While driving around small town Ontario, Canada you see the same sort of things we find in small town America, other than the near-ubiquitous Tim Hortons restaurants. A number of small towns had little banners depicting Canadian men who had served (maybe died?) in World War II. Canada was a not-inconsequential belligerent in World War II. More than a million Canadians served during the war and 42,000 were killed (another 55,000 wounded). When Canada entered WW II, it was a nation of only around 11.5 million people, while the U.S. had a population more than ten times as numerous. The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division hit Juno Beach on D-Day and suffered nearly 1000 casualties (third from the right below).
Seeing the memorial signs for Canadian vets of WW II got me interested in how Canada entered the war. While Canada is still considered to be a Constitutional Monarchy, now under the reign of Charles III, it was also a mostly independent nation as of the outset of the Second World War. As such, Canada didn’t automatically enter World War II when Britain declared war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939, following the invasion of Poland by the Third Reich. Canada made her own declaration of war
against Germany a week later on the 10th of September, 1939.
What I found interesting was the reasoning given for the declaration and then the subsequent letter to the King. According to the speech given by Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King
, emphasis in red mine:
Recommendation of Canadian Declaration of War on Germany
For months – indeed for years – the shadow of impending conflict in Europe has been ever present. Through these troubled years no stone has been left unturned, no road unexplored in patient search for peace.
Unhappily for the world, Herr Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany have persisted in their attempt to extend their control over other peoples and countries, and to pursue their aggressive designs in wanton disregard of all treaty obligations, and peaceful methods of adjusting international disputes. They have had to resort increasingly to agencies of deception, terrorism and violence. It is this reliance upon force, this lust for conquest, this determination to dominate throughout the world which is the real cause of the war that today threatens the freedom of mankind.
That is a pretty standard narrative for World War II, Moustache Man bad, etc. Now look at the beginning of the letter from the Prime Minister to King George the Sixth regarding Canada’s state of war with Germany:
GEORGE THE SIXTH, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas KING, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.
George the Sixth is declared King of not just Great Britain but also King of the “British Dominions beyond the Seas” and the “Emperor Of India”. Indeed the English empire was famously said in this era to be one that the sun never set upon, in other words it was always daytime somewhere in the globe spanning empire:
How did they obtain this Empire that included the vast territory of Canada in North America, the Indian subcontinent, Egypt, Palestine and most of the Southern tip of Africa?
By extending their control over other peoples and countries.
Some of it was raw military conquest, others by economic control and manipulation, but the British controlled vast territories, enormous wealth and the lives of hundreds of millions of people by means of economic control backed up by the might of the Royal Navy.
One can argue whether the rule by England over much of the world was a net positive or negative. The Indian subcontinent would likely still be sweltering jungle without the civilizing influence of England, Canada would be like the U.S. still a wilderness inhabited by warring tribes of Indians and Australia would be empty of all but a small population of Aborigines. Again, whether that is a good thing or not is debatable but what cannot be debated is that England, for centuries, was cheerfully conquering and colonizing the rest of the world and fighting with other European nations for control over the resources that the globe offered, all from their little island nation.
When England invades and conquers vast swaths of the world, it is laudable.
When Germany invades neighboring Poland? Time to declare war on those rascals!
I recognize that is a gross oversimplification of the issues of the British Empire and the events leading up to World War II. Nor is this intended as a defense or justification of the actions of Germany in the 1930s and 40s. It is a reminder that They can come up with justifications for anything they want to do while condemning you for doing the same.
When a mostly White crowd of overweight Boomers takes an unauthorized tour of a public building, it becomes an “insurrection” and was on the verge of toppling our “democracy”. Therefore anything done in response, including locking people up indefinitely even though they had no criminal background, is justifiable.
But when a clearly coordinated series of riots causes literally billions in damage to American cities with people dead and businesses ruined, it is “mostly peaceful” and a beautiful example of how our “democracy” works.
Was the decision by Canada to declare war on Germany the right one? Accepted history would tell us that of course it was, that Canada was “on the right side of history” in what is nearly universally accepted to be “The Good War”, the war that is held up as the epitome of what constitutes a “just war”. Being on “our side” of the war is an unqualified good and being on “their side” is an irredeemable wrong.
Wars and history in general are rarely so cut-and-dried and the aftermath of war is, as the old saying goes, written by the victors. There is a reason there are so many movies about the war in Europe featuring cartoonish Nazis and lots of films specifically about the Holocaust while there are very, very few films about the Soviet Union in World War II and almost none about the Holodomor. How many films about the tens of millions killed by Stalin and Mao have you seen compared to films about the Holocaust?
The history you know is full of facts but not all of the facts, and historians debate some of those facts but many they do not. When you start to pull on some of those inconvenient facts and ask those unaskable questions, the whole thing starts to unravel and that is precisely why you are not allowed to ask those questions or present those facts and that is also why it is so critical that we do that very thing, anywhere and everywhere we can.
I am sure those young Canadian men in landing craft heading into a withering storm of machine gun fire at Juno Beach thought they were doing the right thing for the right reasons and perhaps they were. Still the reasoning provided for declaring war sounds an awful lot like the rationalization of a global empire that didn’t like it when anyone else got in on their hustle.