TEN DECISIONS: Canada’s Best, Worst and Most Far Reaching Decisions of the Second World War by Larry D. Rose is a fascinating examination of some of the key turning points of the war for Canada. It includes military, diplomatic and political decisions that changed the course of Canadian history. Some of them are surprising when examined today, some were little known or understood at the time and all came with sweeping, sometimes unexpected, consequences.
The book also focuses on some of the most powerful leaders of the war including Canada’s greatest wartime general, Guy Simonds and the “Minister of Everything”, C.D. Howe whose power, in some ways equalled that of the great dictators of the era. Howe was a titanic figure, not well recognized today and among the greatest in Canadian history.
The topics covered include one of Canada’s greatest achievements of the war, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which trained more than one hundred thousand airmen. Without this stupendous undertaking, the bomber offensive of 1943-1945 would have been impossible. The book looks in detail at the development and production of synthetic rubber which was revolutionary at the time and became a post war bonanza for Canadian industry.
There was heartbreak through the war for thousands of families whose sons, husbands and brothers died in the armed services on many battlefields including Dieppe. The decision to launch that operation was, for Canada, perhaps the worst and costliest of the war. How did it happen and who, ultimately, approved it?
Among the most fascinating questions examined is how decisions that were made only in the face of dire necessity, in the end turned out to be outstanding successes. Such is the case with the ugly little ship the Royal Canadian Navy didn’t want, the corvette. It became, more than anything, the symbol of victory against all odds in the Battle of the Atlantic.
One of the most obscure decisions, and one that turned out to have enormous consequences was the Ogdensburg Agreement. Today it is completely forgotten and the Agreement is in some ways, bizarre. It is one of the most important international accords in Canadian history but was never signed and exists only as a press release. The Agreement, reached by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister King in one of the darkest hours of the war, turned Canada from its British past to its North American future.
Another of the unexpected developments was to prevent the return of the Great Depression at the end of the war and bring, instead, a post war boom. Canada’s planning for the post-war years may have been a compilation of dull bills in parliament and bureaucratic paperwork but their combined effects were electrifying as veterans came home and started to build new lives.
Weaving his way through many decisions is Canada’s strangest and loneliest figures, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, surely the world’s most unlikely warlord. And yet, why is it that King regularly turns up at the top of lists, including one done in 2016, of Canada’s greatest prime ministers?
The book is carefully researched and authoritative but also thoughtful, entertaining and approachable. It will be published by Dundurn in October 2017.