"KEEP CANADA Out OF WAR"
THE DEFENSE PROBLEM
FRANK H. UNDERHILL
IT IS NOW familiar knowledge that some time about 1933 or 1934 the world passed from the post-war into the pre-war era. The great European powers are feverishly preparing for another war with one another. They have not yet reached the stage at which the actions of each government are regulated by the inexorable demands of the military timetable of its general staff, but they are getting perilously close to it. There is nothing much that a small and distant country like Canada can do to stop this terrible drift toward war in Europe. Our chief concern from now on must be w hether we are to go into the war or stay out of it.
There is, indeed, one thing that w-e can do to make a world war less inevitable, and since 1935 our Government has been doing it. In international trade, Canada is not a small power but one of the most important nations of the world. All economists agree that the best way to relieve those pressures which threaten to produce the explosion of a war is to enlarge the volume of international trade, so that by a freer exchange of goods and services the standard of living of all peoples may be raised and prosperity may be more widely shared. Canada should do whatever she can in this way to ease the economic and psychological strains that are slowly driving the peoples of Europe mad. On the trade front we can give a lead and show an example to the world.
Strangely enough, if you look around the contemporary scene, you will notice that those who are most vehement in demanding that we arm ourselves against unspecified enemies are also the very people who have most obstinately opposed all steps toward freer trade. There must be a moral somewhere in this.
To exchange goods and services freely with all peoples is the one effective contribution which we in Canada can make toward world peace. It is too late now to pretend to believe that, by promising our military support to the League of Nations or to Great Britain, we help to assure peace in Europe. All that we help to assure by such action is the burying of 60,000 more Canadians somewhere across the ocean. It may be that another such mass burial service will also assure world peace, or democracy, or freedom— after the next war. But our experience during and since the last war should have made us sceptical about such claims. And we should be especially suspicious of all those elderly statesmen and publicists who so nobly dedicated one generation of Canadian youth to these high causes in 1914, and who can now think of no more fitting way of sanctifying that sacrifice than to dedicate another generation to a similar sacrifice.
As a force for maintaining collective security or for eliminating the threat of war from the world, the League of Nations no longer counts. Failing a lead by some great European power, primarily by Great Britain, there is nothing that we in Canada can do to galvanize it into life again; and there is not the remotest chance of such a lead in Europe being given. This hard fact is now recognized by everybody except a few inveterate idealogues in our League of Nations Society.
The choice, therefore, which we have to make as we face the European situation is whether we shall try to keep ourselves free from the contagion of war by sticking to our own affairs here in our North American home, or whether we shall plunge into the next European war on whichever side the present British Government may decide to support. There is no third choice. Ingenious diplomats may manoeuvre so as to line up the League with its moral prestige on their side of the trenches. Skilful propagandists may try to persuade us that the cause of liberty and democracy is inextricably bound up with the victory of their side. And
This is the second article in a series diseussiiiK Umpire defense and the Canadian defense program of the Dominion Government. The first article, by Honorable G. Howard Ferguson, published in Maclean’s April 15 issue, set forth the author's reasons for believing that Canada must contribute to the maintenance of the Umpire's defense organization. In the following article, Professor Frank H. Underhill, of the Department of History, Unb'ersity of Toronto, tells why he believes Canada should not participate in war preparations. Other viewpoints will be presented in subsequent issues. Maclean’s publishes this series in order that the various schools of thought may be clearly defined. The opinions given are not necessarily subscribed to by the magazine itself.
we may Hatter ourselves that we can discern the issues clearly. But our historians will later disillusion us about all these things. All that we can decide at the moment is either that we stay out of the war or that we go into it blindly on the side of Britain and stay in it till the bitter end.
I believe, with the late John S. Ewart, that we in Canada should emulate Ulysses and his companions, and sail past the European sirens our ears stuffed with the tax-bills of the last war.
Invasion Not Practicable
TT WILL BE said, however, that, in the present unsettled
condition of the world, Canada herself lies in an exposed position, that we are in danger of attack from some international brigand, and that our only ultimate security lies in the power of the British Empire. And if we accept protection from the Empire, we ought to contribute to its defense. We should not sponge upon Great Britain or, alternatively, upon the United States. Let us examine this proposition.
We may note, first of all, that the identity of these international brigands who are about to leap upon us is never specified. The vai ious Little Orphan Annies who are trying to make our fiesh creep with tales of how the foreign goblins will get our Pre-Cambrian shield if we don’t watch out, never condescend to give us concrete details.
The fact is that Canada’s chief protection lies in her geographical position. As the Russians used to depend upon their famous Generals January and February, so we are guarded by Generals Atlantic and Pacific. No one has produced the slightest evidence that it is possible for an armed force of any size to land ujx)n and take possession of Canadian territory. Enemy fleets cannot operate thousands of miles from their base. Bombing airplanes have not merely to cross the ocean with their bombs, but to get back to their base again. I have yet to hear of any competent military authority, either within or outside of our Department of Defense, who thinks that an effective invasion of our territory from overseas is practicable, or that we need to guard against any danger greater than that of sporadic hit-and-run raids. We should put our coastal areas in proper defensive condition against such eventualities, by provision of mines, submarines, air bases, etc. We should take steps to protect shipping near our shores. We can do all this without any enormous expense.
But this is something quite different from what our Government is starting out to do this year; namely, to construct the skeleton framework of a great national armed force, a framework which can be filled in and expanded by mass enlistment or conscription on the outbreak of war, and which is primarily designed not for local defense at all but for a series of expeditionary contingents overseas. I have
vet to hear of a single journalist or military man in Ottawa who doesn’t (in private) laugh at the Government’s pretense that its present defense expenditures are meant for defense here in Canada.
If we equip ourselves with a defense force which is designed to meet such dangers as can reasonably be calculated by our military experts, it is highly unlikely that any invading force coming by sea or air from across the ocean can do much damage to us. Moreover, there is no potential enemy across the Atlantic or Pacific who is in a position to try the experiment of an invasion of Canada. When we pierce through all the vague alarmist talk about the portentous dangers that threaten us, it becomes clear that there are only two powers who could possibly contemplate an expedition against us. They are Germany and Japan. (The Italian baritone, whose voice is already becoming a little cracked, can’t even subdue the half-armed Spaniards at the other end of his Mediterranean lake.)
Trade Not Greatly Endangered
'T'HERE MAY BE some excitable persons in Canada who
get nightmares dreaming about a gratuitous unprovoked attack by a German or a Japanese army which will travel thousands of miles and suddenly out of a clear sky pounce upon us. We should enlarge our mental hospitals to accommodate any citizens with such over-stimulated imaginations. No situation is conceivable in Europe or in the Far East in which either of these two Fascist ¡xnvers would have its hands free to embark on a serious expedition across the ocean to attack us. In Europe the balance of forces on the Rhine, the Danube, the Vistula, across the Alps, and across the English Channel, compels Hitler and his advisers to keep their attention concentrated there. Even today, as everyone knows who has been following the Spanish situation, Hitler’s Reichswehr staff is gravely alarmed at his recklessness in sending troops and equipment so far afield as Spain, when they may be needed any moment much nearer home. People who imagine that in a European war Germany would detach some of her forces to invade a country 3,000 miles across the Atlantic are more insane than any German Nazi has ever been alleged to be. And after the European w'ar is over both sides will be too exhausted for adventures in America. Similar considerations hold good for Japan. She has staked her future in China, and with Russia watching her, next door, she is not going to dissipate her forces and make new enemies for herself by trying to seize British Columbia.
There is one special danger in the future for which we should prepare on our Pacific front. If Japan and the United States ever go to war, our British Columbia coast will lie on the great circle line which will be the natural air route by which their air squadrons would try to get at one another. If we want to stay out of such a war, we must establish such a control of out coast as will discourage either belligerent from the temptation to violate our neutrality. But this is not an immediate danger. With the best will in the world to do so, the Japs and Americans cannot yet go to war because they are so far apart that neither power can injure the other in any vital spot. So we have considerable time until engineers and scientists, have advanced our twentieth century civilization to the point at which a transpacific war is practicable.
Let us then equip ourselves to meet such dangers as competent military experts may tell us are real, and let us refuse to excite ourselves over the nightmares either of the honestly mistaken alarmists or of the politician-salesmen of armament firms. We can provide for our local defense here in North America without needing to sponge either on Britain or on the United States. This is all that our national selfrespect demands. With fires breaking out in various parts of the world, we must take out some insurance. But this is purely a business proposition, and the amount of our insurance can be proportionate to our risks.
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It will be said, however, that Canada depends for lier livelihood upon foreign trade, and that it is not merely our geographic territory that we have to protect. There is truth in this, but let us keep our sense of proportion. For the fiscal year 1936, 56.8 per cent of our imports came from the United States and 42.5 per cent of our exports went to the United States. North and South America as a whole accounted for 63.2 per cent of our imports and 46.4 per cent of our exports. All this part of our trade is carried on overland or along American coasts, and is not likely to be affected by wars on the far side of the oceans.
Of the other part, the transoceanic trade, only a small fraction is carried in Canadian vessels or by Canadian crews. In submarineand airplane-infested waters this trade cannot be protected completely. ButtheBritishandFrenchnavies protected it in the last war and they will do their best to protect it in the next one—not because they wish to do us a favor which puts us in their debt, but because they need our goods. In the same way, they will protect the trade of the Argentine, of Denmark and the Scandinavian countries, of the United States, of any country that will trade with them. We ourselves cannot possibly protect this trade except by sucli an expenditure as would cost more than the trade is worth. And before we decide to try to protect it by joining Britain in her next European war, we should ask ourselves seriously just what the full cost in men and money of such action is likely to he. and how far the profits of that part of our external trade—less than half of the total trade—justify such a cost.
Defense of What?
THERE STILL survives in Canada a dwindling body of belated colonials who treat any frank discussion of our relations with Great Britain as high treason, and who regard it as our duty to spring to arms whenever the summons comes from Westminster. It is useless to argue with such people. But there are not many of (hem left, and there are no more of them being bom. They have an undue share of the more dignified posts in church and state, and this makes them seem a more important section of our community than they are. The rest of the community, and especially the younger members of it, arc now for the most part able to discuss the question.of our British relations from a purely Canadian point of view.
The military advantage of the British connection is supposed to be that it guarantees our security. I have tried to show that, whatever may be the case of other parts of the British Empire, we in Canada are not in a position of any great insecurity. whether we are in or out of the Empire.
Whatever the advantages of the connection. if the British Commonwealth is to be treated as an offensive and defensive union, it involves for us also certain heavy costs. In the first place, if we tie ourselves to British leadership, we are committing ourselves to go to war in Europe whenever the present Chambeilain-Hoare-Baldwin Government stumbles into a war. Are we quite sure that our Canadian frontier also is on the Rhine? Are we prepared to profess a blind faith in the rightness of the present British Government’s foreign policy? Let us not deceive ourselves by fine phrases. We have no means of controlling
the policy of the present British Government; it simply presents us with a fail accompli. Armaments may honestly be intended for the preservation of peace; but their ultimate use, and the use to which they have always been put in the past history of Europe, is for the fighting of war.
It is ultimately to the fighting of a war that we commit ourselves when we line up behind the present British Government. And this is an unlimited commitment. For, as the ancient Greek historian long ago pointed out, the course of war cannot be calculated. We cannot go into it on any limited basis. All past wars have been expected by the belligerents to be short ones, but most of them have turned out to he long and exhaustive.
We shall also remember something else.
The British navy does not exist for our defense. If Canada went out of the Commonwealth tomorrow, the British navy would not be diminished by a single destroyer. It was built and it functions for the defense of Great Britain and her dependent Empire, of which we arc not a part. Nor need we worry about the alleged shameful contrast between the heavy burden borne by the British taxpayer and the slight cost of defense which falls on the Canadian citizen.
That heavy burden of the British taxpayer is due to the fact that he enjoys the profits from an extended Empire and that he (or his Government for him) thinks that it is worth while to spend money and men in the defense of that Empire. His present Government has shown repeatedly that it is not prepared to fight for democracy or for the principles of the League. It would run no risks for international morality in Manchuria or Ethiopia. But it will fight for its Empire. And that Empire is not our Empire. We get no profits from it; the benefits accruing to us since 1932 from the preferences given by the British dependencies are negligible. We have no investments in it; Canadian external investments are almost entirely in the United States and in Central and South America. Our sons get no well-paid jobs in the Imperial sendee in Africa or Asia. The GibraltarSuez-Aden-Bombay-Singa pore life line is not our life line.
When, therefore, our native Colonel Blimps or peregrinating Imperialists from across the ocean orate to us about our partnership with the mother country in defense, it is fitting for us to ask: Defense of what? The solidarity of the Commonwealth must be based upon something that will appeal to our reason more forcibly than the defense of British investments in Africa and Asia.
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We do share certain ideals and traditions with the people of Great Britain, and these are the most precious part of our civilization. But surely we require something more plausible than the record of the present British Government since 1931 to make us believe that it is for these ideals that we shall be asked to bury more Canadians in Europe. If the price of cherishing these ideals is to be that Canada is bound to support with arms the kind of policy which has recently been pursued by the British Government, it may occur to a good many Canadians that perhaps we can best nourish those institutions—free speech and assembly, the rule of law, government by discussion, toleration of minorities—by confining ourselves strictly to our own affairs here in North America. And when one points out considerations of this kind he is not being anti-English, he is merely being pro-Canadian.
Overseas War Would Destroy Unity
r"PHERE REMAINS the most important of all the considerations which Canadians should bear in mind when they discuss the problems of our external policy. And that is the disastrous effect upon our national unity of plunging into another overseas war.
On July 1 of this year, 1937, we shall celebrate the seventieth anniversary of our Canadian Confederation. As we take stock of our assets and liabilities, we must all regretfully admit that the experiment of building up a united Canadian community here in the northern half of North America has not been too successful. We are all more acutely aware today than we have ever been before how deep and wide are the cleavages that divide different sections of our people. Our national unity is threatened by bitter disputes between races and religions, between geographical sections of the country, between occupational groups, between employers and workers, between rich and poor. Provincial particularism is rampant from the Atlantic to the Pacific. (It is only the citizens of Ontario who labor under the curious delusion that when they give vent to their parochial Ontario prejudices they are expressing a national point of view.) And all of these differences, which have been accentuated by seven lean years of depression, seem to be in no wise softened by the return of better times.
We should recognize now, as we think over our two generations of experience as a nation, that a real solidarity of interest and sentiment can only be achieved slowly in a society composed of such diverse elements as our Dominion. We need time, and above all, we need quiet and peace. If fortune grants us time and peace, we may hope that gradually a healthier tone of tolerance and conciliation and kindliness will be established in the intercourse of our eleven million Canadians with one another.
But nothing is more certain than that our entry into another war, except one which is forced upon us by an actual invasion of our territory, will destroy overnight all such unity as we have hitherto achieved. Relations between French and English in our country are still embittered by the memories of the last war; and in another war there will be no unanimity even among the English-speaking Canadians. Another war will put such a strain upon our national structure as it may not be able to withstand. It will substitute an atmosphere of hate and hysteria for one of reasonableness and good will. By the imposition of an artificial unity enforced through the machinery of a totalitarian state, it will delay and perhaps make impossible the growth of any genuine unity based on conciliation and consent
Most fatal of all results, war will accentuate all the existing social and class divisions within our society. For in an economy which depends upon the motive of private profit, there are no effective means by which Government can “conscript wealth” or “take the profit out of war.” To encourage hopes of such a Utopia is merely to ensure that the ultimate popular disillusionment will be all the more bitter. When it is discovered how the profits and the sacrifices of war are actually being apportioned among our people, the consequences are going to be extremely ugly. And they will not be rendered any less ugly when the realization spreads that, in many cases, the men who were loudest in preaching this next war for democracy were also the men who were most determined in their opposition to all those movements for collective bargaining and for social security in which the poorer members of our democracy are most directly interested.
Most Canadians believe that the experiment of building up a united democratic national community in Canada has been worth while hitherto, and is worth continuing. They should think seriously about what will happen to that experiment if we deliberately plunge our country into the civil discord which participation in an overseas war will provoke.