Q: What made you want to study military history in the first place?
A: It wasn’t my first choice. At Royal Military College of Canada, I wanted to study political science and economics, but found that economics was beyond me. (The story of my life, I fear.) So, I went into history and because I was in the army, I wrote a thesis on peacekeeping. Then I was posted to the Directorate of History at National Defence headquarters, wrote a doctoral dissertation on the Second World War, and later worked on foreign and defence policy as a professor. By the late 1980s, military history was my major focus, and since then I have since much on the world wars.
Q: What’s it like to have a career as a military historian?
A: It’s a good career—if you can find a job! There are only a few Canadian universities that do not hate the subject, but there is the Department of National Defence headquarters and the War Museum, where I had the good fortune to be the director and CEO 20 years ago. The truth is, the universities notwithstanding, there is real public interest in Canada’s military story, and if military historians can find a job and publisher, they can make a career—and a living.
Q: Why did you choose to focus so much of your work on Canada’s role in the world wars?
A: Canada’s military history is concentrated—not wholly but largely—in the world wars. This is when huge numbers served, fought and re-integrated into society. Great stories, with many remaining to be told, and it seemed natural to devote most of my research and writing here. While I have written about the battlefields, my main interest really has been on the domestic politics of war and the politics of high command.