Laurier House National Historic Site of Canada

THE CONSCRIPTION CRISES DURING THE TWO WORLD WARS

III: Visual evidence

1) Newspaper editorial from Le Devoir, circa 1917
2)
Finding men to fight...
3)
Transcript of King's speech on Conscription
4)
Mackenzie King sails smoothly through rough waters

1) Newspaper editorial from Le Devoir, circa 1917 (Henri Bourassa), (Monday, March 26, 1917)

Newspaper article from le devoir aurons-nous la conscription?
Newspaper article from "Le Devoir" by Henri Bourassa entitled "Aurons-nous la conscription?". Monday, March 20, 1917
© National Archives of Canada / Monday, March 20, 1917

Questions:

  1. How does Bourassa view the government's desire to conscript Young men?
  2. On what grounds does he oppose the conscription of French Canadians?

2) Finding men to fight...

(1) Young recruits circa 1914

Three young recruits in uniform, c.1914.
Three young recruits in uniform, c.1914.
© National Archives of Canada / Dorion, J.B. / #1980-019 Neg# PA-122937 / Frances Iverson collection / c. 1914

(2) Recruitment poster for WWI

WWI recruitment poster Your chums are fighting, why aren't you?
WWI recruitment poster "Your chums are fighting, why aren't you?"
© National Archives of Canada / #C 147822 Art Acc# 1983-28-897 / Ref.#C-029484 / location 2000818388 / Patterson, C.J

3) Transcript of King's speech on Conscription entitled "National Security Plebiscite, April 7th 1942"

"The issue at present is not conscription; it is whether or not the government, subject to its responsibility to parliament, is to be free to decide that question itself in the light of all national considerations. The government is not asking you to say whether or not conscription should be adopted. That responsibility the government is asking you to leave to itself and to parliament, with entire freedom to decide the question on its merits.
The question of conscription, properly viewed, is a military question. The place to discuss it is in parliament. What the government now seeks for itself and for parliament is freedom to consider and debate and decide this question, like all other questions connected with the war, unrestricted by any pledge and in the light only of the needs of national security.
A part of our forces should be kept in Canada to protect us against attack; a part of our forces should be sent overseas to help defeat the enemy and thus prevent him from attacking Canada. Both tasks are equally essential to our safety. Anyone who tells you that only one of these tasks is necessary is deceiving you. The government with the information which it alone possesses is in a position to decide where Canada's forces can be used to the greatest advantage in defending Canada, and in helping to defeat Germany and Japan, or how the armed forces required can best be raised. We do not ask the people to make that decision. But we believe the matter is so important that the government and parliament should be completely free to decide the question wholly on its merits.

Questions:

  1. At the beginning of the war, Prime Minister Mackenzie King had pledged not to adopt conscription. But circumstances (loss of key battles, shortage of reinforcement troops to make up for human casualties and relieve pressure on existing army) concurred to make conscription appear necessary. What exactly is Prime Minister Mackenzie King asking of the public, by holding this referendum?
  2. According to Mackenzie King, where will the issue be properly discussed and by whom? Why?
  3. What two tasks performed by Canadian Armed Forces are deemed "equally essential to our safety"? Which one was already being performed by the Army, and which task would require conscripting more men? Do you think the request made to the people was a fair and clear question? If not, why?
  4. What part of this speech shows that Mackenzie King learned from the Conscription Crisis of the previous war? By holding this plebiscite, whose advice is he in fact following? (Hint: the answer can be found in one of the preceding readings of this lesson).

4) Mackenzie King sails smoothly through rough waters (cartoon)

Image depicts Mackenzie King in a canoe heading calmly down a waterfall, paddle in hand.
Image depicts Mackenzie King in a canoe heading calmly down a waterfall, paddle in hand.
© National Archives of Canada / Chambers / C24354

Reference:
This cartoon renders the conscription crisis vote of confidence. It depicts Mackenzie King in a canoe heading calmly down a waterfall, paddle in hand. A copy can be found in the chapter on Mackenzie King in the book Ranking Canada's Prime Ministers (pg.96), by Jack Granatstein and Norman Hillmer, published in Toronto by McClelland and Stewart, 2000.

Questions:

  1. Whom do you see satirized in this cartoon? What is he doing?
  2. Describe the state of the waters? What do they represent?
  3. How truthful is the artist's rendering of this event? What is accurate? In your judgement, is this cartoon flattering or derogatory?

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