While Hitler, Mussolini (dictator of Italy), and Franco (Spanish Dictator) were establishing fascists governments in Europe and making plans for war, Canadians were not paying a great deal of attention. In a political and military sense, Canadians are said to have “slept” through the build-up to the Second World War. Why were Canadians uninterested in the events of Europe throughout the 1930’s? Why did Canada seem unprepared for the outbreak of a Second Great War?
1) Memories of World War I- The tragedy of the First World War was still fresh in the minds of most Canadians. By the time the Second World War had broken out, only twenty years had passed. The last thing Canadians wanted was to involve themselves in another global conflict in Europe.
2) Pacifism- Many people were disillusioned with war, and actively promoted the cause of peace. Women’s groups, such as The Women’s International League for Peace, vigorously campaigned for an end to all war. Much of the entertainment industry after the war emphasized the tragic waste of war in the twentieth century. Even political leaders at the time, such as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation’s J.S. Woodsworth, tried to have the House of Commons declare Canada’s neutrality in any future war.
3) The Great Depression- While tensions were building in Europe during the 1930’s, Canada was trying to deal with its own issues caused by the Depression. When the war broke out in 1939, Canada still had 1,000,000 people on relief. Canadians were bitterly divided over how to solve their own problems, that foreign politics seemed irrelevant to the plight of Canadians who were concerned about food, clothing, and shelter.
4) Isolationism- Canada had a policy of isolationism throughout the 1930’s. In order to ensure Canada remained uninvolved in the affairs of other nations, Canada declined entering into any alliances, foreign economic commitments, international agreements, devoting itself entirely to its own advancement, and avoiding entanglements and responsibilities. As a result, Canada remained a peaceful nation. While Canada had joined the League of Nations after the First World War, it never played a leading role and had hoped to avoid involvement in future conflicts. Many thought Canada’s geographical location benefitted Canada