“Mobilize! Why Canada Was Unprepared for the Second World War” was written by Larry D. Rose with a forward by J.L. Granatstein. Larry D. Rose has worked as producer of CTV National News with Lloyd Robertson and as news director at CTV Kitchener. He has also worked for The Canadian Press and Global News and served as a second lieutenant and later as a captain in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (Reserves).
The book was published by Dundurn in 2013 and is described by the publisher with; “Despite Canada’s active participation in the First World War, which many claimed made Canada a nation, the country was almost defenceless in September 1939 when war was declared again. Larry D. Rose, a long-time journalist and a military specialist, examines the military’s own failures, the hidden agenda of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, and the divisions within Canada leading up to Canada’s entry into the war. He suggests that the lack of preparedness was directly responsible for two of Canada’s costliest military defeats: the battle of Hong Kong and Dieppe.”
“Mobilize!” is based on interviews with veterans and extensive documentary research. Despite the fact that many military historians have written about this period, the author argues that no one has examined this part of our military history in such detail. It seems likely that it is the authors background in journalism that makes this well researched book so accessible.
This book explores the decisions made by Prime Minister Mackenzie King and senior military officers that left Canada virtually unarmed as World War II began. Because of a policy of limiting Depression-era public spending, the government of the day did nothing to halt the progressive erosion of Canadian military preparedness that had begun as soon as the First World War ended. Caught as they were between the belief that Quebec would view overseas entanglements with hostility and a complete misunderstanding of Hitler's objectives, Canada did little to contribute effectively to British, global, or even their own, security.
The results were a nation that entered the Second World War with a miniscule navy, obsolescent aircraft, archaic equipment, little or no training and almost complete dependence on other countries for military defence. The author argues that this lack of preparedness was directly responsible for Canada’s military defeats in both the battles of Hong Kong and Dieppe.
The story Rose tells in the 13 chapters of this book is one that may seem familiar to a modern viewer, one of under funded armed forces, fumbled military acquisitions and official neglect. His account of “the Bren Gun scandal” is a reminder of how little has changed in Canadian procurement practices. In that case an attempt to procure modern equipment turned into a financial fiasco and a political football which left the public more divided then before on the issue of military spending.
There are lessons to be learned here that can be applied to the smaller budgets that our forces now have to work with. Having said that, Rose is clear eyed in his understanding of who is really to blame for the lack of Canadian military preparedness. While unsparing, but balanced, in his appraisal of important figures like Prime Minister King and General Andrew McNaughton, Rose points the finger squarely at the Canadian public.
Rose quotes Professor David Bercuson as saying that it was “Canadians and their government who starved their military forces for years on end and then one day sent them off against well-equipped enemies in pursuit not of national interests as defined by Canadian politicians but of international interests defined by external authorities. It is he says “the Canadian way of war”.
Rose himself writes that “Canada has never been a military minded country. It has a superb record in war, but that is not the same thing. In the twentieth century Canada was more or less locked into a cycle: ignore the military, build up frantically when war breaks out, dismantle quickly when the war ends and ignore again. Canada has never learned to maintain institutional knowledge or military readiness, making it abundantly clear that Canada does not value its armed forces in peacetime.”
Unfortunately there does not seem to be any reason to believe that this cycle will be any different in the twenty-first century. We leave it to Mr. Rose's successors to write the story of why Canada was unprepared for its next conflict.