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Living with War: Twentieth-Century Conflict in Canadian and American History and Memory by Robert Teigrob (review)
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Living with War: Twentieth-Century Conflict in Canadian and American History and Memory. Robert Teigrob. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016. Pp. x + 471, $85.00 cloth, $37.95 paper

Living with War traces national attitudes toward war in Canada and the United States throughout the course of the twentieth century. Through a comparative study, it explores relationships between both countries and their citizenry to the ideals of militarism. In doing so, it contributes to a growing literature that challenges Canada’s own [End Page 156] constructed vision of itself as a “peaceable kingdom” with an “unmilitary people” in relation, at least, to their neighbours below the 49th parallel.

Challenging this vision, Robert Teigrob argues that Canadians, and specifically English Canadians, are more hesitant to criticize, and more likely to esteem, war than their American counterparts. The first section of Living with War establishes the national military narratives of each country. He points to instances where Americans have displayed attitudes that were at once both triumphalist and critical of war, such as narratives representing Pearl Harbor as an enemy attack warranting response, while also leaving room for reflective musings that America itself, through its own inaction, was partly to blame. The book also demonstrates Canadian interest in preserving and upholding conflicts like the Second World War as “good wars”–ones with clearly defined “right” and “wrong” sides. These “good war” narratives, Teigrob argues, are adverse to criticism and ignore wartime opposition from figures like Goldwin Smith, an anti-imperialist who opposed Canada’s involvement in the South African War, and groups including labour unions and pacifists.

Living with War presents in its second section thematic chapters covering imperialism, governance, religion, race, and nationalism. These chapters explore the different relationships of Canada and the United States to their imperial and colonial pasts, attitudes toward the state and war, the view of Christian churches on militarism, the participation of minority groups in war and their relationship to the state, and the connections between warfare and nation building. To construct his narrative, Teigrob analyzes a complimentary variety of sources including film, literature, war memorials and commemorations, political speeches, and museum exhibits in addition to historiography on national history, war, and memory. The work assumes a certain level of general knowledge from the reader about the events and themes discussed, suggesting a targeted audience of historians and informed readers.

This work makes an important contribution to recent literature about militarism and nationalism in a Canadian context by broadening it to include a transnational scope. In doing so, it challenges readers to push discussions about militarism, history, and memory past national borders to explore these processes as broad and relational rather than as national in origin and meaning. The transnational nature of the study sits at the crux of its narrative. “How,” Teigrob asks, “can one, for instance, identify nations as ‘warlike’ or ‘peaceable’ in isolation?” (8) [End Page 157]

Importantly, Living with War includes in its analysis the experiences of domestic minority groups as they tried to participate in war or criticize it. These experiences are often left out of national narratives along with those suspected or interned during times of war. Teigrob makes the point that recounting these experiences reveals the paradox of the “good war” as fought in defence of freedom when some of those freedoms were not exercised at home.

Comparative studies are an ambitious undertaking, and Living with War effectively presents two robust and contested national military narratives. However, the comparison could have benefited from a greater focus on exploring connections between Canadian and American martial pasts to further strengthen its transnational scope. In addition, further exploration of Indigenous histories in both Canada and the United States could have added possible domestic contexts to discussions about imperialism and colonial expansion.

As well, Teigrob’s comparison of Canadian and American relationships to militarism focuses, in the Canadian context, on English Canada. While French Canada is featured in his discussion, particularly in relation to ethnicity, further connection to French-Canadian historiography on memory and war could have considered how ideas of memory and history in French Canada may differ from broader Anglo-Canadian national narratives.

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