard action against British pressure for greater participation in the war and pro-conscription measures from his own cabinet and armed forces.”
These counterforces played out through the creation of NATO, Korea, the Cold War, and on into today’s wars. The message was always manipulated, the soldiers were generally cannon fodder for a greater cause (that being the financeers, corporations, and the political up and coming), and the politicians played for power.
Dyer writes up to and including a short paragraph on the Ukrainian situation. This is unfortunate as his writing on fully historical items is clear and well referenced. However when it comes to Vladimir Putin, he swallows the mainstream media line as if he had full faith in what they were writing about current events, this in spite of his own historical knowledge of how conflicts are never what they appear to be as maintained for the public eye. Dyer writes,
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea has been almost universally interpreted as a crude face-saving action by President Putin, who was humiliated by the overthrow of the pro-Russian government in Kiev, and not as the first step in a Russian project for world conquest...the alliance has already made it clear that it has no intention of sending Western troops into Ukraine. There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the whole notion of a new Cold War, and not simply because today’s Russia…is too weak to hold up its end of it. NATO doesn’t need a new Cold War to justify its continued existence: it has succeeded in finding other things to do.
Even though this is a very short almost after thought reference in the book, I highlight it because it displays how even the best of historians can be sucked into mainstream propaganda and not display the critical thought and analysis that seems apparent in the main text. The reader needs to remain cautious about the differences between the two. Dyer obviously has not read or been aware of the many machinations behind the scenes with the United States, the NSA, the various NGOs, and the large amounts of US$ being spent in order to subvert Ukraine in order to gain it for the European Union and yes, for NATO.
NATO has not “succeeded in finding other things to do,” unless he is referring to the disaster of Libya, and the slow encroaching front line as more and more east European states are used to contain Russia. Dyer swallows the ‘universal’ jargon - usually announced as ‘the rest of the world’ - that denounces Putin’s action as a face saver. No, it is not a face saver, but a reasonably obvious pre-considered move prepared for just such a moment, and yes, Putin is not out to conquer the world. As for the distinct lack of enthusiasm for a new Cold War, that statement fully contradicts the reality of what the United States is trying to achieve with the EU and the sanctions and financial manipulations it is trying to impose on Russia. And is Russia too weak to hold up its end of the Cold War? Time will tell, but already the EU is hurting as much if not more than Russia (remember that in a financial war, the goal is not profits, but the destruction or damaging of the oppositions’ economy) and the U.S is well on its way to becoming a third world country demographically if not militarily.
Dyer is Canadian, and obviously Dyer can be biased by US and Canadian mainstream corporate propaganda and dogma. That needs to be considered when reading this otherwise excellent work - as it becomes more modern history, the interpretations become weaker. Canada is fully supporting NATO in its encroachment on Russia, it is fully supporting the U.S. in its pursuits, and yes the Canadian politicians and corporate bosses still manipulate the scenarios as they have over the century of Canada in the Great Power Game.