Review Of Non-Fiction Book

“The Generals Essay, Research Paper

This paper is a review of J.L. Granatstein?s non-fiction book entitled ?The Generals.” This is one of few books devoted to the scarcely heard of Canadian Generals who served during the second world war. Unfortunately this is the type of book that should only be purchased at a garage sale for a quarter, and then perhaps used to spark a warm fire in a wood fireplace on a cold winter night. The reasoning for this is this book provides little interest to those fascinated by the events that took place during the second world war. The old proverb ?Never judge a book by its cover? definitely holds true for this book in particular. The major themes and focus of this book are absolutely not what one would expect of a book entitled ?The Generals.” If one were hoping to read about famous events or battles that took place during the second world war through the eyes of Canadian Generals, or perhaps any kind of detailed war events, then this book will prove to be a tremendous disappointment. However if one enjoys reading about the petty internal politics, which according to the author, existed within the Canadian military, or what highly ranked officials have been quoted saying about each other, or the constant political ?back-stabbing? that most of the generals inflicted on their peers, then this book holds appeal for the few readers who may fall into this category. Obviously it is realized that politics were a major issue for highly ranked officers in the military, and it was necessary that these politics be discussed. However, the mistake the author made was focusing exclusively on politics and almost totally neglecting to discuss author key aspects relating the lives of the Generals and how successful they were in battle. Most people who pick up this book will find it to be very dry and in some parts incomprehensible. Examples of this are the author?s use of untranslated French quotes, the military lingo and some the abbreviations which were not elaborated on, left the reader wondering exactly what was being discussed. The author also included large amounts of obviously irrelevant details, mainly regarding military politics, while vaguely touching on, and in many cases, neglecting totally major historical events of world war two.

The key downfall to Granatstein?s book about Canadian Generals is the fact that he mainly focused on the political maneuvering of the Generals. The author?s almost exclusive focus on the politics between the highly ranked military officials made this book a very slow and mundane read. Granatstein harped on excessively regarding how the British military leaders felt that McNoughton was ?not suited..? to command an army in the field (Granatstein, p78). Although McNoughton?s failure to see eye-to-eye with the British military was definitely an important issue, devoting almost ten pages to this was absolutely unnecessary to get this point across. Chapter 4, devoted to Crerar also contained similar deficiencies. One major observation within this chapter is that pages 86 to 108 could be ripped out of the book and simply replaced with the words ?Crerar fought his way up the ranks, and with the deposing of McNoughton, became Commander of 1st Canadian Army?. The author?s descent into trivial details was unnecessary given the information he was trying to convey, and given the relative scope of his book. While such details, for example, the representation of gossip and comments vis a vis Crerar, gave insight into the nature of the times the author used this method to excess and almost to the point of frivolity. The following quotes illustrate this point and are representative of the content between pages 86 to 108, which as mentioned above, should have been omitted totally from the book:

?A big, guffawing Guardsman, Leese took a supercilious attitude to Crerar: ?I am having a big problem With Canadian Commanders. Harry Crerar is here — & of course knows nothing of military matters in the field — but is presumably the commander designate of the Canadian Army in England.?…?(Granatstein, p107)

also on page 107:

?…As General Chris Vokes, Simonds?s successor in command of the division, wrote later, Crerar ?had an outstanding administrative and organizational ability and was a disciplinarian, but there was all the difference in the world between the make believe of training in England and the real thing in Italy.? He added that the new corps commander had been ?meticulous in his observance of the clothing regulations. If he was improperly dressed I?m quite sure he felt naked.?(Granatstein, p 107)

This next quote focuses on a related, but different issue:

?…When Montgomery persisted and said that ?our ways must part,? Crerar said he would report he would report the matter to his government. Then, to Crerar?s surprise, Montgomery backed off and declared the matter closed. So it was, and Montgomery send an apologetic letter.

This was one of Crerar?s finest hours…?(Granatstein, p112-113)

This quote illustrates how throughout the book the author had focused on interpersonal politics, and also how he seems to have downplayed the importance of job performance and accomplishments of the generals on the battlefield. Instead of declaring Crerar?s political outmaneuvering of Montgomery his ?finest hours? the author should have declared a key victory or an example of Crerar?s battlefield performance his ?finest hours? simply because his victory over Montgomery did not help the allies win the war, which is the main goal of everyone involved. According to Granatstein?s account of the war it seems that many generals lost track of this fundamental goal and became preoccupied with conflicts among each other.

This pattern was carried over to a subsequent chapter that discussed Tommy Burns military career. ?Perhaps the confrontation with the Minister was one reason why Crerar failed in December 1940 to get Burns the command of the armoured division for which planning was in progress in Canada ?(Granatstein, p127). Also, on pages 128-129 the incident where the interception of Burns? personal letter to his mistress that resulted in his demotion was also discussed in detail (Granatstein). The author clearly demonstrates the political downfalls which impeded Burns? progression through the ranks at this stage in his career. However, whether or not Burns? job performance was a factor in his being demoted is unclear because the author completely failed to mention anything regarding Burns? performance on the battlefield up to this point. Another key example in the chapter devoted to Simonds:

?As the division?s historical officer recorded in his diary, ?the G.O.C. sent for Brigadier Graham. I happened to be standing near the G.O.C.?s vehicle at the time when I heard him say to the Brigadier: ?Good afternoon.? Brigadier Graham replied: ?Good afternoon, Sir.? Without further ado both then were deep in conversation over a map presumably on operational matters.?(Granatstein, p158)

This illustration of an interaction between Simonds and one of his subordinates is an excellent example of the extreme detail used to convey the importance of interpersonal relationships between the upper ranks of the Canadian military. The author, however, does not include any accounts of key events of the war in nearly such detail. This is one of the major problems with Granatstein?s book, because anyone picking up a book such as this one would expect, to some greater extent, some historical accounts of war anecdotes relating to Canadian generals. A comment the author made regarding Faulkes: ?For all his undoubted military ability, Simonds lacked Foulkes?s political sense, and it was Foulkes, not Simonds, who became Canada?s most powerful military mandarin and the creator of the postwar Canadian armed forces? (Granatstein, p178), is another indication of this totally political deterministic attitude that the author seems to hold about success in the military. Obviously getting along with one?s peers and superiors is important for success, but what the author fails to indicate or perhaps realize is that if Faulkes had been useless on the battlefield he would never have been promoted, even if he were the greatest politician and socialite ever to walk the earth. A related issue in the chapter devoted to Simonds can be illustrated in the paragraph where the author writes:

?…the invasion on 10 July went well and the Canadians made their way inland for the first few days without meeting serious opposition from Italian troops. Simonds scratched out a diary note on D-Day that began ?Heavy firing on shore,? but he added that prisoners were ?brought in by the dozens.? The next day, as things continued on course, he wrote, ?Although the fruit is not all ripe some apricots and melons are — Are they ever good.? The Germans soon made their appearance — after the Italians ?that is a different kettle of fish,? an officer in the Princess Pats wrote home — and on 16 July, near Piazza Armerina, Simonds came under fire for the first time. The historical officer with the division wrote admiringly: ?General Simonds certainly believes in staying close to his fighting troops. This morning he came under mortar fire and had two or three close calls.? When a mortar bomb exploded a yard away from Simonds, sheltering in a slit trench, the officer with him asked ?What would the people of Canada say if they knew that they were paying him $24 a day to be where he was at that moment?…?(Granatstein, p157)

The Author stumbled upon the right track by providing some rudimentary accounts of Simonds? experiences on the battlefield. Due to the fact that this quote was taken from a little past the half-way point of the book it is difficult to believe that this is the first time the author discussed one of the generals? battle experience in detail. Unfortunately this discussion was sketchy and short lived at best, lasting a mere paragraph. Immediately following this paragraph the book went back to its usual mode of discussion which in this case was about Simonds? relationship with Lieutenant Oliver Leese and this led into a barrage of comments that Simonds? peers made about him (Granatstein, p158). Although the previous quote from the book appears very long, it is relatively short compared to the preceding 156 pages of which not one paragraph is devoted to accounts of events on or around the battlefield. The implications of this are instrumental in the conveyance of what the major problems with Granatstein?s book are. To maintain the interest of an average reader, based on their expectations about the content of the book, some degree of balance should have been established between discussing the key aspects of the lives of the generals. Including at least one or two moderately detailed historical accounts of a battle related experience for each of the generals discussed would have made the book substantially more interesting and complete. Focusing almost exclusively on the politics within the Canadian Military is the main downfall of this book and results in ?The Generals? being an extremely dry and painful read, which leaves the reader with a severely incomplete picture of exactly what it was the Canadian Generals actually did during the war.

The last argument to be raised in this review is that Granatstein?s book contained two basic flaws which contributed to this book being an excruciatingly painful, boring read. The first flaw to be discussed was inherent in his decision to use nearly 40 different abbreviations for certain military terms and ranks. Many of these abbreviations were used at most on three occasions throughout the book. Few of the 40 abbreviations were used so frequently that was really necessary to even abbreviate these terms. The end result was the requirement that the reader flip back and forth to the abbreviation page at least once every few pages because either a new abbreviation was introduced, or a previously forgotten abbreviation was reintroduced. This task of constantly having to turn back and forth to the front of the book quickly becomes exasperating and abrasive. To add to the frustration sometimes abbreviations that the author used weren?t even on the abbreviation page! On many occasions Granatstein went over board on details regarding trivial matters, yet he apparently was compelled to use abbreviations when simply writing out the entire word wouldn?t have made the book much longer, and would have been much less taxing on the reader?s sanity. The second flaw to be discussed is the author?s assumption that the readers of his book are all bilingual. Granatstein, on several occasions included quotes that were entirely in French. Irritatingly enough the author also failed to include the English translation of these quotes. Due to the fact that this book is written in the English language, translating quotes made in other languages is a requirement Granatstein completely failed to meet. A prime example of this:

? …?Sept sur 144,? Pare wrote. ?Pas un seul Canadien francais aux postes superieurs d?outre-mer; pas un seul au quartier general de Londres, ni meme au quartier general d?Ottawa.?

All this was true. But why?…?(Granatstein, p238)

To a reader who is not fluent in French, Pare?s quote is incomprehensible, and the readers may feel they have missed something of importance as the next paragraph leads into a discussion relating to the quote which was entirely in French. It is realized that these quotes were originally spoken in the French language, but had (the author) used quotes from Russian military officials, would untranslated Russian dialect be included throughout the book? The use of untranslated quotes of the French language and the authors terribly thought out use of abbreviations throughout this book both contributed to this book being on the verge of unreadability.

Granatstein?s book would seem to suggest that the Canadian Generals were more effective at fighting amongst themselves than against the Germans. This is the case because little or nothing was said about tactics against the Germans. The entire book was devoted to battles the generals fought against each other. The pervasive element that underlies this entire book is the author?s focus on the petty internal politics of the Canadian Military and the under representation, or total lack there of, of battles fought and won during the second world war. Why would an author saturate an entire book with page after page of mundane political maneuvering when countless battles and heroic war anecdotes from the Second world war were at the author?s disposal? The almost total lack of war stories combined with the authors incessant and irresponsible use of abbreviations, and untranslated French quotes make this book unrecommendable and very unpleasant to read.



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