History textbook tells buried military past. Not taught in
schools: Canadians in Conflict emphasizes
how strife shaped country
The first high school textbook on Canadian military history, published by Edmonton's school board because existing school books largely ignored the subject, has proven so popular they cannot be printed fast enough. The 203-page text emphasizes the importance of war in shaping a sovereign Canada. It comes at a time when parents have objected to teaching children how to spell ''gun'' and teachers' unions are among the most vocal opponents of the recent war in Iraq. But the author of Canadians in Conflict says there is a growing interest in the history of Canada's wars. Doug Davis, a historian who works in curriculum development at the Edmonton Public School Board, said the textbook was born out of his frustration at how existing school books ignored the subject. He could not find a student textbook with a decent section on Canada's military achievements. The 20th-century social studies text the district has used for years relegates its section on the First and Second World Wars to only five pages.
Dr. Davis, a distance-education lecturer at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., jokes many historians and social studies teachers think of military history as the ''depraved uncle in the family who no one wants to talk about. ''I get questions like: 'Why study this? War is bad and it kills people,' '' he said. ''But if you want to be able to develop a global society where war is no longer a factor, then you had better understand what war is, and how it works and where it comes from. ''How can you possibly prevent something you have no knowledge of?''
The book is being used in schools throughout the 80,000-student district and has been purchased by a handful of school boards across the province since it was published in January. Its success spurred the publication of a second military history text on the origins of war, titled Sargon to Suleiman. Two junior high school texts: Muskets to Missiles: New France to the Present and War and the West, on the history of war in the Western hemisphere, are in development for September. The series is winning accolades from noted historians such as Jack Granatstein, former director of the Canada War Museum. Dr. Granatstein said he stopped writing history books because his texts on the soldiers and battles that shaped Canada's past were edited to a ''bland, offense-free'' version of events. For example, sections on war during the 20th century generally emphasize the forced detainment of Ukrainian Canadians in work camps during the First World War and the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Both events are extremely significant, he said, but hardly tell the whole story. ''The history that comes through the textbooks is that Canada brutalized everyone: natives, women, immigrants and French-Canadians,'' he said. ''It's that we were a brutal nation and we've been saved by multiculturalism.'' Dr. Davis acknowledges his series did not completely escape this sort of political correctness. A cover illustration for Muskets to Missiles featuring a native man in traditional dress firing a musket was dropped for a picture of a French-Canadian soldier in the same position. ''Apparently native people can't be shown as aggressive or warlike. Forget the fact that the Iroquois quite literally wiped out the Mohicans, enslaved the Delaware and pushed the Cherokee outside the Ohio Valley.'' Still, the books are able to accomplish their objective -- linking the profound effect of war and military events on the development of a modern, sovereign Canada, he said. ''Many of the things that make us Canadian had their genesis in times of crisis.'' For example, an entire chapter is devoted to highlighting how the fallout of Canada's participation in the 1899 Boer War led to a heightened sense of Canadian nationalism. At the time, the British were one of the parties deciding Alaska's boundaries. To improve Canada's chances of gaining the territory, Wilfred Laurier, then the prime minister, volunteered Canadian troops to bolster imperial forces in South Africa. However, it soon became clear the British, worried about their declining naval power, were attempting to curry favour with the Americans and supported U.S. claims to the northern territory. ''That showed Laurier that imperial interests are not necessarily Canadian interests,'' he said. The books also include significant but often overlooked events, such as the Battle of Crysler's Farm and the Battle of Chateauguay, fought in October and November, 1813, where groups of French-Canadian militia, Mohawks and British regulars defeated thousands of invading U.S. troops. ''Without these victories, we could very well have been an American state by the end of 1813,'' Dr. Davis said.
The series also emphasizes the country's failures. For
example, Canada is blamed for isolationist attitudes that led to the failure of
the League of Nations, the multinational organization that preceded the United
Nations, in the period between the First World War and the Second World War.
The author feels the first chapter of the book, titled "Introduction to the
Age of Modern War," which describes the evolution of military technology in
Europe and North America, is among the most important.''If the military is ours,
if it represents us, then we better know what they do and why they do it,'' Dr.
Davis said.''I want the kids to be aware of the impact of technology on war, to
understand why World War I was such a bloodbath. The important lesson to learn
is that it was civilians who predicted that. If only military people know
military history, then the military becomes the experts on itself and civilians
have to take their word,'' he said.