Review: Warlords by Tim Cook Special

Posted Jan 29, 2013 by KJ Mullins
Who we are today as Canadians was shaped by both World Wars and in large part that two Prime Ministers that lead the nation during that time. Sir Robert Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King transformed Canada yet very little is known about these men.
Tim Cook is the Great War historian at the Canadian War Museum  as well as an adjunct professor at C...
Tim Cook is the Great War historian at the Canadian War Museum, as well as an adjunct professor at Carleton University
Sarah Klotz
In Tim Cook's Warlords readers discover who shaped the nation.
Borden nor King would seem to be likely leaders of a nation at war. Neither man was military driven or very memorable. King was later known more for his oddities than for guiding Canada through WWII. Yet both of these men forged a patriotic spirit within Canada, a nation that prior to the wars had been more British in culture than a nation that could stand on it's own.
Cook is known for his war books but in the past he looked at Canadian people in the war and not the men in power. Cook said during a phone interview that he wanted to "look through a different set of eyes" when he wrote Warlords.
"I wrote portrait stretches of these two men."
Cook spent time going through the archives, reading journals penned by both men (King's journals encompassed over 30,000 pages alone)and letters that they had written (During WWI Borden hand wrote countless letters to Canadians across Canada) to find out exactly who these men were and what they stood for. Along the way he discovered that although Borden and King are not well known the Canada we live in today is due to their leadership.
When asked who was the better Prime Minister or if someone else would have been better at the helm Cook said that its difficult to simplify it that easily.
"No one else has faced two world wars. It depends of the times at the context, these two men struggled against the world. They made massive new legislation because of the war efforts. There were certainly mistakes made, the rights of Canadians were infringed upon and they faced difficult challenges at the highest levels."
One of those challenges mentioned in Warlords very briefly were of the camps that Ukraine-Canadians during WWI and Japanese-Canadians during WWII were sent to within Canada.
"Neither man wanted the camps. They were faced with how do we act with peoples that don't want to be involved with the war effort. Both men folded because Canadians wanted this (the camps). Along with King's treatment of Jewish refuges shows that pursuit of victory. War often results in losing the very democratic ideals that are being fought for. These ideals also resulted in forcing young men to fight in the wars."
Warlords: Borden  Mackenzie King and Canada s World Wars by 
Tim Cook
Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King and Canada's World Wars by Tim Cook
Charles Taylor Prize
King has been presented in the past as a cranky, strange man. "I think we have more sympathy for our leaders today. It is certain that King's behaviour is the strangest of all of our Prime Ministers. Had his beliefs of spiritualism been revealed while he was in office, something that today's journalists certainly would have revealed, his career would have been over. It's important to note that King was not guided by speaking to the spirits of his mother or his dog Pat. Instead it appears that this practice was his way of finding solace for his actions," said Cook of the man that no one really loved. Yet despite the fact he was not looked upon fondly King was able to survive time and time again politically.
One person who would have been quite pleased with King would have been his grandfather, the rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie believes Cook. "The reforms that King made would have pleased Mackenzie greatly although his grandfather would have been more than a little perplexed with King's favorable relationship with the Brits."
Those reforms have shaped the Canada that we know today. King put in place the Baby Payments, social insurance and veteran's programs that are still in place today.
Borden put Canada on a new path as a nation. During WWI there was a profound change with Canadian morale and becoming in reality a nation in its own right, instead of just a British domain. By the time WWII took place Canada was an equal partner in the war. King showed the world, and more importantly Canadian citizens, that Canada could stand on its own two feet. Canadian pride came with the wars said Cook along with Canadian heroes and women who were granted the right to vote.
Warlords is one of the five books that are on the Short List for the Charles Taylor Prize. In 2009 Cook won the prize for his book Shock Troops.
"The great thing about the Charles Taylor Prize is that it shows Canadians incredible books that are across the broad. There are so many topics that have been highlighted. Noreen Taylor (the founder of the Charles Taylor Prize) have done an incredible job to bring recognition to these books," Cook said, "It's so difficult to know which of the books may be interesting to Canadians. The prize has given Canadian readers a broader view of Canadian authors."
Cook is recovering from cancer. He braved the chemo and radiation using his family as inspiration. The father of three little girls he had no choice but to get better, his family needed him well and he will do anything for his girls and wife. Cook will soon be returning to his day job as First World War historian at the Canadian War Museum which he is very excited about. Today he has more important plans. The Ottawa father spent the morning shoveling snow before our interview and should be playing with his girl right about now.