- Cold War Comforts: Canadian Women, Child Safety, and Global Insecurity by Tarah Brookfield
Tarah Brookfield’s very good book sheds a great deal of new light on Canadian women and the Cold War. Although its title is somewhat curious – there are few Cold War comforts to be found in this book, and more than a little Cold War discomfort – its subtitle accurately reflects the book’s preoccupations. Brookfield contends that many Canadian women perceived children to be the primary potential victims of global insecurity in the decades following the Second World War. The book thus details activist women’s efforts, both at home and abroad, to “save the children” from the consequences of international military and diplomatic conflict. While Brookfield’s subjects were concerned with real children, they were also driven by visions of what historian Karen Dubinsky has called the “symbolic child”.
Brookfield’s Cold War is both long – from the immediate post-Second World War years through the 1970s – and broad. Readers of the book will be reminded of how immediate and acute concerns about the arms race and nuclear holocaust were for many Canadians, right up until the early 1980s; the Cold War discussed here, however, includes not only the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, but also North American efforts to topple Communist regimes overseas, and notably in Asia. While this is a study of Canada as a whole, readers will gain, not so much a sense of the ways in which different Canadian regions experienced the Cold War, as a sense of the experiences of key activist women, mostly English-Canadian, and their associations, such as the Voice of Women (VOW) or the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Many of these activist women were motivated, Brookfield argues, by maternalism. A key component of Canadian women’s political stances and strategies in the last decades of the nineteenth century, maternalist ideologies were still present (and useful) some seventy-five years later. While for some women, and some associations, maternalism may have simply been adopted as rhetoric, difficult to attack even in an era that insisted upon political conformity, other militant women appear to have felt deeply that they, as real, potential, or surrogate mothers, were particularly well-placed to protect and defend the human race in the face of mid-twentieth-century threats. Maternalist thinking existed alongside, and [End Page 227] sometimes took a back seat to, other ideologies: nationalism, for instance, predicated on a particular vision of the role that Canada might play in the Cold War, or progressive internationalism, such as that espoused by WILPF.
The first section of the book, entitled “At Home”, examines women’s efforts to stave off the consequences of the Cold War in Canada. Three chapters explore, in turn, community-based civil defence efforts; the building of fallout shelters (a campaign that never really ‘took’ with ordinary Canadian women); and campaigns in favour of disarmament. Brookfield chooses to draw upon the historiography of postwar North America that insists upon the links to be made between Cold War diplomacy, on the one hand, and domesticity incarnated by the nuclear family, on the other – notably the well-known work of Elaine Tyler May, Veronica Strong-Boag, and Doug Owram.
The book’s second section, “Abroad”, is fascinating, and is the truly novel part of this study. Here we see Canadian women’s involvement in various campaigns involving children in other parts of the world: donations to, and fundraising for, United Nations-led efforts to improve the health and safety of children, such as UNICEF; fostering children in (non-Communist) countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong, and Greece; aid, in money and in kind, to children who had suffered the fall-out of the war in Vietnam; and the thorny and controversial question of international adoption, notably as it played out in Vietnam and Cambodia. The author’s analysis is perceptive and nuanced: she examines these complex issues from different angles, pointing out the problematic nature of the politics involved in some of these causes...