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  • Unlikely Diplomats: The Canadian Brigade in Germany, 1951–64 by Isabel Campbell
  • Patrick H. Brennan
Unlikely Diplomats: The Canadian Brigade in Germany, 1951–64, by Isabel Campbell. Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 2013. ix, 253 pp. $95.00 Cdn (cloth), $32.95 Cdn (paper).

At first glance, “unlikely diplomats” seems an odd characterization of Canada’s nato brigade during its first thirteen years of existence. But as author Isabel Campbell makes clear in her thoroughly researched and well-crafted study, the brigade’s officers and men were as much, indeed more, the instrument of Canadian Cold War foreign policy with a personal responsibility to build a positive postwar relationship with ordinary Germans as a military tripwire for World War III.

Campbell’s challenge was daunting, particularly as she chose to devote two of her six chapters to stage-setting. The opening chapter takes the reader all the way back to the end of World War I and Canada’s trials and tribulations in (and with) the League of Nations and subsequently the war years as Ottawa and Canadians tried to square the diplomatic circle of gaining an autonomous international voice and accepting the responsibilities inevitably accompanying same. This is followed up by a step-by-step exposition of the evolution of Canada’s vision for postwar Germany, from the bitter disappointment of the failed Paris peace conference through the Canadian role in the negotiations to create nato which refreshingly, to Campbell’s credit, is not overstated.

The remainder of the book covers much fresh ground, including Ottawa’s sometimes uneasy inter-governmental relationship with Bonn, the often strained relationship between Canada’s soldier-diplomats and the West German public, the impact of nato commitments on the evolution of the Canadian army as an institution, and the brigade’s heretofore little-discussed role in the Alliance’s strategic and operational planning, including the genesis of its nuclear role.

One of the most refreshing — and useful — parts of the work highlights the complex interrelationship between the thousands of Canadian officers and men and their dependents and the ordinary Germans with whom they lived. Rather like the better-known experience of Canadian servicemen and British civilians during World War II, we find all did not go well. Despite successfully avoiding the official role of occupier, the difficult living (and service) conditions soldiers faced led to frequent incidents of misbehaviour which alienated the locals, and as Campbell points out, were magnified to suit the purposes of German political agendas. But as the Germans’ own economic and social situations improved dramatically, and communist intransigence compelled them to shed their illusions about the Cold War, relationships steadily improved, as did the experience of [End Page 608] Canadian military dependents far from home. Happily, the army’s role as the friendly, reassuring face of Canada won out in the end.

There is also great value in Campbell’s balanced exploration of the Anglo-Canadian military relationship, which, as the years dragged on, proved increasingly testy and ill-suited to Canada’s postwar nationalist aspirations. Another part of the book’s military history tells the story of Canada’s adoption of nuclear weapons and its role in nato’s nuclear strategy. In the case of the army this meant the saga of the Honest John “nuclear artillery.” By the early 1960s, the brigade’s fate in any hot war in Central Europe was sealed — prompt annihilation — and the presence of atomic field weapons would have changed this not a jot. As so often in this account, Ottawa spoke with its own (albeit modest) voice while properly playing the role of good ally in providing some small measure of substance to the nato military posture largely crafted in Washington. And finally, and by no means least, Campbell outlines how the overseas brigade would change the priorities and very character of the Cold War era Canadian army so that by the book’s end the costs of maintaining a long-service professional force and their dependents overseas dwarfed the funds available for fighting hardware. But by then the brigade was in Germany only secondarily to fight a war.

Inevitably there are some minor problems with the book...


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pp. 608-609
Launched on MUSE
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