- Canada's Greatest Wartime Muddle: National Selective Service and the Mobilization of Human Resources during World War II by Michael D. Stevenson (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 73, Number 1, Winter 2003/04
- pp. 317-318
- View Citation
- Additional Information
humanities 317 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Michael D. Stevenson. Canada=s Greatest Wartime Muddle: National Selective Service and the Mobilization of Human Resources during World War II McGill-Queen=s University Press. xii, 236. $55.00 Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Researcher Michael D. Stevenson=s Canada=s Greatest Wartime Muddle: National Selective Service and the Mobilization of Human Resources during World War II is a notable, albeit unexceptional contribution to the social and military history of Canada during the Second World War. The book, based on Stevenson=s doctoral work at the University of Western Ontario, uses eight case studies to evaluate the success of the National Selective Service (NSS), the organization primarily responsible for mobilizing Canadian civilians in wartime. Stevenson seeks to prove that >there was no effective coordination among government offices and agencies directly responsible for the efficient mobilization of human resources in Canada during the war.= This argument, based on a detailed analysis of the wartime records of the Department of Labour and selected references to other government departments and newspapers, challenges some of the more conventional, laudatory interpretations of Canada=s war effort still prevalent in the contemporary literature. Stevenson joins a growing number of younger scholars who have been finding >a decidedly mediocre record of military and civilian endeavours during World War II.= The book=s strengths are threefold. Stevenson bridges the conceptual and technical differences between social and military history effectively, making this study accessible to historians of either genre. The well-written and comprehensive analysis of the previously neglected wartime records of the Department of Labour is also impressive. Finally, the first case study, on Canada=s Native peoples, and the final two, on female textile workers and nurses, are valuable contributions to Canadian historiography. The book is not as consistent either methodologically or analytically. Stevenson never provides the reader with the criteria he used to select the case studies. In a footnote, having conceded that there were approximately fifteen detailed cases from which to choose, he writes vaguely: >most case studies deal with large sectors of the workforce or highlight specific features or characteristics of the NSS regulatory effort.= Moreover, in his analysis of both student deferment policies and the labour stabilization plan for the Halifax docks, Stevenson rejects his own argument, and concludes that government policy was indeed effective. Unlike the work on Natives and women, the research on general male labourers is surprisingly sparse. The book makes it clear that the conflict between the Department of Labour and C.D. Howe=s more powerful Department of Munitions and Supply (DMS) had a significant impact on the policies of the NSS leadership, but to ascertain the perspective of DMS, Stevenson has consulted neither the collection of C.D. Howe Papers at the 318 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 National Archives nor his biography by Robert Bothwell and William Kilbourn. Furthermore, a book that challenges traditional interpretations of Mackenzie King=s governance during the Second World War, and particularly one which seems surprised by Canada=s >cautious, deliberate, flexible= policy, based on a >fundamental belief in conciliation, voluntarism, and compromise,= should have examined King=s extensive personal papers and, even more important given the subject matter, the prime minister=s own 1918 publication, Industry and Humanity. King=s conciliatory approach to labour negotiations is mentioned by Stevenson in passing, but the author does not provide adequate detail about how the prime minister=s personal beliefs influenced his limited support for some of the more authoritarian NSS initiatives and the development of a national mobilization policy in general. In sum, this book is important for providing the first detailed analysis of the NSS from the perspective of the Department of Labour, but it is probably not a sufficiently comprehensive assessment of the interdepartmental dynamics and the bureaucratic politics of Canada=s wartime civilian mobilization policies. (ADAM CHAPNICK) Bohdan S. Kordan. Canada and the Ukrainian Question 1939B1945: A Study in Statecraft McGill-Queen=s University Press 2001. xiv, 258. $75.00, $27.95 In August 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed, a free and...