- Veterans with a Vision: Canada’s War Blinded in Peace and War
In Veterans with a Vision: Canada’s War Blinded in Peace and War, Serge Marc Durflinger recounts the experiences and co butions of war blinded veterans in twentieth-century Canada. Though the monograph covers the years between 1899 and 2002, it primarily focuses on the tumultuous aftermaths of the two world wars. Concerned with both institutions and government policy, Veterans with a Vision traces the development of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and the Sir Arthur Pearson Association of War Blinded (SAPA) from their haphazard roots in the First World War into competent bureaucracies involved in both military and civilian initiatives. To do so, Durflinger draws on extensive archival holdings that include the CNIB and SAPA Archives as well as the records of the Departments of Militia and Defence and Veterans’ Affairs housed at Library and Archives of Canada.
Veterans with a Vision contends that Canadian re-establishment organizations and veterans’ associations, while initially designed to temporarily ease the transition of war blinded soldiers into civil society, were transformed into efficient and permanent institutions over the twentieth century. “The war blind served,” writes Durflinger, “as a hinge not just between the civilian and military blind but between disabled and non-disabled veterans” (p. 9). This argument is sustained through six chronological chapters that often contain comparisons that situate Canada’s initiatives towards the war blinded alongside those of other countries. Though each chapter broadly focuses on institutional development, Durflinger also relies extensively on individual biographies as case studies of [End Page 203] Canadian war blinded veterans. Fifty-four excellent illustrations are included of these various personalities, while the efforts of Durflinger, the CNIB, and the UBC Press have ensured that the text itself is accessible to visually impaired readers. Yet this exclusive blend of personal biography and institutional development leaves the reader yearning for a deeper analysis of the socio-economic and cultural conditions that informed contemporary understanding of disability, veteranship, or gender.
Durflinger’s focus on the personal and collective triumphs of war blinded veterans celebrates achievement in the face of severe adversity. The overall accomplishments of the war blinded are summarized as “lead[ing] the way in organizing Canada’s blinded population and in revolutionizing public perceptions of disability” (p. 32). Furthermore, Durflinger examines the collegial nature of the war blinded institutions, detailing the social nature of the many SAPA outings and reunions such as picnics, golf, boating trips, and banquets. More than simply social outings, Durflinger argues that these activities came to be seen as essential components of the rehabilitation process. However, one wonders if it is possible to read these sociable aftercare outings as quests for masculine respectability, where displays of physical prowess and socializing customs reinforced the middle-class respectable functionality of the war blinded while providing opportunities for veterans to commiserate.
Veterans with a Vision is especially successful at illuminating how post-1945 responses to war blinded veterans and retraining programs were profoundly shaped by the experiences of the 1920s and 1930s. Durflinger argues that during the Second World War, “with the CNIB in full operation, Canada’s war blinded could return with the utmost confidence that their training and billeting needs would be met” (p. 170). Many of the men involved in the management of SAPA, Pearson Hall, and war blinded advocacy in general, were instrumental in guiding public policy. Their experiences in the aftermath of the Great War directly led to a greater anticipation of what would be required in the aftermath of the Second World War. Though such earlier experiences were undoubtedly important, Veterans with a Vision neither unpacks contemporary discourses on sight nor does it draw on the social and cultural implications of blindness that would have also shaped these veterans’ lives. The inclusion of this literature, coupled with closer attention to the gendered, cultural, and social components of disability, veteranship, and the emerging field of ‘sensory history’ would have only strengthened Durflinger’s arguments.