Canada's Role in the War



Delivered to the Conference on "A Grand Strategy for America" at Williams College, March 21, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 530-533.

IT is good of you to ask a Canadian to take part in this Conference and I am particularly happy that the choice fell on me. It enables me to renew recollections of your beautiful college. I first visited Williams in 1921 on a motor trip to New York, then considered quite an adventure. The trip was taken with three friends to celebrate our graduation from McGill which had been delayed by the war. Our time was not wasted in working for victory then. What we wasted was the chance victory gave us.

Another visit here was in 1930. I had run out of money in Boston and came across to cash a cheque. I was driving along after midnight and stopped at the only lighted ground-floor window. When I looked in, I saw Canadians from three provinces and Americans from three states. I knew them all. I got my money, the cheque didn't bounce, and another tie was forged between us, based on mutual confidence and neighbourly help in time of need.

The associations so many Canadians have had with Williams is typical of North America. The relations between your country, the United States, and my country, Canada, are unlike the relations between any two countries, at any time. They are closer than any other and they are more cordial than any other. Because our population of eleven-and-a-half millions is only one-twelfth your population, we are far more conscious of you than you are of us. How many of you, for instance, have realized that the boundary line between us is crossed by more trade, more travel, more tourists, more money, more trains, more cars, more radio, and more symphony music than any boundary line has ever been? It is crossed by more after-dinner speakers. It is crossed by more good will. We do not regard Americansas foreigners. You do not regard Canadians as foreigners. Our relations are the relations of people who for the most part speak the same language, have the same customs, the same ideals, the same standards, and almost the same bad habits.

Good neighbours before, we are allies now. You can imagine how glad we are of that. We are partners in a desperate struggle for survival. We are fighting the worst war in history. The battle has gone badly for us everywhere except in Russia. You are potentially the most powerful nation in the world. Allied with you are Britain, Russia, and twenty other nations; and yet to win will require the all-out use of all the power and resolution that the United Nations can marshal. In this titanic struggle, spread-eagling the world, Canada's population of eleven-and-a-half millions does not bulk large. It is only about 3 per cent of the white peoples fighting on our side. But Canada's position and resources give her an important role even on this global stage.

Many Canadians who know the United States feel that Canada has not done nearly enough to tell the United States what we are doing. It is urged that our silence creates a vacuum which will suck in any dirt that comes along. Every association I have with people in the United States strengthens my view that this is regrettable. Many Americans have told me that our failure to make information more readily available is doing a disservice not only to Canada but to the allied cause. Our two countries have had good relations because the boundary line was a connecting link, not a barrier. We visited each other and married each other and got so mixed up you could hardly tell us apart. Nowthat's stopped. We can't let Canadians spend money on pleasure travel in the States when we need the money to pay for steel. This adds to the necessity of our providing information about each other, or rather of your having it about us because there's no doubt of our getting it about you. In this time of crisis and tension we need to keep our friendships in repair. We need confidence in each other based on knowledge, not prejudice or rumor. We need cool heads and warm hearts. I therefore welcome this chance to speak about our relations and about what we are doing. I feel it is the best contribution I can make to this Conference. But first, a word about the position of Canada.

Even before you entered the war your interest in the defense of this continent led you to join us in setting up the permanent Joint Conference Board. I understand the Board has made about twenty-five reports to the two governments and action has been taken on practically all of them. But until Pearl Harbour we looked across the Atlantic for our fighting front and we sent troops to England to keep the war from our shores. Recent events have made us far more concerned about the strategic position of Canada and North America. Japan's attack put North America in the centre. Now we look out with you on two fronts. With you we have become a principal base of supplies for every theatre of war.

The nature of Canada's part was determined by Canada's resources as well as by her strategic position. Our capacity to supply agricultural, industrial, and mineral products was shown by our pre-war position as a leading nation in export trade. Halifax and St. John were the nearest ports from which the products of North America could be sent to Europe. So our ports became the great terminals of the shuttle of ships across the dangerous seas. Losses of ships are greatly reduced in convoy and we enlarged our navy to provide convoys. Ships were still lost in alarming numbers, so we are building ships. Canadians make good pilots and Canada has air-space free from Germans and power lines as well, is adjacent to the United States air industry, and on the way to Europe from Australia and New Zealand. Canada was, therefore, chosen for the plan to train air force personnel on a gigantic scale. It has been a great achievement.

I mention these things to show how the Canadian war effort grew out of its geographical situation and our resources. Canada, however, is a product of geography and history and here I should refer to the way we got into the war and what we have done about it.

Prior to the war, Canada had what might be called a "North American foreign policy", that is, we had no policy except the policy of avoiding commitments. There was no agreement in Canada as to our objectives. We had isolationists, who did not think a war was a shooting war until they could see the whites of the enemy's eyes coming up the beaches. We had internationalists, who were called bloodthirsty pacifists because they were willing to run the risk of war to stop Japan in 1931 or Italy in 1935. We had what we called "imperialists", more properly called "colonialists", who held we should simply follow Britain. They ignored or abhorred our new national status. For it must be remembered that since the last war, the British Empire had been transformed into a commonwealth of autonomous nations, each of which could act alone.

Although Canada had in reality no greater interest in the war in 1939 than the United States, we had never closed the doors of our hearts to the countries from which we had come. Historical and sentimental ties and trade interests made us less self-centered and more conscious of the rest of the world. We were a small power and what we hadseen happen in Europe convinced us that the world would not be a tolerable place for us until Hitlerism was destroyed. So we went to war, but we did it separately from Britain and seven days later. Our going to war was the act of the government of Canada approved by the parliament of Canada. As L. W. Brockington put it, "King George did not ask us to declare war for him. We asked him to declare war for us."

When we entered the war in September, 1939, the Maginot Line still stood and so did the mentality it engendered. At that stage, with France in the fight, it was not considered likely that we would have to send large numbers of soldiers abroad. In addition, we had a good dose of North American isolationism, with some special features of our own, including our bad experience with conscription of 1917. These combined to lead the Government to give assurances that there would be no conscription for overseas service. Those assurances were repeated in the Quebec election held in October 1939, when Duplessis unsuccessfully challenged Quebec's all-out participation in the war. They were repeated again by both the major political parties in the general election of March 1940. The Canadian government has considered that we could get better results by raising our men for overseas service by voluntary means.

But no one can tell what lies ahead and the Government is now seeking its release from these pledges in a plebiscite so that it may, if necessary, introduce conscription for overseas service. I should point out that we have had conscription for home service, and we are still getting by voluntary means all the men we can use. If we had had conscription I do not think we would have a man more in our army abroad or at home. Today we have 400,000 in our forces voluntary enlisted for service anywhere in the world. This is comparable to about five million American men being in uniform.

Up to the collapse of France, we had sent two divisions to England and begun to build a munitions industry literally from scratch. We also started the Air Training Plan. The collapse of France was catastrophic. Sources of supply from England were cut off and we had to reorganize and speed up everything we were doing. Since then, the resources of the nation have been progressively geared into the war machine. We have had to build plants, create industries as well as convert them. We have sent to Britain all the food that ships can be found to carry. We are sending munitions of every character to every front. We have one of the largest automatic rifle plants in the world and the largest aluminum plant. We supply you with all your nickel, most of your asbestos and much of your copper and zinc. A year ago there was not a cargo boat being built in Canada. In the current year we shall build more than a million tons of cargo boats, about as much as Britain.

In addition to supplying food and making munitions, and making the ships to carry them, we are doing a considerable part of the work of convoy across the Atlantic. The Canadian Navy has been increased from thirteen ships and 1,700 men to nearly four hundred ships and 29,000 men.

We have 130,000 men in our army in England, and they are said to be good soldiers, well trained and highly mechanized. In addition, there are another 150,000 men in the army in Canada voluntarily enlisted for service anywhere.

We have enlarged the Air Force to over 100,000 men and from 100 establishments it is turning out thousands of air fighters, technicians and ground crews every month. They go to every part of the world and are said to be as good as their predecessors in the last war.

On the farms we are growing more food than ever and we are short of farm labour. In the factories we are employing over 750,000 men and women on war work, making practically everything needed except aeroplane engines and heavy guns. Unlike you or the British, we have put all the purchasing for our fighting services under one department which also does all the purchasing for our allies in Canada. The Department of Munitions and Supply also handles all matters of supply, priority and construction. Consequently everything having to do with the supply of munitions comes under a single Minister and his powers are practically unlimited. His functions range all the way from taking and filling orders for planes for Britain to giving a permit for more than $5,000 of repair work on any building.

The control of supplies by the Minister of Munitions and Supply dovetails with the price control enforced under the Minister of Finance. To prevent inflation, we have frozen all salaries, all wages, and the prices of all goods and services right across the board. It is probably the most drastic economic measure ever taken in a democracy. The four months it has been in operation are too short to say that we have the grim spectre of inflation licked but the indications inspire confidence.

We have met 80 per cent of our own expenditures (50 per cent if advances to Britain are included) out of taxation which is more than three times the pre-war level. In the lower brackets our income tax will be about twice yours after the proposed increases to yours. In addition there is a payroll tax of 7 per cent for single people and 5 per cent for married. There is a Federal sales tax of 8 per cent and in Quebec an additional 4 per cent. Corporations pay an income tax of 40 per cent with practically 80 per cent on the profits above a pre-war base. Canadians pay more taxes per capita than the Americans or English. Apart from taxes, we have raised the money we need by internal loans. Unfriendly propagandists say we get cash for what we send to Britain. They don't say that in addition to being a full partner in the war, we have this year sent Britain without receiving payment more than twice as much as we sold her in any year before the war. In 1938 our expenditures on war were thirty-four millions. In 1942 they will be three thousand millions.

Because we need coal and steel and oil and aeroplane engines and machine tools for war work, we are buying in the United States twice as much as before the war and we pay for everything we get for ourselves in cash. Since the Hyde Park Declaration, the components we receive from you for manufacture for Britain are lease-lent to Britain and you are helping to balance our trade by buying some munitions from us.

This has been done by a people of eleven-and-a-half millions who have had to keep their country going and it is a little larger than your own. Please do not think we are satisfied. There is a ceiling on prices; there is no ceiling on effort. We are not going to stop short of our utmost. Each achievement enables us to raise the sights again.

In organizing the Canadian war effort, the Government, industry and the fighting services have shown the ability to meet the need. Where all the democracies have not done so well is in anticipating needs. Orders have been placed when requisitions are approved to fill programs that are often inadequate before they are half completed. Then again, I imagine we all could do with new devices to get ideas through to the men who have the power and the will to act. I have the feeling that some of the weapons our side is making are not as powerful and mobile as our engineers and scientists could turn out. In many different directions we can simplify and improve. Everything that has happened yet shows that it is going to take the best we can make to defeat the enemy. We shall have to supplement our stretched resources of management and other skills by training and giving increased opportunities to young men taken from the ranks of industry as well as of the services.

Another field in which our Government has not succeeded so well is in harnessing the unlimited willingness of people to work. Everywhere are men and women anxious to jump into the war with both feet but they feel that they can't break through the crust. This war can't be won if it is fought as the private affair of the bureaucrats and fighting services. I am not sure that people need so many ex-hortatory appeals, or that it does very much good to make general charges of "complacency." People want to be told what they should do and why. Every man, woman and child must be made to feel that in total war everyone serves whether making a home or piloting a bomber. The problem is to apply a steady process of upgrading by which peoples' services are progressively related closer to the fighting front and war supplies and to create the feeling of participation and achievement.

Another general comment, applicable in some way or another to all the fighting nations, is on the role of criticism. Criticism is the life-blood of democracy, but a campaign of unlimited detraction is pure poison at a time like this. We have had this in Canada from certain newspapers and politicians, just as you are having it from certain newspapers and politicians. Whatever be its purpose, this criticism exploits every turn of events so as to reduce confidence in the government and belittle achievement. Sometimes this attack comes from interests which want to wrest control from the peoples' elected representatives. Such critics are alternatively defeatists and alarmists, and sometimes they are both at once.

You may have heard of a man called Hepburn in Canada. He is a local politician who has used every opportunity to attack and embarrass the government. He has used your hospitality to get a sounding-board to be better heard in Canada. It must have been particularly galling that his remarks about your fleet should have been made at a time when a large part of it was convoying your men to defend Australia. He spoke for no one in Canada except himself. You have your Hepburns. We must all remember that the true character of a people is not always manifested by those who have the loudest voices. Unfortunately the reasoned plea for mutual understanding and trust is not news. A venomous attack on an ally is sensational and it does its work. It does Hitler's work too. If we had Hitler's propagandists in our midst and gave them unlimited funds and a free hand, they could not do more harm than some of our own people do to our cause under the cloak of patriotism. Though they may not intend to do it, they are working out the Axis plan to divide and conquer.

Today it must be evident to a child of twelve that unless the United Nations stay united, they will not win the war. I know of no surer way of helping the enemy than to divide our forces by using every setback as an excuse for recrimination. It is not going to help us win and we need all the help we can get.

Some of the criticism to which I have referred is directed against Britain. We all know that Britain has made mistakes. So have we all, and we will probably make more. Britain is still blamed for appeasement, but we were not helping very much at that time; and much as they hated going to war, Britain stopped appeasing and fought when Poland was invaded. They fought on after France fell and they, thank God, made better aeroplanes than anyone else and they had better pilots than Germany, and their people had stout hearts and stood the siege. We on this side, concealed our interest in what was taking place by talking about "Aid toBritain." To many of us, the war was then "Britain's war." Some of our people seem to be moving from that to another conception, the conception of a North American war in which Britain is not doing its share. The fact is that in 1941 Britain received 2,134 planes from the United States and Canada and she sent 9,761 overseas. She received 200 tanks and sent abroad 3,000.

We know that this is a global war. We know that we cannot win separate wars. The enemy has taught us that the war is one and indivisible. There is one war, the war of humanity. There is one front, the front against the "savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world." The only place where we can't afford to defeat the enemy is in North America. We can't afford to wait until the enemy is here.

Failure to grasp the nature of the struggle is partly due to our still thinking of the war as a war of defence. We must lift ourselves out of the defensive attitude. This is partly due to the war being regarded too much as an Anglo-American affair. I don't know any more certain way of weakening our friends and aiding the enemy than to give the impression that we are fighting for Anglo-Saxondom, or something of that kind. Knowing the way some Canadians feel about this I wonder at its effect on our gallant allies, the Chinese and Russians.

We small nations naturally look to Britain and to you for leadership, but I do not see how the United Nations can make the utmost use of our pooled resources unless we feel that we are fighting as one and unless there is better machinery of cooperation. Not long ago an American publication said: "An Anglo-American condominion is not the answer to either winning the war or the peace. The answer must be in broadening and deepening the democratic reach until it includes in its partnership all the peoples found against the Nazi action." Only two days ago a dispatch was received from Australia reporting vast shipments of munitions from Canada to Britain and Egypt in proportion to the amounts shipped to Australia. It expressed extreme dissatisfaction. The fact is that the shipments were made to fulfill engagements made months ago, but both the situation and the complaint called for representative machinery to work out questions of supply as well as of materials and shipping. We must also work out common aims and a common ideology.

Canada has often been referred to as an interpreter between the United States and Britain. This is a favourite topic of travelling speakers. It has never been put in higher terms than it was by Winston Churchill in The Saturday Evening Post. In 1930 he wrote this about Canada: "She is a magnet exercising a double attraction, drawing both Great Britain and the United States towards herself and thus drawing them closer to each other. She is the only surviving bond which stretches from Europe across the AtlanticOcean. In fact, no state, no country, no band of men can more truly be described as the linchpin of peace and world progress." These are fine words and it is not for me to say that there is no truth in them. The whole structure of cooperation between the United States and Britain really begins with the statements of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister King at Kingston and Woodbridge three years ago. It was continued through the Ogdensburg Agreement of August 1940, the destroyer-base exchange, Lease-Lend, and the Hyde Park Declaration of April, 1941, to the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration of the United Nations. Their foundation was, I believe, the relations between individual Americans and Canadians like ourselves, personified in the good relations of Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. King. Is it not possible that Canada can play a useful part in the union of the United Nations? It is true that you and the English can each speak to us better than you can to each other.

It may surprise you to learn that our 1941 census will show that we are less Anglo-Saxon than you. Thirty per cent of our population is of French origin. If the United States had forty million people whose mother tongue and traditions had been French for three hundred years in North America, it would be difficult to refer to the United States as an English-speaking country. We can look at things from the point of view of a small power that is not Anglo-Saxon. We provide the United States with a touchstone, a standard, of her conduct in international affairs. It is useful to have us around when you are considering the machinery of international cooperation and international order. Many of us think that machinery of this kind is as essential to the successful prosecution of the war as it is to the consolidation of the peace.

My country, Canada, has no interests in this war different from yours. We intend with all the power of our will to do our utmost to bring victory. It is a prerequisite to life and yet it will give us nothing except a chance. It will give control of the future to us, not Hitler. In order to make our utmost effort, Canada, the United States, all the United Nations, must have faith that in consequence of that effort being made we will get not only victory but the chance to work for a better world than man has ever known and the probability that we are going to get it. To prevent falling apart and disaster, even to fight our hardest, the United Nations and the peoples in each of the United Nations must share views and ideas, create habits of thinking and working together, build confidence in each other and in their ability to carry out their purposes. Our aim to defeat the enemy is only a stage. The need for a united will and united action goes far beyond victory. We must see that the Four Freedoms your great President defined for the world shall belong to us and to our children, to all the people of the United States, to all the people in my country, Canada, to everyone everywhere in the world.