Friday, January 15, 2016

"The Generals"

As some of you may recall, I'm writing a screenplay about the Second World War. These past few years I've learned more about that conflict than I'd learned in the previous 45 years. Not part of the story I'm writing, but as a side interest, I read about just what us Canadians were up to in the conflict.

For instance; I used to think that the Dieppe Raid was a half-hearted attempt by the British to conduct a landing, with the purpose being for it to fail and thereby convince the US-Americans and the Soviets that an invasion of France was premature. Since troops were going to be lost, better make them "unimportant" colonials. And so it fell to Canadian soldiers to get massacred at Dieppe.

But apparently Canadian leadership, and no doubt the right-wing portion of the Canadian electorate, and, also it appears, some of the Canadian soldiers in Britain who were bored from years of drilling, who demanded to be a part of it.

I'm no big fan of J. L. Granatstein, but when I see a hardcover book by him about the war, selling for $4.99 at "Value Village" I decide to buy it.

The Generals is a nicely written book. It describes how Canada, with much less in the way of developed resources and skills, was able to cobble together the ability to fight alongside the more experienced British and the more powerful US-Americans. I personally like biographical history because it develops history on a human scale. So, you get a good sense of the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of the men who represented Canada on the battle-front in one of the biggest overseas endeavours this country has ever been a part of.

For the most part, I don't like these guys. Andrew McNaughton was the guy who (to obtain money for the War Department) convinced the Mackenzie-King government to let him hire unemployed single-men to build air-fields and bases, under military discipline, during the Great Depression. Anger and frustration at this shitty existence exploded and led to the On-To-Ottawa Trek.

Harry Crerar was Canada's leading general during the fighting portion of the war. Turns out he was from Hamilton. There was a Dr. Crerar at the end of the street I grew up on in Hamilton. I wonder if they were related.

Guy Simonds was supposedly our best fighting leader. He was an out-and-out imperialist. Evidently a high achiever who had to overcome his family's relative poverty and get through the Royal Military College through loans from sympathetic higher-ups. He called for stuff like peace-time conscription after the war and more spending on the military.

Granatstein spends a lot of time moaning about the neglect of the Canadian military during the inter-war years. Yes. Well, a lot of things got neglected during the Great Depression. And, the mindless slaughter of the First World War turned a lot of sensible people off of militarism and war. When you consider that the same martial values inspired the German and the Japanese militaries as they did for every military in the world, the thing to lament is that this madness wasn't thoroughly expunged everywhere, for all time.

But it wasn't. And these guys helped to do the organizing and reacting of some of the battles that brought Hitlerism to an end.

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