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During the Second World War, Winnipeg’s fault lines were many: political, religious, racial, and ethnic divides threatened wartime cohesion. As Perrun notes in his nuanced analysis of community relationships between and within various groups on the home front, Winnipeg had a significant Ukrainian community whose political and religious division meant they “spent as much effort and rhetoric opposing each other as they did the common Axis enemy” (11). Yet, Perrun argues, most Winnipeggers shared in the “patriotic consensus,” though this “consensus was far from total” (43). Social pressure and propaganda fostered this consensus that was unforgiving of those regarded as slacking or as threats to national security.
Perrun also questions the view that the federal government was the major factor in how the war effort was conducted and experienced by Canadians. He asserts there is “an important distinction … between the non-state institutions of civil society and those of the state itself” and that majority of people’s everyday lives, interactions, contributions and defining memberships are in the realm of civil society (11). According to Perrun, it was the local community relations that provided the parameters by which national and international events of the war were felt and lived by Canadians. He emphasizes how the local initiatives of individuals and of the non-state institutions of civil society—especially families, voluntary associations, clubs, and community groups that they belonged to—modified and in many cases influenced the direction of national policy. For instance, he contends that Winnipeg’s “If Day,” which featured a staged Nazi invasion as a means of persuading ordinary Winnipeggers and Manitobans to donate, emerged as a local response to a nationwide Second Victory Campaign under the federally created National War Finance Committee. From discussion of how Winnipeg newspapers willingly participated in federal government attempts at controlling information to denial of civil liberties of Japanese Canadians to women’s volunteer work, Perrun situates Winnipeg in larger trends while paying attention to local peculiarities.
The interrelated concepts of unity and morale underline Perrun’s exploration of how Winnipeggers accepted, built, rejected, and were pressured into the patriotic consensus that reflected values of the white Anglo-Saxon elite. Unity and morale, as he recognizes, are difficult to measure. They can, however, be ascertained to some extent through assessing responses to calls for participation in armed forces, in providing services for military personal and their families, in salvage and other campaigns, and in people’s to shared wartime hardships such as housing shortages, war rationing, and familial separations. For example, Perrun makes a convincing case that there was a high degree of unity in Winnipeg because, although led by middle-class women, people from all sorts of class, religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds contributed to volunteer activities in support of the war effort. This degree of support, in turn, promoted high morale, because those who participated felt and were made to feel “they were making an important contribution to the nation’s war effort” (153).
Perrun’s carefully researched work depends largely upon newspapers, reports, government correspondence, and volunteer-association records to measure community engagement, morale, and unity. This reliance, combined with the equation of high morale and unity with successful participation in what he calls “patriotic appeals,” results in the dominant voices being those of local, provincial, and federal politicians, bureaucrats, and the business and social elite. Although the voices of ordinary citizens appear occasionally, the experiences of ordinary Winnipeggers emerge largely from what they do, rather than what they say. While the voices of those who opposed and were pushed out of the patriotic consensus are included from time to time, the focus on how social cohesion was maintained in spite of the fault lines overshadows these voices.
Given the extensive discussion on propaganda and wartime familial separation, the absence of recruitment advertisements seems striking. Perrun’s work would have benefited from a further discussion of the experiences of military personnel in the Winnipeg area and their interactions with civilians. He briefly mentions the military personnel’s appreciation of and the provisions made to support those stationed nearby or passing through, but the reader is left wondering how the increased presence of military personnel changed the cityscape of Winnipeg. Perrun thus reinscribes boundaries between home front and war front that he, like previous historians, argued were not so sharply demarcated in a time of “total war.”
These points aside, Jody Perrun’s Patriotic Consensus provides a welcome corrective to the largely nationalistic focus of histories of Canadians in the Second World War. The illustrations, photographs, and maps complement the narrative. They provide snapshots of community life from the common wartime scene of sending off troops to crowds gathered at Victory Loan events to familiar wartime propaganda. Winnipeg during wartime comes alive in his masterful narrative that reminds readers that the domestic experience of the Second World War in Canada was not unitary, but was built upon and drew together the fragmented voices of many.