Whose War Is It?

Stand on guard, historian tells Canada: Military scholar J.L Granatstein makes a passionate plea for a more muscular Canada, one that can protect itself at home and once again punch above its weight on the international scene. Furthermore, the U.S. war on terror, he says, is our war too

Montreal Gazette
Saturday, February 24, 2007

J.L. Granatstein starts his latest book, Whose War Is It?, with a horrifying scenario: The “big one,” an 8.9 quake, has hit Vancouver at 8:08 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008. Casualties are in the thousands and widespread looting is going on in the smouldering ruins of the city. Then two cells of homegrown Islamic terrorists launch coordinated attacks in Toronto and Montreal. A violent backlash against Muslims by mobs of vigilante youth is immediate.

But after decades of military cuts, the government simply doesn’t have enough resources to mount an effective rescue and relief effort, quell the violence and restore order.

Then the Americans shut the border and our economy, so dependent on unfettered access to U.S. markets, simply collapses.

It would be too easy to dismiss Granatstein as a right-wing scaremonger if he weren’t this country’s pre-eminent military historian, who brings decades of scholarship and understanding of defence and foreign policy issues facing Canada.

Whose War Is It? should be essential reading for anybody interested in Canada’s defence and foreign policy. With his trademark acerbic prose, Granatstein crystallizes a school of thought that is gathering momentum in Canada, although it’s still a minority view.

But Whose War Is It? is not an unbiased academic study of policy issues facing Canada. It’s a passionate plea for a more muscular Canada, a Canada that can protect itself at home and once again can punch above its weight on the international scene.

In Granatstein’s opinion, this inevitably means a Canada more closely allied with the United States.

“Canada has only one true interest – successfully managing the relationship with the United States,” he writes. “Our livelihood as a people and our security as a nation depend on getting this relationship right. The difficulty is that our independence is most at risk through our relations with our closest neighbour, best friend, and major trading partner.”

In fact, Granatstein argues that a more powerful Canadian military and closer cooperation with the United States on continental defence is the best way to preserve Canadian sovereignty. America’s war on terror is also our war, he says.

Granatstein doesn’t hide that his political sympathies lie in the Conservative camp and he doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois which, according to him, are “wallowing in the disease of anti-Americanism.” While Granatstein tries to prove his point, he slaughters a few of Canada’s sacred cows, including peacekeeping and multiculturalism.

Granatstein does agree that peacekeeping has helped to enhance Canada’s international image, but he rallies against harmful idealization of peacekeeping as the only legitimate activity for Canadian soldiers.

He points out that even though the Canadian public might be averse to the idea of our soldiers in combat roles, Canadian soldiers have been good peacekeepers precisely because they are well-trained combat soldiers first.

“Canadians have never understood another key factor,” Granatstein writes. “Traditional peacekeeping was a role the Canadian military could play not because Canada was neutral – it never was – but because Canada was a traditional Commonwealth and Western military power, used to sending troops overseas, and with its training and equipment designed for coalition service.”

Apart from the peacekeeping myth, Granatstein sees two other obstacles to a more forceful Canadian defence and foreign policy: Quebec pacifism and the side effects of the policy of multiculturalism.

These two chapters are perhaps the most provocative of all. Granatstein doesn’t shy away from asking some uncomfortable and very “politically incorrect” questions that are sure to raise a storm of indignation, at least here in Quebec.

Granatstein argues that if Anglo-Canadians shaped foreign and defence policy in the first hundred years of Canada’s existence, French-Canadians have been calling the shots since 1968. And that can’t continue, he writes.

“If … it is bad policy to let Canadian Jews or Canadian Muslims have undue influence on Canada’s policy to Israel, for example, it is similarly bad policy to let French Canada determine Canadian foreign and defence policy.”

Granatstein’s cure for Canada’s foreign policy ills is a healthy dose of old-fashioned realpolitik, a policy driven by national interest, not by high-minded moralizing or competing ethnic interests.

Levon Sevunts is a freelance writer and journalist and a member of the Canadian War Correspondents Association.

Whose War Is It?

How Canada Can Survive in the

Post-9/11 World

By J.L. Granatstein

A Phyllis Bruce Book, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.,

246 pages, $34.95

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