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Volume VII Number 13 . . . . March 2, 2001
"We buried more than just our Unknown Soldier at Sunday's [28 May 2000] emotional ceremony at the National War Memorial. We also buried our indifference to the sacrifices the men and women of Canada's Armed Forces have made and continue to make on our behalf.Canadians in War and Peacekeeping provides an instructive and somewhat unusual addition to the growing body of accounts of Canadians at war during the twentieth century. The author, himself, entered a career in the Canadian Forces in the post-World War II period and continued after retirement in active involvement in various memorial ventures: the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Department of National Defense Peacekeeping Monument, and the Canada Remembers project. In the course of this work, he became particularly involved with the Perley and Rideau Verterans' Health Centre in Ottawa, and it was his experience with the 250 veterans there that prompted this current account. Through the stories of over twenty of these men, Gardam attempts to draw in broad strokes the military as a profession. The stories of volunteer soldiers, airmen, sailors, and members of the Merchant Marine at war are present, of course from World War I to Korea, but the author goes beyond the wars, themselves, to draw the life of the professional during the periods of sometimes ambiguous peace. And it is this examination of the role of Peacekeeper - in the service of NATO and the United Nations International Commission for Supervision and Control in Central America, Egypt, the Middle East, the Congo, Vietnam, Cyprus, Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf that the book takes on a dimension that provides a much more comprehensive and balanced view of the life and role of the armed forces than can war stories alone.
The author expresses his "sincere hope that Canadians in War and Peacekeeping will be used by schools to educate, by veterans to recall the past, and by peacekeepers young and old; and that it will rekindle the flame of interest in Canada's military history." The plethora of war-related books during the past few years suggests that flame is already lit; but Gradam goes a bit further than this. His work helps to spark interest in the profession and in the military in all aspects of its combat-related role (though not touching on the not-combat related responsibilities civil defense and the like that has become a large part of the mandate). He has also gone some distance toward addressing the troubling doubts raised by recent scandals. While in no way downplaying these, Gradam places them in a larger frame which leaves the reader reassured about the fundamental integrity and professionalism of the military as a group notwithstanding individual aberrations. Indeed, where problems have emerged, they tend, it would seem, more to be the result of inadequate support from government and bureaucracy. With the increased appreciation of the difficulties diplomatic and physical under which the "peace-time" forces carried out their too often misunderstood and unappreciated task, the reader is left with a substantially enhanced respect and for the profession.
The stories are told in some cases by the individuals concerned, and in some cases at second hand by the author with interspersed first-hand quotations. This provides readers with an engaging and well illustrated set of vignettes, from World War I trenches to the POW camps of Hong Kong, but it really cannot realistically provide a comprehensive historical background to put all these in context, or even to make the specific events being described fully understandable to the uninformed reader. The impact of the military and peacekeeping task is transmitted effectively; but the book cannot be looked to nor should it be expected to be a coherent history. For what it is a set of individual stories that collectively present a way of life and a common set of values and attitudes it is very effective. And, ending as it does with glimpses of the Unknown Soldier and the Peacekeeping Monument, it is a compelling tribute to the individuals whose tales are recounted, and to the much larger group whose story they indirectly tell.
Alexander D. Gregor is a professor of the history of education in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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