Book Review Sample on Canadian History

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Book Review Sample on Canadian History

Alliance and Illusion: Canada and the World, 1945-1984


Robert Bothwell’s book Alliance and Illusion: Canada and the World, 1945-1984 focuses on relations and foreign policy, which Canada had with the international organizations such as the United Nations and international powers such as the United States and Great Britain. It is vital to note that this endeavor was aimed at gaining power and influence in the international arena. Bothwell’s book is quite insightful as it addresses the cultural and economic relations that existed between Canada and international powers. It also examines the flow of democracy and politics between Canada and the rest of the world, in a period subjected to the cold war, as well as shifts in international powers.

After World War II ended, Canada as a middle-powered country took an activist approach when handling international issues with an aim of obtaining power, as well as an influence over the rest of the world. Additionally, the author states that Canada was involved in humanitarian activities, in crises such as the Vietnamese, Congo and Korean wars in an attempt to obtain the much needed influence which is on an international level. However, according to the author, Canada’s expectations were a delusion since by the end of the 1960s, its status greatly declined from that of middle-power into an unrecognized nation hiding behind the corridors of the United Nations. This automatically implies that the country was, at that time, faced with problems that forced it out of the international scene.


In the book, Bothwell attempts to explain why Canada, which seemed to be a promising and successful nation, came to be undervalued, unrecognized and eventually had to stand behind the scenes during international agenda. The author further argues that Canada’s failure was attributed to poor leadership portrayed in both Pearson’s and Prime Minister’s John Diefenbaker’s era.

Additionally, the book focuses on international affairs, which mean that any reader interested with foreign policy, politics, as well as cultural and economic relations, will find the book insightful. I hence intend to focus on the fall of Canada, which was formerly an influential and powerful state, as a direct result of poor leadership strategies and misinformed decision-making. Bothwell’s thesis can, therefore, be aimed at concluding that Canada’s failure in attaining power was attributed to inefficient leadership and the application of wrong strategies and poor decision making.

A Critical Analysis of the Book

According to Bothwell, Canada played a helpful role in the creation and shaping of international organizations, as well as agencies, with an interior motive of becoming an influential international figure. For instance, in the 1940s, Canada invested in Europe and especially Great Britain without having the insight that Britain was a falling nation (Bothwell 39). It was at this time that countries that developed the atomic bomb such as Britain and America were in power. It can be noted that when Canada invested in this venture, it had no idea that America was going to use the atomic bomb to blow up Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although this single action led to the end of the World War, Canada was viewed as a partner in the development of the most horrific and dreadful bomb in the world (Bothwell 43). At this stage, the author is successful in proving that poor decision making on the part of the leaders led to the tarnishing of Canada’s image. Moreover, it made other countries to lose trust in Canada as it was now viewed as a secretive nation.

Canada’s Humanitarian Role

During the Cold War, Canada played a humanitarian role where it was dedicated to providing aid to such countries a Palestine and India (112). This examination makes it evident that Canada was more involved in the UN peace keeping missions in an attempt to obtain influence on an international level.

Pearson’s Government and Its Humanitarian Approach to Obtaining Power and Influence

During the Pearson era, Canada assisted the UN in restoring peace in Korea. Here, an analysis of Bothwell’s works reveals the fact that over 26,000 Canadians were involved in the Korean War and that 516 Canadians perished in the conflict (Bothwell 90). It can be observed that the war was between the North and South Korea, but Canada worked with the UN and America to defend South Korea. This analysis reveals that Canada’s foreign policy facilitated the alliance of Canada and the United States in an effort to build close ties. It can be noted that the Pearson government was very determined to win the hearts and minds of the world leaders, as well as the international community by being more involved in the Korean War. It is evident that Canada was involved in resolving the Suez Canal crisis and the author argues that Canada, at this moment, clearly defined its foreign policy. Canada played a humanitarian role in the Suez Canal crisis where Pearson proposed a peacekeeping force at the 1956 UN general meeting (Bothwell 127). Moreover, the author in his book states that Pearson’s administration was involved in the formation of the UN peacekeeping forces which were to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis. It was during this meeting that Pearson persuaded the international community and the world leaders to make the United Nations’ a more active organization. At this stage, Bothwell proves that Pearson’s government mostly applied the humanitarian approach while attempting to amass power because it was under the impression that good deeds could win the trust of the world leaders.

An analysis of the book discloses the reality that Canada was also involved in the Vietnamese War while a member of the ICC. Here, Canada’s foreign policy was aimed at promoting democracy and freedom while at the same time creating beneficial relations in terms of trade with the U.S. It is also palpable that Pearson’s government was overseeing the execution of the Geneva Agreements, which means that it was determined to ensure that there was a balance in international powers. Nevertheless, the author argues that Pearson was on America’s side because he was under the impression that helping the Americans could prove to be beneficial in the long run seeing as America was a superpower. It is palpable that Pearson’s regime was marked by strong relations between Canada and the US, which seemed to be beneficial (Bothwell 109). For instance, the book reveals that during the war Canada gained the trust of America, and as a result, they engaged in trade which seemed to benefit Canada. It can be seen that Canada chose to take the side of the America because it knew that it could gain from the super power in the form of trade relations.

At this stage, the author gives a detailed description of the Geneva Convention, and how Canada pulled out of the Cold War, as well as refused to help the French regain its colonies, which were Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Additionally, Bothwell presents a letter which Pearson had written to St. Laurent stating, “it has been made clear to all concerned that we have not and do not expect to have, any special obligation in respect to Indochina or any special claim or desire to be included in the formal Indochinese conferences” (Bothwell 196). Here, Bothwell uses actual historical letters to reveal the fact that Canada refused to help the U.S., and French empires recover their territories, and as a result, it failed to create an enhanced international image for itself. It is apparent that, after Canada’s refusal to assist the superpowers, its popularity and influence declined. When it comes to foreign policy, Bothwell succeeds in portraying Pearson as appeasing and weak when dealing with French relations.

Diefenbaker’s Era and the Humanitarian Approach

The author as well establishes that the Ottawa officials were rather convinced of establishing peace, as well as resolving international issues that they failed to realize that they were utilizing the wrong approach to obtaining power. This idea was clearly presented in Prime Minister’s John Diefenbaker’s regime as he was observed to bear many gifts, but had no idea on how to utilize them efficiently to the advantage of Canada (Bothwell 134). It was during this period that Canada was heard on an international level, which means that Canada needed to take advantage of this golden age for it to become a super power in the future.

However, Diefenbaker was incompetent as a leader and a strategist because he was unable to undertake mutually beneficial trading activities with both Britain and South Africa. For instance, Canada played a humanitarian role in the Congo crisis at the beginning of the 1960s where it joined the Operation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) restore peace in the warring nation. It is apparent that Canada’s policy was aimed at restoring international stability and policing rogue states such as the Congo. It can be observed that Canada’s interests in Africa were modest, yet it was on the forefront working with the UN in the peacekeeping mission. At this point, Canada’s policy was aimed at gaining the much needed appraisal from the international community for its humanitarian efforts in an attempt to gain influence.

In addition, the author discloses that Diefenbaker had difficulties when it came to trading with communist states because he had already accepted British policy, and as a direct result, he was against communism. Here, the author uses records of past events such as Commonwealth treaties to disclose to the readers that Canada’s relations with Britain had some influence over its present demise. He as well supports his thesis by revealing to his readers that the Canadian leaders had been influenced by the activities, as well as the policies of the British to the point that they failed their country. Bothwell as well argues that Diefenbaker’s failure could be attributed to his poor relations with the Department of external affairs and Canadian military. It can be observed that other issues, which faced Canada during this period, were the cancellation of the Avro Arrow, as well as the controversies over the creation of NORAD. At this juncture, it is evident that it was Diefenbaker’s indecision, which caused difficulties between Canada’s relations with the United States. It is as well apparent that Diefenbaker had poor decision-making skills and was responsible for the uninformed construction, as well as mishandling of nuclear weapons in Canada…

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