- Clio’s Warriors: Canadian Historians and the Writing of the World Wars
Despite Cook's subtitle—"Canadian Historians and the Writing of the World Wars"—this book is fundamentally a history of the efforts of Canada's [End Page 1301] "official historians" to write the history of Canadian participation in the twentieth century's two world wars and the Korean war.
That is no bad thing, especially since official history has had such a profound impact on Canadian military history. Given Canada's small population, the numbers of people doing real historical research in matters military in Canada has always been positively tiny. Thus "official history" was bound not only to point the way to the historical debate, but in fact to strongly dominate that debate. In many ways it still does.
Cook has done a commendable job of weaving an interesting and very readable narrative about a very obscure subject. His story focuses on three major players, their teams and their successors. First in line was Sir Max Aitken (later Lord Beaverbrook) who essentially launched Canada's First World War official history enterprise. Beaverbrook's own writings were cheerleading efforts, but his diligence was almost solely responsible for the prodigious gathering of the records of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).
Cook then turns to the sad tale of Archer Fortescue Duguid, former CEF officer and essentially amateur historian, who inherited Beaverbrook's mantle. Duguid was so focused on gathering virtually every message, every telegram, every memo relating to CEF operations—and reading them all—that he and his team produced just one volume of narrative and one of documents covering the CEF only up to September 1915 and that was published in 1938! As Cook shows, the work of chronicling the CEF's story was abandoned in the Second World War and not taken up again until the 1950s. A single summary volume, The Canadian Expeditionary Force by G. W. L. Nicholson, was finally published in 1962.
Cook's story then shifts to C. P. Stacey, who wrote two volumes of a three-volume history of the Canadian Army in the Second World War and a policy history covering all three services. The third book in the army history series was Nicholson's, on Italy. Sadly, the army was the only one of the three services to have had its story written within reasonable time after the war ended. All three air force volumes appeared after 1980 and the navy history covering the first phase of the Battle of Atlantic was only published in 2003.
Official history is at best a mixed blessing, at worst a necessary evil. It is virtually unique to the field of military history. Official history is partly rooted in a military's desire to know what happened in wars just passed so as to learn from either success or failure. But it is also strongly linked to motives that are less pure than the simple uncovering of the past—the need for postwar militaries to compete for tax dollars and the understandable desire for veterans—especially generals—to memorialize their achievements.
Cook is well aware of the dilemma. His evaluation of the work done by the now iconic Stacey is candid and refreshing. Cook points out that Stacey's writing was solidly researched and well written, though thin on the actual combat and the soldiers who endured it. He also shows that even the hard-nosed Stacey took great care not to overly offend senior commanders who had supported him. Giving offence is clearly the greatest problem of official history. It is also a pitfall to be avoided by those who evaluate history written [End Page 1302] by contemporaries, which Cook has also done here. Readers familiar with those more recent writings will judge for themselves how well the author managed to stay on his feet in analyzing them.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada