Jody Perrun, The Patriotic Consensus: Unity, Morale and the Second World War in Winnipeg.
JODY PERRUN has produced a comprehensive and welcome addition to the growing number of recent publications examining the impact of the World Wars within the confines of a particular Canadian community. Based in part upon the premise that national studies of Canada's homefront--which surprisingly remain sparse--flatten out diverse experiences, this analysis emphasizes that the Second World War both united and fractured Winnipeg where, for instance, patriotism manifested from both heartfelt loyalty and the application of coercion.
Perrun shows Winnipeg as a compelling place upon which to focus analysis. Then the second largest community in Western Canada, it was also among the country's most ethnically diverse cities. More than a third of its 300,000 residents were born outside of Britain and the United States, a group mainly comprised of Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Scandinavians and Poles, people who mostly congregated in the city's North End. More than most places, Winnipeg possessed a powerful and politically robust labour movement that had demonstrated a propensity to radicalism, most obviously with the 1919 General Strike.
Winnipeg entered the war with a strong, but still limited, consensus. Recruitment proceeded well but, by the end of 1941, there came notable pressure, particularly from the city's Anglo-Saxon majority, for conscription for overseas service to force so-called slackers into the military. Such was a sentiment focused not only upon Quebec, namely its French-Canadian majority, but also on local groups, such as Mennonites. While some were castigated for their reluctance to volunteer, Perrun shows others as discouraged, and even precluded, from military service, namely those of African, Asian and Aboriginal background.
Popular opinion, as expressed in the press and from societal leaders, enthusiastically backed the war effort. But Perrun argues that unity of purpose was also pursued through coercion and repression, such as intolerance of dissenting views. Reminiscent of World War I Canada, many Winnipeggers expressed concern over fifth columnists, assuming their presence among those of Central and Eastern European decent. He writes of dissatisfaction expressed towards the federal government for supposedly not doing enough to protect Canadians from potential enemy saboteurs, something that prompted Manitoba's Attorney General to organize a home defence force among those deemed ineligible for military service. Internment operations saw notable attention placed on Winnipeg's Germans and Ukrainians. Moreover, twenty Winnipeg Communists were interned out of some 100 Communists nationwide. The significant influence the political left once enjoyed in local government disintegrated, something from which there was no recovery even after the Soviet Union switched to the Allied side and Canadian Communists championed the war effort. Most Communists who had been interned were released over the course of 1942. Still Winnipeggers remained wary of accepting them as allies, claiming they had no attachment to defending freedom, and only backed Canada's war effort as a means of supporting Moscow.
Perrun's study provides valuable detail on the ways in which the war worsened internal fractures within certain groups, one example being between the Ukrainian left, which ultimately promoted a maximum war effort, including conscription, and Ukrainian nationalists who despised the Soviets for the brutal occupation of their homeland. Perrun also presents Winnipeg as divided by the April 1942 plebiscite in which the federal government sought a mandate to release it from its pledge not to conscript for overseas service. Most supported a "yes" vote, but in the city's north end, large numbers of Ukrainians, Poles and Germans registered their opposition, as did French-Canadians congregated in St. Boniface. Vitriolic condemnations of opposing views were also evident in the press, as the Winnipeg Tribune, a conservative newspaper, viciously denounced its main competitor, the Winnipeg Free Press, a long-time Liberal supporter, for advocating an approach of "studious moderation" (52) on conscription. Perrun presents the tyranny of the majority as also evident when it came to the treatment of Japanese Canadians. Several hundred forcibly evacuated from Canada's West Coast worked for a pittance under unusually harsh conditions on Manitoba's sugar beet farms.
The Patriotic Consensus covers the myriad ways in which Winnipeggers rallied to support the war effort. Besides nationally orchestrated propaganda, namely for Victory Bond campaigns, Perrun shows how grassroots efforts mobilized thousands of volunteers and produced remarkable results, as Winnipeg consistently, and significantly, exceeded average per capita funds raised across Canada. He presents innovative local initiatives, namely If Day, where, to spark Victory Bond purchases, the military "invaded" Winnipeg to create the atmosphere of a Nazi occupation, a strategy publicized across North America and that spawned similar activities elsewhere.
Perrun explains how women volunteers led efforts to raise the morale of servicemen in Canada and overseas, namely by packing and sending comfort packages and running canteens. Efforts to salvage items was also shown as engaging multitudes, and making people feel they were providing essential contributions to the war effort. Many others took it upon themselves to try and lessen the financial and emotional strains experienced by those left at home by servicemen, namely wives, often with children; but Perrun explains this was an activity also designed to monitor behaviour, namely by reporting on women whose moral conduct was deemed unworthy of government support through the Dependents Allowance program. Considerable space is also devoted to covering the challenges the war posed to family stability as a result of lengthy separations, the perception of ill-governed youth and rising delinquency, the difficulty of veterans reintegrating into civilian society, and acute housing shortages that far outlasted the conflict.
Like other recent local studies of Canada during the World Wars, Perrun's demonstrates commonalities with other parts of Canada. However, he also cites unique characteristics and experiences reflecting, for example, Winnipeg's particular demographic qualities. Some parts of the book would have benefitted from more detail, such as on how World War II affected Winnipeg's economy. Little information is provided on the impact of the Veterans Charter on those who returned to Winnipeg. Although Perrun rightfully compares Winnipeg's wartime patterns to regional and national trends, in some areas he provides few local examples, instead citing those from different communities culled from previously published works. Still, The Patriotic Consensus is a skilfully executed study that provides an important contribution to the growing number of works demonstrating the diversity and complexity of Canada's war experience.
Mount Royal University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2015|
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