- Manliness and Militarism: Educating Young Boys in Ontario for War
The theme evident throughout Mark Moss's book is that 'manliness and militarism' are foreign to Canada. Specifically, the work argues that these constructs are products of the pernicious influence of the United States and Great Britain.
The work discusses the social conditioning of boys for war through youth organizations, drill practice, hunting, the Baden-Powell movement, [End Page 366] sports, and toys. In doing so, Manliness and Militarism attempts to fill a large gap in Canadian historiography. Although much has been written about the origins of the First World War and of Canada's initial response to it, the role of militarism in Canadian society in the years directly preceding the war has heretofore been ignored. The book features exhaustive research from wide-ranging primary sources and well-chosen quotations from international writers on the period. Yet there is a pervasive presentism that reduces much of the argument to hindsight, portraying Ontarians in the first decade of the 1900s as actively anticipating the coming of war.
Evidence does not bear this out. In his conclusion, Moss states, 'It is not too much to claim that, by 1914, most aspects of young men's lives were oriented towards the military.' Why, then, were so few serving before the outbreak of the war? In reality, the total August 1914 strength of the Canadian military surely speaks to a long tradition of neglect rather than a veneration of militarism. What about widespread opposition to national military service in Canada from 1867 to 1914? In fact, Colonel W.H. Merritt and other proponents of compulsory military service mentioned in the narrative were widely ignored. The conscription crisis surely reveals some dissent. Although beyond the chronological scope of the work, the analysis does not help explain the fact that there were more votes in the 1917 federal election against conscription in Ontario than anywhere else.
Furthermore, the writer provides no evidence to suggest why generalizations about Ontario are applicable to Canada as a whole. Indeed, contrasts and comparisons made between Ontario and the eastern United States or between Ontario and Great Britain, while ignoring the rest of Canada, are the norm. Certainly, the work's focus is Ontario, yet Moss ' s most common sentence is 'in Canada, especially in Ontario.' Ontario is not a synonym for English Canada, and as a result one might question whether the findings have relevance outside the province. There are areas where this need not be so; comparisons with other parts of Canada in the main narrative, as in references to the 'Loyalist Cult,' could strengthen the work while keeping the focus firmly set on Ontario.
By the same token, Moss's conclusion that, with 43 per cent of enlistments in the Canadian Expeditionary Force coming from Ontario, the province was a hotbed of militarism must be questioned. Even when taking into account the numbers of migrants from other provinces enlisting in Ontario, the British-born constituted 65 per cent of the First Canadian Contingent, and virtually half of the entire CEF. British birth was the single most important factor behind the decision to enlist. This point could certainly have been used to build the work's thesis that militarism was a foreign introduction to Canada. Yet any other factors besides manliness and militarism which might possibly have had a role in a young man ' s decision to enlist are de-emphasized. [End Page 367]
Moss's argument has merit, but the evidence does not sustain the weight of the conclusions being built upon it. The work is a useful test case and will foster further interest; however, this reviewer remains unconvinced that manliness and militarism, foreign or otherwise, played such a large role in Canada's response to the Great War. [End Page 368]
Andrew Theobald, Department of History, University of Western Ontario