In light of the US election in 2016 and the subsequent national and international uncertainty, questions about war-making, national memory, and foreign policy are particularly pressing. In Beyond Afghanistan: An International Security Agenda for Canada, James Fergusson and Francis Furtado have collected a series of essays on Canadian foreign policy post-Afghanistan, while in Living with War: Twentieth-Century Conflict in Canadian and American History and Memory, Robert Teigrob casts a retrospective glance at twentieth-century Canadian and American war memory, nation-building, and armed conflict.
Teigrob’s central thesis is novel: “Canadian society may be more militaristic than is generally recognized.” He dissects the popular notion of Canada as a naive and peace-loving nation, suggesting that the US—with its reputation as a country addicted to war—has a far more vibrant history of debate and dissent concerning warfare than does Canada. Teigrob’s writing is particularly lucid when he analyzes Canadian war memory through an intersectional lens:
Works on Canada’s wars maintained their traditional connections to narrative history and biography, and resisted the kind of theorizing on race, culture, gender, and hegemony that led American analysts to new understandings—and often piercing critiques—of war’s contribution to empire-building.
Teigrob highlights the “latent conservatism in Canadian war-related studies” and foregrounds the need for further intersectional discussion. As concerns the US, he provides highly relevant analysis about the shift from isolationism to interventionism and the foreign-policy implications for both stances. As Canadians and Americans look to the future, Teigrob reminds readers that the careful study of the past—of war and its causes—is not only useful, but necessary.
Fergusson and Furtado, both of whom provide essays in Beyond Afghanistan, bring together a number of highly nuanced perspectives on Canadian military policy post-Afghanistan. Their collection is laudable for its wide range of topics, including Arctic sovereignty, nuclear abolition, and, presciently, the future of NATO. For example, Douglas Bland theorizes about the conditions that could bring about NATO’s end: “What would end NATO is erosion of the idea of the alliance’s purpose and its value among citizens living under the protection of the treaty today.” David G. Haglund notes that “the only way that NATO could be fatally damaged would be for the United States itself to pull the plug,” while Alexander Moens characterizes NATO as “the organizational cat with nine lives.” One of the issues that Beyond Afghanistan highlights is the precarious political relationship between Canada and the US, an uncertain and ever-changing ecosystem where Canada once went to war in southern Afghanistan as a way to appease the US over Canada’s refusal to participate in the war in Iraq. Moreover, the editors are certainly correct to assert that the “international security environment is changing.” No one could have predicted how quickly the changes would occur.
Fergusson and Furtado’s detailed collection will be highly useful as a stepping-off point on a myriad of post-Afghanistan issues—particularly for political scientists, historians, and policy makers. Teigrob’s highly readable history of Canadian and American war history is challenging for specialists within the field as well as for literary theorists and general-interest readers. None of the writers in either collection could have anticipated the election of Donald Trump and the foreign-policy implications thereof. Accordingly, some of the predictions have proven limited while others have been shown to be particularly relevant. As Canada tries to navigate a path amidst rapidly shifting political alliances and international policies, Canadian citizens can contribute by remaining in conversation about past wars, current realities, and future probabilities. Both books provide the opportunity to do just that.