Isitt, Benjamin. FROM VICTORIA TO VLADIVOSTOK: Canada´s Siberian Expedition 1917-19. UBC Press. 2010. Vancouver, BC.

“Canada lost in Siberia, its first foray as a world power, and then quietly ignored this history.”

On December 21, 2010, peace activists gathered outside the armed forces recruitment centre on Fort Street, Victoria. Just a few feet away, at the corner of Quadra, a group of conscripts returned from WW1, mutinied on December 21, 1918 against being forced to fight against the new Russian government. For some of us it was the first time we had acknowledged or learned about this hidden rebellion.

Benjamin Isitt Book Review

Photo on book cover: December. 1918, troops marching to ship in Victoria enroute to Vladivostok. BC Archives.

Isitt´s research provided the background for us to remember this little known bit of Canadian history, a dark side to Canada´s increasingly tarnished image as a peaceable nation. Troops exhausted from fighting WW1 – the war to end all wars – were sent off to Russia to join the White Russians in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Russian revolution. This book is a detailed look at one part of what Yves Engler describes in ´The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy´. Today we see this pattern of foreign interventions to serve the needs of imperialism repeated and amplified.

Issit presents a very readable account of political activity in Canada at that time and the details of our first global action of anticommunism, giving a framework for documents, personal stories and photos from archives and private collections. This was a time of fervent progressive activity, the Winnipeg General Strike is the best known event; Isitt writes about the connection between labour, soldiers and progressive action of the day. He also records the appalling, but so familiar, policies of a Prime Minister and government willing to sacrifice Canadian lives in a futile invasion and to suppress progressive expression in our population.

In the end, the 4500 troops were only engaged in one battle and eventually returned to Canada, having satisfied PM Borden´s desire to play with the ´big boys´. This is more than an interesting read; it is an instructive guide to today´s Canadian leaders who have taken us into Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya. When will we ever learn?

Filed under Benjamin Isitt, Book Reviews