‘Nobody profited’ from WWI, despite heavy cost

This week Wilfrid Laurier University played host to Gwynne Dyer, who delivered a lecture on Feb. 9 on the lessons Canada has learned as a result of the First World War.

Dyer is a Canadian journalist, lecturer, columnist and broadcaster who has worked with international affairs for the past 20 years. He earned a PhD from the University of London in military and middle eastern history amongst other degrees from accredited Canadian, British and American universities.

The lecture centered on the avoidable circumstances of the First World War, in that there was no “imminent and direct threat.” Canada, therefore, would not have been targeted.

“There was never any good reason for Canada to be in those wars. Nobody profited from the First World War,” said Dyer.

According to Dyer, due to a “great power game,” Canada ended up staying in the war even though the cost was evident. In addition, Canada was persuaded to stay as a duty to fight for Britain. With an apparent threat from the United States, the fear of an American invasion worked as an insurance for Canadian loyalty to Britain.

Dyer then addressed the composition of troops in WWI, which was on a volunteer-basis. 95 per cent of volunteers were Anglophones, and combined with French Canadians it was enough for three battalions. The highest levels of volunteers came from British Columbia and Alberta.

Volunteering lessened moving east with the Maritimes having the lowest amount of volunteers, as this is where people have lived the longest, as opposed to the east, which had immigrants from Britain. The volunteer numbers were increasing and the weapons were becoming more deadly. Dyer used the example of a machine gun, which was just used to “sweep an area” of people instead of hitting one target.

“The numbers were huge … weapons were impressive, since the weapons for killing had been industrialized,” Dyer said.

“[WWI] was part of great power wars … it was about everything: who’s up and who’s down. The winners will collect colonies.”

Dyer added that as a result of the First World War, the Second World War was inevitable as it was meant for a rematch with the Germans. It was also out of loyalty for the dead, Dyer said. Towards the end of WWII, going to war had become more of a habit.

“In 1939, to abandon the enterprise was to say that those deaths were for nothing,” he said. “We go where the gang goes. It’s about showing up … It’s about honouring the past, living up to what the past generations did.”

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