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The Perils of Sea Power in the pre-WWI Era: Christopher West's call for Canadian Diplomacy in the Naval Debate


As the Royal Canadian Navy is approaching its centennial, and Canadians are questioning the role of Canada's military presence in the world, this is an appropriate time to look back at the Canadian Navy's polemical origins. As part of this examination, the Navy will be compared and contrasted to another navy's near-parallel development, and also examined from the point of view of an enigmatic Canadian writer of the time, and his extreme criticism of Canada's naval ambitions.

It was not until nearly 40 years after confederacy that earnest efforts to establish a national navy were set into motion. An Anglo-German naval arms race was raging in Europe and the threat of war was at hand. Canada, independent but still very much attached to Great Britain, faced some trying decisions. What actions should be taken in this matter? Author Christopher West[1] had answers. In his 1913 book Canada and Sea Power,[2] he attempts to divulge the risks and conceivably destructive consequences of building a Canadian navy.

Establishing a navy arguably supported Canada's campaign toward nationhood and international identity; however, at a time when Great Britain needed naval subsidies, even the act of building an independent navy seemed to indirectly serve Great Britain. Moreover, West believed that a Canadian navy would "bring Canada into all kinds of wars."[3] In its place, he calls for Canadian diplomacy.

Undoubtedly, West's opposition to war was strongly influenced by Norman Angell (Ralph Norman Angell, 1872-1967, knighted im 1931, recipient of the Nobel Peace prize in 1933). Angell's prominent fiscal treatise against war declared that militarism is an economically lose-lose endeavour.[4] West applies this argument to Canadian naval building, which, in his opinion, dangerously mirrors the jingoistic Imperialism rife across the Atlantic. Although West's concerns may seem disproportionate when one considers the humble beginnings of the Canadian Navy, his anomalous insights into the destruction of war and his outspoken criticism against militaristic hegemony do merit attention.

West recognizes the importance of national defence and the exigency to protect Canadian trade overseas; however, he clearly argues that taking imperialistic measures is not the answer. With this highly controversial text, West broaches a crucial topic of discourse, which seems to take precedent in the pre-WWI era, namely, what are the dangers of sea power? Examining the historical-political events preceding the First World War, both in Canada and in Europe and the significant role of naval building and expansion, this paper will illustrate a facet of the contentious birth of the Royal Canadian Navy and initiate a re-evaluation of West's plea for peace.

Historical Scope of the Pre-WWI Era: Germany and Canada

By the mid-Victorian era, Great Britain's empire (comprised of colonies, territories and newly formed Dominions) extended over a quarter of the world's land surface, upon which, it was quipped, "the sun never set."[5] In a frenzied attempt to catch up, other European nations scrambled to colonize Africa, the Far East and the Pacific.[6] This unprecedented increase in aggressive acquisition of territory during the last three decades of the 19th century, often referred to as the 'New Imperialism,' was described as the revival of the expansionist spirit.[7]

For Canada and Germany, however, the final decades of the 19th century were a period of foundation building. These two nations were politically and socially coming into their own. Although they may seem like odd parallels, Canada had just become a confederacy in 1867 and the German states had just been unified as the German Empire under Otto von Bismarck in 1871. Canada was a former British colony seeking independence; Germany was struggling with its national identity and seeking to stabilize its place in Europe. Preoccupied with domestic policy, the newly formed German Empire did not immediately mimic its European neighbours in their 'scramble for Africa.' Prussian Chancellor Bismarck was of the opinion that colonies were in fact more of an economic burden than an advantage, and instead of colonial expansion used three short successive wars to expand Germany's borders. He unified the German Empire from eastern France to southern Denmark to western Poland.[8]

Bismarck asserted that Germany's geographical position within Europe was too fragile; and furthermore, he declared that Germany needed alliances, not enemies. Following the creation of the German Empire, Bismarck established the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879 and three years later with Italy. Although Germany dabbled in colonialism, acquiring land on both of Africa's coasts, Bismarck maintained his hesitancy with regards to colonial politics. He proclaimed in his later years in power: "Here lies Russia and here lies France, and we are in the middle; that is my map of Africa."[9]

Two years after Kaiser Wilhelm II ascended the throne in Germany in 1890 a difference in policies and opinions resulted in Bismarck's forced resignation as Prussian Chancellor. The former Chief of Admiralty, General von Caprivi, who shared Wilhelm's conviction that Germany was industrially and politically strong enough to play a more significant role on the world stage, replaced Bismarck.[10] Thus the introspective Imperialism under Bismarck expeditiously transformed into a more exogenous Imperialism. Finally, Germany too, it seemed, would get its 'place in the sun.'[11]

It is believed that German Weltpolitik[12] was a phenomenon of the Wilhelmine era. However, it would be fundamentally naïve to suggest that German foreign policy completely changed overnight. Admittedly, German Imperialism under Bismarck was very endogenous, as Bismarck's chief concern was preserving the power of the newly formed German Empire. There is historical debate surrounding the implications of German Imperialism under Bismarck. Some historians contend that Bismarck did much to prevent the outbreak of war in Europe and wished to simply maintain the balance of power. Other historians, however, argue differently. German historian and author of the period Theodor Schieder claimed that Germany's "unification, rapid industrialization, military power and bureaucratic efficiency were sufficient to raise even Bismarck's 'Lesser' Germany almost automatically into a position of 'latent hegemony' over the Continent."[13]

Creating a policy for Weltpolitik was, however, not an easy task at first. Therefore, the German Empire engaged the popular Mahanian principle that "sea power alone could bring a nation to world status."[14] Espousing Wilhelm's own private maritime interests, Germany employed naval building as an instrument of the new Weltpolitik. This became the pursuit to claim equality with the established World Powers. As Great Britain had conquered the world by building ships, so too should Germany.

Nothing but the strong fulfilment of our naval programme can create for us that importance upon the free world-sea which it is incumbent upon us to demand. The steady increase of our population compels us to set ourselves new goals and to grow from a Continental into a world power.[15]

It is important to note that the first German national fleet, the Reichsflotte, was founded in 1848 directly following the March Revolution, and consequently became a symbol of the German Liberal Nationalist movement. To this effect, General von Radowitz befittingly announced in his public address concerning the marine committee from June 8, 1848 about the navy commission: "A nation which moves forward to create a new sea power, enters one of the greatest undertakings ever possible."[16]

Under Bismarck the Reichsflotte was renamed the Prussian Navy, but it played an insignificant role in Prussian military operations, which were primarily land-based. However, after Bismarck resigned, the Navy experienced a re-birth referred to as the 'New Navalism.' This term was coined by American historian William L. Langer and referred to the acceleration of navy building in the 1890s and the subsequent naval rivalry between Germany and Great Britain.[17] Naval building thus became not only the instrument of the new German Weltpolitik, but also the underpinnings of the whole Wilhelmine era. With a vaster navy, Wilhelm could secure protection of German trade overseas and exhibit Germany's industrial and militaristic might to the world.

The man who had subsequently become the driving force of the Imperial German Navy during this period, Alfred von Tirpitz, was one of the ambassadors of German Weltpolitik. At the onset of his career as the Secretary of State for the Imperial Naval Office in 1897 he made it clear that he would change the balance of the World Powers in Germany's favour. Tirpitz's initial goal in 1898 was to build 19 ships by 1905 for the German Navy.[18] Although Tirpitz inaugurated his naval plan on the premise that the German Navy was necessary for the commerce, security, and the future of the Reich, his "Risikoflotte" ('deterrence fleet') was decisively designed to frighten Great Britain, "Germany's most dangerous enemy" at least into neutrality.[19]

Within only two years, during which Great Britain was preoccupied with the Second Boer War, Tirpitz proposed a second naval bill, which made the first one appear quite mild. This bill declared that the German Navy be increased by as many as 38 battleships, 20 armoured cruisers, and 38 light armoured cruisers.[20] Tirpitz continued to present supplementary bills in subsequent years, sustaining the support of the German government and public for over a decade. However, by 1913 it had become evident that Tirpitz's plan to overtake the Royal Navy in size and resources had failed, and the government denied his request for an increased naval budget.

Tirpitz did not reach the political goal of battleship building and the deterrence strategy of a Triple Alliance did not inhibit Great Britain's entry into the war. [...] He [Tirpitz] imagined he could master fate through will and effort. Germany's position should be decisively improved with the innovative medium of naval armour. [...] He was a type of homo farber, created by the age of machine technology. At the turn of the century this technology, however, was becoming autonomous. In the same way as the Schlieffen-Plan and the mobilization movement the naval laws eluded a critical and versatile diplomatic-political exertion of influence . . .[21]

In an age of technology, 'New Imperialism' and 'New Navalism,' Tirpitz's unyielding desire for power and naval strength made him a product of the times.

Canadian historian Stephen Leacock later joked that the threat of the German fleet had in fact been more innocuous than Canadians were led to believe. In his book Further Foolishness from 1916 he quips that a visit to Germany reveals that the Kiel Canal had been landlocked and the German fleet had moved inland and disguised itself as an inn.

Prince Adelbert is disguised as a brewer; Admiral von Tirpitz is made up as the head waiter; Prince Heinrich is a bartender; the sailors are dressed as chambermaids. And some day when Jellicoe and his men are coaxed ashore, they will drop in to drink a glass of beer, and then – pouf! We will explode them all with a single torpedo! Such is the naval strategy of our scientists! Are we not a nation of sailors?"[22]

Nevertheless, whether it was the pressure from Great Britain, the zeitgeist[23] or the foreboding fear of war, in the latter part of the 19th century, the question of sea power was also forming in the minds of many Canadians. Previously, Canada relied on Great Britain for defence in time of need. However, with its long coastline and growing independence, Canada was contemplating the importance of independent naval defence as early as the 1880s. One year prior to Tirpitz's 1897 appointment as secretary of state of the German Navy, Wilfred Laurier's federal Liberal party came into power in Canada and thoughts of Canadian naval defence began to solidify.

At the Colonial Defence Committee in 1897, Great Britain's Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain appealed to Canada, Australia and New Zealand for financial support for the Royal Navy. Great Britain was beginning to recognize that its world supremacy was being challenged as Germany, as well as the United States and Japan were rapidly gaining industrial, political and militaristic strength. The alarming rate at which the German Imperial Navy was expanding began to concern Great Britain, whose own Navy was dispatched throughout the extensive empire, making its home-front vulnerable to Germany's concentrated force on the North Sea.

Australia and New Zealand quickly complied with the request for naval subsidies; however, Canadian Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier was not prepared to make any promises to Great Britain. At that point Laurier did not recognize the necessity of Canadian naval defence. By the 1902 Colonial Conference, however, Laurier had begun to appreciate the exigency of naval defence but believed that Great Britain's request for Imperial Navy subsidies was a blow to his strong sense of Canadian nationalism, and he proposed instead the establishment of an independent naval militia on Canada's sea coasts. Laurier believed that "strengthening Canada's national defence would not only promote Canadian nationhood but also assist the imperial services by reducing their North American commitments."[24]

Nonetheless, the question of whether Canada should support the Royal Navy or build its own became a contentious issue. The naval polemic became synonymous with external policy and Imperial politics, over which Canadians were seriously divided, especially following the Second Boer War.[25] Robert Borden's Conservatives were of the opinion that it would take too long to establish a navy that could possibly defend Canada against foreign attack. Bourassa's Quebec nationalistes were fundamentally against Imperial co-operation of any nature and perceived the creation of a Canadian Navy essentially as an indirect way of assisting Great Britain. Nevertheless, Laurier persisted, and in the year of 1904 he drafted the Naval Militia Bill, which he subsequently proposed in parliament. Nearly six years later on May 4th, 1910, the Royal Canadian Navy under the Naval Service Act was decreed.

Canadians perceived the impetus for Laurier's founding of a Canadian Navy as multifarious. The nation could not agree on whether or not Laurier was a dedicated Nationalist, a capricious anti-Imperialist or simply a warmonger. Laurier himself declared: "I am branded in Quebec as a traitor to the French and in Ontario as a traitor to the English[...] In Quebec I am attacked as an Imperialist, and in Ontario as an anti-Imperialist."[26] Many agreed that a Canadian Navy was a political mistake.

The national discord espoused with a lack of financial resources resulted in the humble beginnings of the Canadian Navy, which was resultantly nicknamed the "comic opera navy."[27] In the initial years, the Canadian government purchased only two warships from the Imperial Royal Navy, HMCS Rainbow and HMCS Niobe. Originally, meant to protect fishing zones on the east and west coasts of Canada, they were small ships, outdated and in rather poor condition, and were referred to as "tin-pots."[28] The Rainbow was the only one of the two "theoretically capable of taking the offensive."[29] At any rate, the ineffectualness of the newly established Canadian Navy did not exactly mollify the disapprobation of the Opposition. In 1911 the Canadian Navy lost its champion when Laurier's Liberals were defeated by Borden's Conservatives.

Although naval training "escaped Borden's axe"[30] and the Royal Naval College continued to operate under Borden, naval building significantly declined. In 1912, at the urging of Winston Churchill, who was already an influential Member of British Parliament at that time, Borden decided to simply provide naval subsidies to the Royal Navy, which could defend Canada under possible attack. In December of that year, Borden introduced a Naval Aid Bill, which proposed that the Canadian government give the Royal Navy $35 million to purchase three dreadnoughts. The Toronto News agreed: "For 150 years the British Navy has protected our interests on every ocean. Why not let it continue to do so, and why not assume a reasonable share of its upkeep?"[31] Incidentally, this proposed sum was three times more than the budget Laurier had proposed for a Canadian Navy.[32] Regardless, the bill could not get through the heavily Liberal-appointed Senate and was not passed into law. The Naval Services Act remained on the books and the Royal Canadian Navy lived on.

Christopher West and the Naval Debate

Despite a shared coincidence in chronology, navy building may appear to have a very disparate historiography and raison-de-être in Canada compared to that in Germany in the years preceding the First World War. However, Christopher West argued that there was a greater connection than the average Canadian cared to acknowledge. He contended that all naval building by definition is bellicose, rather than the establishment of a Canadian Navy being a simple defensive reaction to the German Navy.

At the height of the Canadian naval debate, West looks beyond the Liberal-Conservative antagonism and examines the preponderant issues surrounding sea power in and of itself, thereby enumerating the dangerous auspices of naval building on both sides of the Atlantic. He delves into the issue of the Anglo-German "misunderstanding," as he calls it, by considering both sides, and thus exposing Canadian readers to a broader perspective of an issue, which until then had been perceived by Canadians in very Anglo-centric terms.

However, the mystery surrounding the identity of this anti-mariner, his use of a pseudonym and the fact that he published only two texts under this name all raise questions about his authority on the matter of sea power and his intentions for taking such a vehement stand against a Canadian navy. In his PhD dissertation Thomas Richard Melville[33] suggested that "Christopher West" was a pseudonym for Emerson Bristol Biggar (1853-1921), a Toronto journalist and author of many books on politically provocative topics, such as the Boer War and its causes and the Canadian railway problem. According to Melville's sources, this is true.[34] It is likely that Biggar borrowed his father's first name, "Christopher," and perhaps "West" was inspired by Canada West, where he was born and grew up. Nevertheless, Biggar's his real motive for using a pseudonym to publish these specific texts remains a mystery.

Even conducting a search into the subject of pre-WWI pacifism in Canada yields unsubstantial information on West/Biggar, or any other apolitical Canadian naval critics. However, generally speaking, there has been very little research done in the area of Canadian pacifism of this period at all. It is contended that this is not only due to the low-scale demographics of the pacifist movement preceding the First World War, but also because historians, especially those of the Liberal Nationalist traditions, tended to focus fundamentally on the political and international scope of the war as it concerned Canada.[35] Perhaps this helps to explain how and why West's critical writings on the matter of sea power have surfaced unparalleled in Canadian history, he being the only known Canadian pacifist to tackle the subject.

The title of West's book Canada and Sea Power is quite politically charged. The term "sea power" was widely used and understood among historians and politicians of this period and had become somewhat of a shibboleth, as did like terms, such as "Sovereignty of the Seas," "Command of the Sea," "Empire of the Sea," etc.[36] Naval historians tend to endorse the notion of sea power proposed by Alfred Thayer Mahan, an American naval officer of the pre-WWI era, in his extensive writings on the topic of sea power and history. Mahan describes sea power as a great force, which can be harnessed but never completely dominated: "a complex organism endued with a life of its own."[37] Nonetheless, the theory suggests that the nation, which can best harness the power of the sea is capable of dominating the world industrially and economically. Mahan was considered an authority on the theory of sea power both in North America and in Europe, especially in Germany, where his books were pivotal to Tirpitz's naval campaigning.[38]

West found fundamental flaws with this doctrine and later even refers to Mahan's notion of sea power as "fallacy."[39] West did not suppose that those nations with naval power were politically or economically superior, despite the tides of popular belief that sea power equated world power. He has in fact been denounced for what Alec Douglas called a misreading of sea power. "He misread the meaning of sea power, and contradicted himself by suggesting that Canada should exploit 'the better understanding now apparent between Great Britain and Germany' when European diplomacy was by his own definition a web of lies."[40] However, West's interpretation should not be dismissed as entirely false, as West cites from Mahan's later writings, namely, his 1910 text The Interest of the United States in International Conditions, sea power is clearly equated with hegemony:

The world has long been accustomed to the idea of a predominant [sic] naval power, coupling it with the name of Great Britain, and it has been noted that such power, when achieved, is commonly often associated with commercial and industrial predominance [sic], the struggle for which is now in progress between Great Britain and Germany. Such predominance forces a nation to seek markets, and where possible to control them to its own advantage by preponderant force, the ultimate expression of which is possession.[41]

Although it is inaccurate and unfair to call this one citation Mahan's "main theory" of sea power, which West does, in this passage Mahan does appear to affiliate naval power with industrial and commercial hegemony, as West wished to point out. It is very possible that West borrowed this citation from Norman Angell's book The Great Illusion as they have both altered the same two words in the passage, which conclusively strengthen their criticism of sea power.

It should be added that Angell misleadingly adds the phrase "Old predatory instinct that he should take who has the power survives" from a previous page of the same text, where West does not. It is clear that Angell took the quote out of context because in his book Mahan goes on to negate it. Angell's treatise against war strongly engaged the contemporary Darwinist theory of the survival of the fittest, as it compared to militarism. He refers to the arms race as a type of "struggle-for-life,"[42] and attempts to suggest with this citation from Mahan, albeit incorrect, that the struggle for sea power is directly connected to Darwinist militarism.

Although West essentially neglects to answer the question of the relationship between Canada and sea power, which he rather implicitly poses with the title of his book, he does successfully bring the broader issue of sea power into Canadian context. Furthermore, he brings to light other central issues concerning the establishment of a Canadian navy, which had been overshadowed by the topic of Canadian politics and Canada's imperial obligation to Great Britain. The long-term economic, social and moral issues of a Canadian navy seem to have been greatly discounted by Canadian politicians and by the public of the period.

West's book has been acknowledged as an economical critique of sea power. He was strongly influenced by British writer and pacifist Norman Angell and his well-known book The Great Illusion, which is widely recognized and respected for its statement on the economics of war. West even dedicates his longest chapter to Angell's "modern economics of war," reiterating the premise of Angell's thesis in Canadian terms. He contends that no nation or empire, which is militaristically stronger, is necessarily economically so. Further borrowing from Angell, he explains there can be no economical gain through militarism and the subjugation of weaker nations or empires because Darwinist militarism is a mere "optical illusion."[43] Modern industrial nations, West argues, are not self-sufficient and thereby rely heavily on other nations for trade. Should this trade be severed in any way the result could be potentially devastating for all nations involved.

The matter of international trade was widely disputed in the years preceding and during the war. Although international trade was not completely severed by war, it was restricted. Nations and colonies could only trade with other allied nations or neutral countries, and even this came into question. At the 1907 Hague Conference to which West refers, a resolution was to be reached concerning the safe shipping of private property overseas. However, this agreement did not receive an unanimous vote and, therefore, could not be decreed. In wartime, trade was not only restricted but also highly unreliable.

Moreover, West illustrates the economic burden of navy building with regards to Canada, which at that point had no such specific industry of its own. If Canada were to establish its own navy, a naval industry would have to be developed in order supply it with the necessary arsenal of naval armaments.

Canada, having no navy of her own construction, has not established those special industries by which modern navies are built. [...] The highest skill of the metallurgist, the most expert mechanics and the most skilful designers are all called in to assemble the component parts of a battleship, cruiser, torpedo destroyer or submarine.[44]

According to West, this endeavour would undoubtedly result in an increased taxation for Canadians toward the creation of a non-commodity industry, which, as Angell indicates, fundamentally excludes the interests of fellow trade nations. It must be noted that West does not include information about the positive, though indirect, effects of employment, research and development in a shipbuilding industry.

West also draws from the work of a British statesman and economist, Richard Cobden, who was a leading supporter of free trade in the 19th century. He too reasoned that it is erroneous to measure the strength of a nation by the magnitude of its armies and navies, claiming, instead, that these were the signs of sickness and weakness in a nation.[45] A nation does not require a navy or military to be economically and commercially successful. To the contrary, armament building of any nature equals economic degeneration.

West's treatment of the parallels between the German and Canadian naval programs makes his treatise on the perils of sea power unique. He recognizes two sides to this Anglo-German "misunderstanding" and obscures the lines between 'hegemony' and 'defence,' and instead interprets the arms race as reciprocal. He refers to Germany's pursuit of Weltpolitik as an act of mere mimicry of Great Britain. In order to elucidate this he poses a pertinent question with regards to the common threat of Asian aggression to the West: "Is not 'Yellow Peril' but the shade and reflex of our own national faith?"[46] What West suggests here is that it is fallacy for Great Britain to assume that its world supremacy will never be challenged. The struggle for power is a constant; and the Anglo-German arms race merely accelerated this struggle. By building its own navy, Canada cannot end or even intercept this struggle for power. This act would merely compound this crisis, and raise the stakes for Great Britain.

Furthermore, West questions Canada's obligations to Great Britain, which is not Canada's only 'Motherland.' In a very broad-minded manner, West declares that Canada is an immigrant nation and has many different cultural, ethnic and linguistic affiliations with other nations, and he challenges Canada's inherent allegiance to Great Britain.

Are we to be moved by love of race and language only? If so, then as one-third of the people of Canada are French, are we to deny the claims of these to give a like aid to the naval defense of France, or if the other notion of building a navy in Canada is to be carried out, would it not be fair to assign a naval unit to co-operate with the French navy, and should not also the proportion of Germans, Scandinavians, Russians and the other people of the other 110 languages which are now spoken in Canada have their share according to race and tongue?[47]

West hereby argues that if Canada begins to build a navy with the intention of aiding Great Britain in its time of need then should Canada not be prepared to also support all of its other "mother" nations? If this should be the case, then a navy would certainly "drag Canada into all kinds of wars." He thus disregards the "Triple Entente," and the fact that by supporting Great Britain Canada by extension would also be supporting France and Russia.

West's stand against navy building and militarism became even more radical in his short pamphlet entitled In the Defence of Canada. In the Light of Canadian History. Published roughly one year later, it is the only other known text by West. In this pamphlet his criticism of Great Britain and contemporary Canadian politicians becomes even more fervent and direct, and his forecast for the future of Canada is very foreboding. He concludes his text with a quote from the Old Testament, "Abomination that maketh desolate,"[48] suggesting that Canada's decision to establish a navy would only lead it to devastation.

One might surmise that the heightening threat of war called for drastic measures. However, it is also possible that West felt encouraged by Angell's sudden engagement in Canadian interests, which Angell voices in his speech given at the Canadian Club in Toronto on June 2, 1913 entitled Canada's Best Service for British Ideals. Angell asks Canadians what they perceive their role to be in the Anglo-German arms race. West was very likely present, as Angell had already gained celebrity in Canada for his first book. It would be reasonable then to suspect that West and Angell were involved in a dialogue, however indirect.

Although it is difficult to ascertain whether West's book was published before or after Angell gave his speech, they both make a similar appeal to Canadians to take on the role of peacekeepers. Angell concludes his speech with the question of whether even a fraction of Borden's Conservative proposal of $35 million for naval subsidies would not be better "set aside for aiding the work of international co-operation, for helping these international conventions designed to build up a body of real international law."[49]

As an alternative to a one-time subsidy to the Royal Navy, which he clearly opposed just as vehemently as a Royal Canadian Navy, West also proposed that Canada sponsor peace-missions to Europe to try to settle the Anglo-German conflict diplomatically and peacefully. West believed it was Canada's duty as a neutral and modern country to teach the Old World where they have erred, and he refers analogously to Great Britain as the "drunken mother." In his speech, Angell too emphasizes the nascent role of Canada in the world and its duty as a modern and enlightened nation to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors.


West's book did come too late to affect the course of Canadian naval history. By 1913 the Naval Services Act had been law for over two years, training continued and the storm clouds of war were already heavy over Europe. However, West's call for diplomacy would live on. The mysterious identity of West and the use of a pseudonym suggest that there were in fact still feathers to be ruffled concerning the issue of Canada and sea power.

West attempts to educate, or re-educate, the Canadian public with regards to foreseeable economical, industrial and moral perils of building up a Canadian Navy. He appears to recognize that sea power and the navies of the world could not be abolished completely, nor does he propose this as a possible solution. He believes, however, that the Canadian Navy was still in an embryonic stage in this period and could yet be re-evaluated. Furthermore, in an age preceding the establishment of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, West pioneers for ambassadors of peace to intervene in this European crisis.

West's texts on the Canadian Navy may be insubstantial and lacking in authority; however, it would be a mistake to marginalize the importance of his underlying plea for diplomacy, tolerance, and peace in a period when Europe was on the brink of war and many Canadians felt the pressure to adopt the ideologies of their European counterparts. West's message is intrinsic to the future of Canadian policy making as it effects national defence and international obligations.



[ Back ] Footnote 1: "Christopher West" is a pseudonym for a Toronto journalist, Emerson Bristol Biggar. This will be examined further. See Canadian Notes and Queries 18 (Dec. 1976): 3.

[ Back ] Footnote 2: West, Christopher. Canada and Sea Power. Toronto: 1913.

[ Back ] Footnote 3: See the Canadian Military Heritage Web Site: [dead link]

[ Back ] Footnote 4: Angell, Norman. The Great Illusion. London: 1910. Sir Ralph Norman Angell (187-1967) won the Nobel Peace prize in 1933.

[ Back ] Footnote 5: See Dennis Walder's "History" from Post-colonial Literatures in English: History, Language, Theory, from (Rivkin, Julie et al (eds). Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: 2004. 1087.)

[ Back ] Footnote 6: This was referred to as the 'scramble for Africa.' Ibid. 1086.

[ Back ] Footnote 7: C.C. Elbridge's The Revival of the Imperial Spirit from (Rivkin, Julie et al. op cit, 1095).

[ Back ] Footnote 8: By the 1880s the German Reich was almost as large as Austria-Hungary, expanding from Alsace-Lorraine in the Southwest to far-reaching East Prussia.

[ Back ] Footnote 9: Müller, Helmut M. Schlaglichter der deutschen Weltgeschichte. Leipzig: 2002, 197. ("Hier liegt Russland, hier liegt Frankreich, und wir sind in der Mitte; das ist meine Karte von Afrika.")

[ Back ] Footnote 10: Hubatsch, Walther. Die Ära Tirpitz. Göttigen: 1955, 56-57. In 1883 General Caprivi reportedly said: "Immer mehr hören die Meere auf, die Nationen zu trennen, und immer mehr scheint der Gang der Geschichte darauf hinzuweisen, daß sich ein Staat von der See nicht zurückziehen darf, wenn er auch ¨ber die nächste Zukunft hinaus sich eine Stellung in der Welt zu erhalten trachtet." ("The seas no longer separate the nations and the path of history is constantly suggesting that a nation can not withdraw from the sea if it wishes to hold a place in the world in the future.")

[ Back ] Footnote 11: Often attributed to German politician Bernhard von Bülow and was likely a response to the popular phrase about the British Empire, upon which "the sun never set."

[ Back ] Footnote 12: Geiss, Imanuel (ed). The July Crisis. London: 1967, 21. German sociologist Max Weber coined the term 'Weltmachtpolitik' ('World Power Politics'), which was shortened to 'Weltpolitik' in a speech he gave at Freiburg University in 1885, declaring that Germany should use the foundation of its unity to strengthen foreign trade.

[ Back ] Footnote 13: Geiss, op cit, 19.

[ Back ] Footnote 14: See Hadley, Michael L. & Sarty, Roger Tin-Pots and pirate ships: Canadian Naval Forces & German Sea Raiders 1880-1918. Montreal: 1991, 22.

[ Back ] Footnote 15: See Angell, op cit, 18. This is a quote by Grand Admiral von Koester, President of the Navy League, reported in the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.

[ Back ] Footnote 16: Hubatsch, op cit, 59. ("Ein Volk, das sich vorsetzt, eine Seemacht neu zu schaffen, tritt damit in eine der grössten Unternehmungen ein, die es sich überhaupt vorzusetzen imstande ist.")

[ Back ] Footnote 17: Hubatsch, op cit, 52.

[ Back ] Footnote 18: Halpern, Paul G. A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis: 1994, 2. These ships included: two squadrons of eight battleships each, a fleet flagship, and two reserve battleships.

[ Back ] Footnote 19: Geiss, op cit, 24.

[ Back ] Footnote 20: Halpern, op cit, 4.

[ Back ] Footnote 21: Hubatsch, op cit, 82-83. ("Das politische Ziel des Schlachtflottenbaues aber hat Tirpitz nicht erreicht. Der Risikogedanke hat den Kriegeseintritt Englands im Rahmen einer Koalition nicht verhindern können. [...] Er hatte die Vorstellung, durch Willensantrengung das Schicksal meinstern zu können. [...] Er gehört zu jenem Typ des homo farber, wie ihn das Zeitalter der Maschinentechnik hervorgebracht hat. Diese Technik stand aber um die Jahrhundertwende im Begriff, sich selbständig zu machen. Die Flotten gesetze haben sich in gleicher Weise wie der Schlieffen-Plan und das Uhrwerk der Mobilmachung einer notwendig beweglichen diplomatisch-politischen Einflussnahme...")

[ Back ] Footnote 22: Leacock, Stephen. Further Foolishness. Toronto: 1916, 28-29.

[ Back ] Footnote 23: Zeitgeist is originally a German term literally translated as the "spirit of the age."

[ Back ] Footnote 24: Hadley & Sarty, op cit, 13.

[ Back ] Footnote 25: Tucker, Gilbert Norman. The Naval Service of Canada: Its Official History. Vol. I. Ottawa: 1952, 17.

[ Back ] Footnote 26: English, op cit, 64.

[ Back ] Footnote 27: See the Canadian Military Heritage Web Site: [dead link].

[ Back ] Footnote 28: 'Tin-pot' was the term for a small ship. Gimblett, Richard Howard. "Tin-Pots" or Dreadnoughts? The Evolution of the Naval Policy of the Laurier Administration, 1896-1911. (Unpublished MA thesis.) Trent University: 1981, 226.

[ Back ] Footnote 29: Tucker, op cit, 262.

[ Back ] Footnote 30: German, Commander Tony. The Sea is at Our Gates. The History of the Canadian Navy. Toronto: 1991, 30.

[ Back ] Footnote 31: The Toronto News from August 4, 1913. See Hopkins, Castell. The Canadian Annual Review 1913. Toronto: 1914, 179.

[ Back ] Footnote 32: German, op cit, 29-30.

[ Back ] Footnote 33: Melville, op cit, 10.

[ Back ] Footnote 34: Neither the archives of the publishers of Canada and Sea Power (McClelland & Goodchild, now McClelland & Stewart), housed at McMaster University nor the Globe and Mail archives nor the Ontario Archives in Toronto had any information about the identity of "Christopher West." Finally, Thomas Melville's dissertation suggested that West was a pseudonym for Emerson Bristol Biggar. Page 3 of Canadian Notes and Queries 18 (December 1976) referred to by Melville in his footnotes verifies this information. However, it provides only a very short letter from a Thomas A. LaRue, which confirms that "Christopher West" was indeed a pseudonym used by Biggar. It does not give an explanation as to why Biggar would have used a pseudonym. There is clearly a lack of information available about Biggar's use of this pseudonym. Even the Biggar archives, donated to the Hamilton Public Library by the family, offer no mention of "Christopher West."

[ Back ] Footnote 35: Socknat, Thomas P. Witness Against War. Pacifism in Canada 1900-1945. Toronto: 1987, 5.

[ Back ] Footnote 36: West, op cit, 154.

[ Back ] Footnote 37: Mahan, Alfred T. he Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and EmpireT. Vol. II. Boston: 1912, 372-373.

[ Back ] Footnote 38: Hadley & Sarty, op cit, 21.

[ Back ] Footnote 39: West, Christopher. In the Defence of Canada. In the Light of Canadian History. Toronto: 1914, 14.

[ Back ] Footnote 40: Douglas, W.A.B. "Canadian Naval Historiography." Mariner's Mirror 70:4 (1984): 350.

[ Back ] Footnote 41: It is important to note that the words 'preponderant' and 'preëmience' were changed by both Angell and West to 'predominant' and 'predominance' respectively. Angell in fact cites the first edition in Mahan's book, as footnoted above, so this is not a case of a change in a reprint. See Angell, op cit, 16-17; West, Canada and Sea Power, 98; and Mahan, Alfred T. Interest of America in International Conditions. London: 1910, 83.

[ Back ] Footnote 42: Angell, op cit, 4.

[ Back ] Footnote 43: Angell, op cit, vi of Synopsis.

[ Back ] Footnote 44: West, op cit, 5.

[ Back ] Footnote 45: West, In the Defence of Canada. In the Light of Canadian History, 10.

[ Back ] Footnote 46: West, Canada and Sea Power. 62.

[ Back ] Footnote 47: Ibid, 64.

[ Back ] Footnote 48: This citation is taken from Daniel 11:31.

[ Back ] Footnote 49: Angell, op cit, 8.



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This paper was researched and written by one of our summer students in the early 'two thousands' prior to the Centennial of the RCN. We recognize the financial assistance of the federal government for our summer studies grants, now in their twenty-first year.


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