Questioning ‘Isolationism’ in Interwar Canada: The World Disarmament Conference and Canadian Civil Society

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Vani, Nick
Canada , League of Nations
This paper will examine Canadian public opinion on the WDC, utilizing newspaper editorials, letters-to-the-editor, editorial cartoons, and an examination of Canada’s League of Nations Society (LNS), to demonstrate that public opinion and policymakers often employed the same rhetoric when discussing collective security and disarmament, and conversely, issues of war and peace, but adopted to different approaches to these issues. Traditional scholarly interpretations of Canada and the League of Nations, focusing exclusively on upper-level diplomats and politicians, tend to adopt an over-simplified binary of internationalism versus isolationism, wrongfully making Canadian public opinion synonymous with the diplomatic isolationism en- acted by the Canadian government and League delegation. While the Canadian state was partial to isolationist politics, not all Canadians were isolationists. Bearing this geopolitical situation in mind allows us to reinterpret Canada’s stance to- wards the world as one that was fundamentally internationalist, especially on questions of collec- tive security and disarmament. While Canadians were far removed from the League and its pro- ceedings in Geneva, public organization and discourse enabled supporters to evaluate and inter- pret the League’s initiatives, placing themselves and their country within the political, social, and economic values of the League of Nations. In turn, Canadians positioned themselves within internationalist political paradigms rapidly developing during the interwar period. Many historians of interwar Canada describe a country poised on the brink of an isolationist continentalism, with a widespread sense of the country as a “fire-proof house” far removed from European troubles. They have paid little attention to the extent to which many Canadians favoured far more involvement in the world through the League of Nations, a body that enjoyed mass support in the country.
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