- The Dominion and the Rising Sun: Canada Encounters Japan 1929-1941
In his A Personal History, A.J.P. Taylor noted that if he were to rewrite The Origins of the Second World War he would place much more emphasis on the importance of the 'Far East' as a factor in British foreign policy during the 1930s. By the time Taylor's memoirs appeared in the early 1980s, a number of important works on British foreign policy in the 'Far East' had already been published, and more work uncovered just how much developments in that part of the world had affected Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's handling of foreign policy. In the United States, the importance of producing works on American interaction with the Pacific seemed to be much more self-evident and would now require more than a lifetime to read, much less master.
But what of Canada, which, after all, was a member of the Pacific Rim club, however insignificant in the larger scheme of international relations? The short answer, astonishing as it might sound, is that it has taken this long for a single monograph covering Canada's relations with Japan during the 1930s to appear, at least one that is based on the archival records. For that reason alone this is an important book. Drawing on the University of Toronto doctoral dissertation he completed in 2000, John Meehan covers Canada's relations with Japan from the establishment of the Canadian legation in Tokyo in 1929 to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the Asia-Pacific War in 1941. His basic thesis is that Canada and Japan began as friends and then slowly became enemies (his PhD thesis was titled 'From Ally to Menace'). Within that general framework Meehan covers the major developments in what at the time was known as the Far East. The book is well grounded in the records of the Department of External Affairs and the private papers of the leading actors. He has also written a useful annotated bibliography to introduce prospective students to some of the literature on Canada's interaction with Asia and the Pacific Rim.
One of the main points to emerge from this book is the impact that developments in the Far East had on Canada's external relations (as it was called) during the 1930s. Meehan is quite critical of the 'Eurocentric focus of studies of Canada's interwar foreign policy,' and he believes that 'Canada's preoccupation with Germany's aggrandizement has led scholars to overlook its responses to threats to global security elsewhere,' especially after 1937 (148). While Meehan is at times critical of Prime Minister Mackenzie King's handling of external relations, there is a good understanding of the difficulties Mackenzie King and others faced during that 'low dishonest decade.'
Meehan makes some observations that dedicated students will find interesting. For example, he claims that Caroline Macdonald was 'the most famous Canadian in Japan due to her pioneering work with the [End Page 128] YWCA' (23). That accolade is usually offered to Herbert Norman. Meehan also questions the accuracy of the charges that the well-known Canadian missionary Dr. Robert McClure levelled against the Canadian government about nickel shipments to Japan (189–91).
If there is a weakness in this book it is in the treatment of defence. Meehan suggests it was not until after the Far Eastern Crisis of 1931–3 that 'defence planners in Ottawa seriously considered the prospect of a full-blown Pacific war' and that this represented a 'dramatic shift in focus' (94). In fact, if Meehan had done just a bit more research in the files of the Department of National Defence he would have discovered that Canadian military officials had been expressing growing concern over Japan since before the outbreak of the First World War. The book could also have stressed the seriousness of the Tientsin crisis during the summer of 1939. Here one needs to recall British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax...