Book Review: Mobilize!: Why Canada was Unprepared for the Second World War

Mobilize!: Why Canada was Unprepared for the Second World War by Larry D. Rose is a Canadian history of the years before WWII. Rose was born in British Columbia, served as a second lieutenant and later as a captain in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (Reserves). He has worked in broadcasting for forty-five years including work with CBC Television News, Global News, and CTV. Rose earned a BA in History and Political Science and a MA in Political Science and Public Administration from the University of Victoria. 

I learned a great detail about Canadian history from this short book. That is a rather sad statement. I grew up fifty miles from Canada in Cleveland, Ohio. Throughout college the only real mention of Canada was its role in the War of 1812. I have visited Canada several times. I was actually surprised to see the RCMP in paramilitary uniforms with semiautomatic weapons– no, I wasn’t expecting campaign hats and a Dudley Do-Right jacket. I talk to Canadians on social media sites. Yet I know so little about the country.

I was a little surprised with the the title of the book. Being an American I continually heard how the US was not prepared for WWII throughout my education. I thought about the title of this book and realized aside from Germany and Japan what countries were prepared for WWII? After reading Mobilize! I realized how prepared the US was for war compared to Canada. In the prewar years Canada did not have a military capable of protecting its borders, let alone a force to contribute to the Allies. Canada was so unprepared for hostilities that the US had plans to protect Canada’s western coast from possible Japanese aggression whether Canada supported the action or not. A slap in the face of Canadian sovereignty. 

In the interwar years, Canada’s armored divisions had no tanks. There were still horseback mounted cavalry. The navy had few ships and no money allotted to keep them ready for war or even defensive anti-submarine warfare. Naval guns were not fired in training because it cracked the paint on the guns. The Royal Rifles didn’t have uniforms and wore armbands to identify themselves. They were also almost barracks bound until a citizen donated thirty pairs of boots. The air force did not even have a operational bomber group until October 1942. 

Several key players in Canadian history are covered. From military leaders to Prime Minister King who was instrumental in managing to build a military that could contribute to the war. Canada went to war in 1939. American neutrality laws prevented Canada from getting arms and equipment from its closest neighbor. It took a great effort to build Canada up to a point where it could contribute to the war effort. There are plenty of internal struggles in the years leading up to the war. 

Canada was caught up in several events that proved to be challenges. The Statute of Westminster in 1931 gave Canada the power to truly govern itself and set its own foreign policy. Being newly “independent” created fiscal challenges that were further complicated by the American stock market crash and droughts throughout Canada. The idea of war was completely unexpected. Canada went home after WWI like the United States thinking that there would be no future wars. The only threat to their territory came from the US want to protect its own territory. Prepared or not, Canada joined the war almost two years ahead of the United States. It went to war not to bring democracy or defeat Hitler, but because England went to war. The war cost Canada 37,000 lives. That is quite a sacrifice for a country not threatened by a European war. Mobilize! gives a good and detailed history. It is well written and documented and will give a southern neighbor an education that is sadly missing.

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