________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 6 . . . . November 12, 1999

cover Faces of War.

Dave Brown.
Burnstown, ON: General Store Publishing House, 1998.
155 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 1-896182-97-6.

Subject Headings:
World War, 1914-1918-Biography.
World War, 1939-1945-Biography.
Canada-Armed Forces-Biography.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Alexander Gregor.

*** /4

Faces of War comprises a collection of newspaper columns written under the rubric of "Brown's Beat" in the Ottawa Citizen during the last half decade. The ambit of the book includes both world wars, though it does not attempt to present any systematic history of those two conflicts. Nor is a detailed familiarity with that history necessary to an appreciation of the collection. Those two wars are the occasion for the vignettes; the focus is war itself and the experience of ordinary people living through it. Brown claims no personal war experience, but, from early childhood, he had a fascination with the stories of those around him and an obvious capacity to draw those stories out. A media award presented to him by the Royal Canadian Legion evidences the fairness and accuracy of the portraits he is able to draw in these short articles. That same concern for accuracy and detail brought him not just into the homes and confidence of his subjects, but also to the battlefields of Europe where their stories had taken place. His empathy for their experience is seen as well in the imaginary "interviews" he conducts with those who did not return, but remained in one of the cemeteries or mass graves of the Western Front. Some of his subjects are famous; but, for the most part, they are part of the large mass unknown except to family and friends. Brown's ultimate "truth" about wars is that they are fought by boys, although his cast involves other than fighting men and prisoners of war. Included as well is a battlefield nurse, the Merchant Marine, chaplains and war correspondents.
     Although the stories are moving, the book is easily read and would lend itself nicely to a high school course on history or social issues. It provides a balanced and empathetic insight into the human dimension of war, perhaps more valuable than a systematic understanding of the chronological events per se. (That said, however, it is fair to assume that the interest sparked by these stories will send many to further investigation of more detailed histories lying behind.) Like the imagery conveyed by the Great War poets of the first war, these pieces of journalism convey the dignity of sacrifice and dedication; but war itself is not romanticized or sanitized. But with these stories captured from a group of participants that is rapidly disappearing the reader who has not him/herself experienced war, on the battle front or the home front, is left with an understanding of how that experience would shape the views and values of those who did. That kind of understanding is a key element in what general education must mean today.


Alexander D. Gregor is the Director of the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364