The Patriotic Consensus: Unity, Morale, and the Second World War in Winnipeg.
The Patriotic Consensus offers an analysis of World War II experiences in Winnipeg. This city, tom by ideological, political, and social divisions, is presented as a microcosm of Canada's ethnic diversity. This makes Winnipeg a perfect case study for understanding the unity, morale, and consensus behind the Canadian war effort. Perrun asks, "How united was the response to war in a city as socially and ethnically diverse as Winnipeg?" (p. 4). He examines the subject by looking at the reaction of civil society, ethnic groups, and institutions with the intention to give a local perspective of the home front. Based on a variety of local and national sources, his analysis concludes that a number of non-governmental organizations exerted a major influence on the "patriotic consensus," and on a local response to the war. In the six chapters of this book, Perrun attempts to explain their role in forging Winnipeg's perception and civilian participation.
Right from the start, Perrun brings a nuanced account of the unity of Winnipeggers. The Federal government and the Canadian majority forged a consensus on how to behave that many groups did not share in whole or in part. Citizens of a Non-British heritage, proponents of free speech, conscientious objectors, and communists were excluded, criticized, or prosecuted. Those who did not share the "dominant consensus" were still expected to act as prescribed by the government. In fact, war made the majority intolerant toward ethnic groups such as Ukrainians and Japanese. The allegiance of several factions of immigrants to ideologies from their country of origin and the continuity in Canada of conflicts related to their past experiences resulted in apprehensions of undue influence on the Canadian war effort. People of Anglo-Saxon origins rarely displayed moderation when these groups did not adopt the patriotic consensus. For example, they severely criticized Ukrainians who voted "no" in the thousands at the plebiscite on conscription. The contradiction between the attitudes of the majority compared to the principles defended by the Allies proved even greater in the case of Japanese. Some, displaced from the West Coast to Manitoba, were unable to integrate into their new communities, had difficulties finding decent employment, and were victims of racism in many ways. Disfranchisement and deportation were debated among government officials, even though many of these Japanese were Canadian born.
Other aspects of the war effort led to fewer dissensions and demonstrate a strong local cohesion. Victory Loans Campaigns and many local events proved successful. Government pressure fathered a form of compliance. Various local organizations assured a cohesive propaganda and gave it additional legitimacy. The message was very British, presented as a war for civilization and fostering national unity. Despite racist attitudes from fellow Canadian citizens, ethnic groups demonstrated great commitment toward the war effort. Several shared common enemies with Canadians and participated massively either for Canada or because their home country was suffering the abuse of the Nazis or the Japanese. Although their objective was somewhat different, they were part of the Canadian war effort. Perrun offers us several cases that highlight participation and unity. Traditional charities like the Red Cross, the Knights of Columbus, and the Salvation Army were very active in initiating and coordinating volunteer work. Through local initiatives, Winnipeggers mobilized women for community work such as preparing Red Cross parcels or collecting clothing, and they were help up as an example by the rest of Canada. Motives for this mobilization were diverse. For example, Anglo-Saxon elite did it as part of their tradition of public duty, while others wanted to do their part to win the war.
The war also brought its share of problems, such as the absence of a loved one, housing shortages, and juvenile delinquency. Winnipeggers kept good morale even if several difficulties could not be resolved, as was the case for overcrowded housing--the government did not want to provoke competition with the private sector. The war remained a difficult period for the poorest of the working class. There were few solutions to deal with emotional difficulties of separation. Local organizations worked toward reducing the effects of these constraints, and to retain a relatively high morale level. Social agencies organized activities to occupy the youth and encourage the preservation of family values. The federal government also contributed to this by implementing policies; for example they countered inflation and kept a proper postal service so families could keep in touch. Federal policies also supported families through measures of reintegration of veterans. Perrun concludes that despite some divisions, Winnipeggers rallied behind the dominant message, the "patriotic consensus," and worked for the greater good of the community and toward winning the war.
The Patriotic Consensus offers an interesting account of the reaction of a community to the challenges of war. Even if his goal is to offer a local history, Perrun ensures the reader has enough information to understand the sometimes complex government programs, and manages to present them in an intelligible manner. His analysis retains a mixed perspective, avoiding a forced heroic sentiment. Readers well-informed on ethnic groups' history and home front experiences will not be surprised by Perrun's conclusions, but this book is still worth reading as an informative and mitigated account of this part of Canadian history.
Pierrick Labbe, Universite de Moncton
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2015|
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