Jody Perrun. The Patriotic Consensus: Unity, Morale, and the Second World War in Winnipeg. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2014. 288 pp. $31.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-88755-749-1.
Reviewed by Eric Weeks (Bridgewater State University)
Published on H-War (November, 2016)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
In popular culture and the public memory, World War II is often positioned as the “Good War,” remembered through images of Allied soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy, liberating European cities and towns from Nazi control, and preserving liberty and freedom. Those who remained behind on the home front are pictured willingly and eagerly doing their part, through rationing and salvage drives, and by rolling up their collective sleeves to work on farms and in the factories. In The Patriotic Consensus, historian Jody Perrun provides a detailed account of the war years as experienced by Canadians living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Perrun sheds new light on the various ways the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, and, more important, community and non-state institutions encouraged citizens to support the war effort, and how Winnipeggers time and again found the morale to continue, even in the face of difficulty.
Most notably, Perrun thoughtfully demonstrates how the concept of a monolithic populace, fully unified in a patriotic consensus, comes into question after a closer look is given to the wartime experiences of the people. The government’s forced relocation of Japanese Canadians from the West Coast is a clear illustration of acts of repression and discrimination running in stark contrast to the ideas of democracy being fought for. Further, Perrun also points to the animosity, intolerance, and persecution directed toward conscientious objectors, political dissenters, and ethnic minorities as other examples of cracks in the veneer of harmony and unity. Perrun’s book picks up steam in later chapters, as the focus turns to other home front topics, such as Victory Loan campaigns, salvage drives and volunteering efforts, housing shortages and financial worries, and the stress felt by families separated due to military service. Propaganda, social pressures, and public spectacles convinced Winnipeggers of the importance of financially supporting the war by buying bonds, while also fostering a sense of unity and commitment to the cause. Perrun explains that for some, purchasing a war bond could serve as a link to a loved one in harm’s way, seen as a way to “bring them home sooner or provide the equipment they needed to keep them safe” (p. 126). The National War Finance Committee, the federal organization behind Victory Loan campaigns, worked with businesses to urge employees to purchase bonds via payroll deductions, creating a friendly competition between firms. Yet many employees reported feeling coerced into buying bonds, a sort of forced inclusion into the patriotic consensus.
With over one million Canadians serving in the armed forces, many families lost a critical source of income. Military pay and government assistance was often insufficient to make up the deficit, resulting in additional adversities as the fear of mounting debt potentially threatened morale. People also had to deal with the worry and uncertainty inherent in having friends and family members overseas fighting a war. Nevertheless, levels of volunteer work were high, with Winnipeggers of all ages, genders, ethnicities, social classes, and religions giving their time to support the troops. Perrun points out that much of this work, contrary to the “dominant narratives [which] suggest that the main role in determining the nature of the war effort was played by the federal government,” was in fact led by community and non-state institutions (p. 12). Along with some well-known national organizations like the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and the Salvation Army, Winnipeggers were active in more local organizations, including the Patriotic Salvage Corps, the Train Reception Committee, the Lutheran Church Soldiers’ Welfare Club, and the Ukrainian Young Women’s Club. Marshaling the public’s service through these groups gave their willing sacrifices an increased sense of immediacy, efficacy, and import.
The one slight weakness in the book is directly related to its strength of being so well researched. In his examination of targeted minority groups, specifically Winnipeg’s Ukrainian community, Perrun at times gets caught up in minute details, such as listing names of people who spoke at various meetings or the exact address of an organization’s property, facts that may have been more at home in the endnotes. These minor digressions are noticeable solely because they pull focus from the otherwise engaging writing.
In his introduction, Perrun explains that the book “is not strictly a history of Winnipeg during the Second World War” but instead “a history of the way Canadians experienced the war in Winnipeg” (p. 14). This point is what makes the work so worthwhile to a broad audience. To be sure, certain aspects of the account are specific to the location and demographics of Manitoba’s capital city, but overall, Winnipeg stands in as a surrogate for countless cities and towns throughout North America. The readership is not isolated to Canadianists or World War II historians. Rather, the book appeals to anyone interested in the war, how it actually affected those on the home front, and the ways in which mass support for such a destructive endeavor as war can be instilled and maintained in a citizenry.
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Eric Weeks. Review of Perrun, Jody, The Patriotic Consensus: Unity, Morale, and the Second World War in Winnipeg.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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