Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day 2012

Today is the day we remember those Canadians who fought in wars, served in our military in any capacity, and those who paid the ultimate price. To that end I will be reviewing two books by Canadian author, John Wilson, which were written for younger readers so that they might learn some history and understand some of the factors that led to the First and Second World Wars.

The first book, Desperate Glory: The Story of WWI explains how the Great War came about, how Canadians got involved, the famous battles, the air war - new to warfare, trench warfare, the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the situation in Russia, and the Halifax Explosion. Students who use this book will have a good overall understanding of World War I. There are plenty of photographs and maps to help the reader understand and identify the areas of conflict, and Wilson's writing style is simple and readable.

Failed Hope: The Story of the Lost Peace details the interwar years from the signing of the devastating Treaty of Versailles in 1918, through the Roaring Twenties with Prohibition, the rise of Benito Mussolini and Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, and finally to the brink of war in 1939. Again Wilson makes great use of photographs to enhance the text.

While generally speaking this book provides a good overview of events that took place during the interwar years, Wilson does parrot the accepted view that "the Catholic and Protestant churches either supported the Nazis or folded when faced with any intimidation." Unfortunately, in a book about history for young people, author John Wilson has chosen to continue to perpetuate the myth of the Catholic church's silence and inaction when it came to Hitler's treatment of Jewish citizens and later on the Nazi's policy of extermination of an entire race of people.

It has now been well documented by historians, both Jewish and non-Jewish, that the Catholic Church did much to help the Jewish people both in the interwar years and also during World War II. As an example, on "April 4, 1933, ten days after the Enabling Act, the Apostolic Nuncio in Berlin was ordered by Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli", then Vatican secretary of state, (who would later become Pope Pius XII), "to intervene with the government of the Reich on behalf of the Jews and point out all the dangers involved in an anti-Semitic policy." Pacelli, throughout the 1930's was regularly lampooned as "Pius XI's 'Jew-loving' cardinal because of the more than fifty-five protests he sent the Nazi regime while serving as Vatican secretary of state."  The above quotes are taken from Rabbi David G. Dalin's book, The Myth of Hitler's Pope.

Pope Pius XI also wrote Mit brennender Sorge, the 1937 anti-Nazi papal encyclical, which the Nazi's of course, ignored. Pope Pius XII concentrated on quietly saving lives, rather than speaking out and enraging the Nazis into taking retaliatory action against helpless citizens of occupied countries.

It should also be noted that many Catholics were also imprisoned, tortured and murdered and that there were notable Protestants such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Marga Meusel who strongly opposed Hitler. Bonhoeffer was hanged in Flossenburg concentration camp just weeks before the camp was liberated.

There is plenty of Canadian content including mention of Canada's growth as a leading exporter of pulp and paper and hydro-electric power, the Group of Seven painters and the Winnipeg general strike. This book is actually the third in a series, Stories of Canada.

Bitter Ashes: The Story of World War II follows Desperate Glory. I don't have a copy of the book so I'm unable to review it but based on the two books I've read these are overall good books, well written with lots of primary sources and excellent for providing background information for upper elementary and also high school students. As with many modern history books, students should question general statements made about religion and in particular the Catholic church.

Book Details:
Desperate Glory: The Story of World War I by John Wilson
Toronto: Dundurn Press

Failed Hope: The story of the lost peace by John Wilson
Toronto: Dundurn Press
116 pp.

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