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Socknat, Thomas P.

Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1987. 370pp, paper, ISBN 0-8020-5704-7 (cloth) $35.00, 0-8020-6632-1 (paper) $16.95. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Janet Tomkins

Volume 15 Number 6
1987 November

Witness Against War examines Canadian pacifism in the first half of the twentieth century, a period during which it was challenged by two world wars, the social and economic upheavals of the Depression, the popularization of socialism, and fears of fascism and communism. Sociology

The author, a history professor at the University of Toronto, begins his study with a brief discussion of the eighteenth and nineteenth century roots of the Canadian pacifist heritage, and argues that two distinct traditions had been shaped by 1900. One was the religious sectarian pacifism of groups such as the Mennonites and Hutterites, with their historic view that war was absolutely and always wrong. Liberal progressives (small "1" liberal), on the other hand, believed that war was always inhumane, irrational, and to be avoided, but that it was sometimes necessary. Because the views of the sectarian pacifists remained relatively constant, and because they separated themselves from the rest of society and did not join the larger peace movement, it is the development of this latter tradition of liberal pacifism which forms the major focus of the book.

The story of the evolution of the peace movement from 1900 to 1945 is a complex and fascinating one. It is a story of challenge, confrontation, and change. Socknat examines the crisis of the First World War, the courage of those who resisted, and the radicalization of the small number of liberal pacifists who remained committed to their ideals as other pacifists rallied to the war effort. He describes the resurgent peace movement of the interwar period, which underwent a leftward political transition as it became part of a broader radical social reform movement. Inevitably, the movement's increasing advocacy of forms of social coercion, such as strikes, threatened to compromise the pacifist ideal of rejection of force. During the second half of the 1930s, in the face of the increasing fascist threat abroad, many social radicals abandoned their pacifist ideals. Those who remained committed eventually retreated to the conviction that war was absolutely and always wrong, similar to that held by the sectarian pacifists. The advent of the Second World War brought renewed crisis, as many pacifists chose to join in the armed defence of Western democracies. Others responded to the challenge "to face the reality of the times by assuming an active role in various humanitarian activities, the defence of civil liberties, and, above all, the struggle for alternative pacifist service for conscientious objectors." Many were, in fact, given useful work to perform, and pacifists were almost alone in aiding refugees from Nazi Europe, and protesting the internment of Japanese-Canadians.

As a broad treatment of important social aspects of Canadian history during and between the two wars, Socknat's study is very welcome. Comprehensive, objective, and well written, it is thoroughly documented, and accompanied by a small number of black-and-white illustrations. It will be a valuable acquisition for secondary schools with senior courses in Canadian studies and modern history.

Janet Tomkins, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alta.
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