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While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World [Paperback]

Andrew Cohen
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 16 2004
For how much longer can Canada expect to get a free ride?

With 9/11 and the international “war on terrorism,” the time has come to ask some hard questions. Should we continue to starve our military, reduce our humanitarian assistance, dilute our diplomacy, and absent ourselves from global intelligence-gathering? Can we expect to sit at the global table by virtue of our economic power without pursuing a foreign policy worthy of our history, geography, and diversity?

Canada has been getting by on the cheap, writes Andrew Cohen in this timely, forceful, and insightful new book. Our reluctance to pay our own way has had a cost: it has eroded the pillars of our international stature. We are still trading on the reputation this country built two generations ago, but it is a reputation we no longer deserve. We claim to be engaged abroad, but for too long we have been a freeloader, trying to do the same for less, practising pinch-penny diplomacy and foreign policy on the cheap. Our capacity in these key areas has become glaringly inadequate, and now that weakness is compromising our ability to honour our traditional commitments overseas.

The time is ripe for a thorough re-examination of our foreign policy, to affirm our values, to win the respect of our allies, to carry our weight.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Canada emerged from World War II with the world's fourth-largest military and the infrastructure to build nuclear weapons if it wanted. Today, its military is a shadow of its once-glorious self, and Canada's diplomatic influence in the world is in decline, according to Andrew Cohen, a journalism professor at Ottawa's Carleton University. In his book While Canada Slept, Cohen laments the "aimlessness" of Canada's foreign policy and the "lethargy" of its politicians at a time of world turmoil. He admits he isn't the first to make the argument. His innovation is to survey Canada's once-great influence and its woeful present through the eyes of three pioneers of its foreign-affairs establishment: Hume Wrong, a legendary senior external affairs official; Norman Robertson, a clerk of the Privy Council; and Lester Pearson, the prime minister. The three men gave Canada a reputation for "punching above its weight" and contributed to Canada's towering diplomatic role of the 1950s and 1960s.

Cohen writes that the three would be saddened by what has become of their country. Canadians are a people "without memory," he suggests, citing a survey that found 88 percent of those aged 18 to 34 could not identify Pearson's role in defusing the Suez crisis in 1956. "We are no longer as strong a soldier, as generous a donor and as effective a diplomat, and it has diminished us as a people," he writes. While Cohen claims not to be partisan, he is especially critical of Jean Chrétien's government for cutting funds from the military, foreign aid, and diplomatic service. Some of Cohen's arguments have indeed been made before, and they fall flat at times. He doesn't explain, for example, why Canada should spend as much on the military as during the Korean War, when it devoured 7.3 percent of GDP. The book could also use an index. But generally it is a decent effort to enliven the dry issue of Canada's foreign policy and is most interesting as a survey of the country's diplomatic heyday. --Alex Roslin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Relentlessly chronicles just how far this country has fallen from global grace.”
Ottawa Citizen

“In well-crafted prose and on a foundation of extensive knowledge of our diplomatic history, Cohen recounts a tale of how we have created… a make-believe foreign policy.”
–Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star

“A trenchant critique of modern Canadian foreign policy.”
Time Magazine

“Cohen’s contribution is invaluable. A book full of… rich detail, written with passion and engaging prose.… A must read for all of those who wish to understand the roots of Canada’s global outlook.”
Globe and Mail

“Mr. Cohen… has hit the bull’s-eye.”
–Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail

“There could hardly be a better time for While Canada Slept, Andrew Cohen’s cogent and sobering survey of this country’s long slide into the margins of global importance.… A powerful indictment of how we’ve neglected our role in the world.”
Victoria Times-Colonist

“Provocative and persuasive.… [Cohen’s] arguments are persuasive and ably defended in a book that is brisk, on the mark and wonderfully readable.”
London Free Press

“Persuasive and compelling.… A long-awaited wake-up call to Canadians who have for years been blinded in a glare of self-satisfaction about their own international importance.”
Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“Cohen has pulled together a well-written, engaging and timely book. This is clearly a must-read for all Canadians interested in our glorious past and in Canada having an influential voice in the world once again.”
Montreal Gazette

“The articulation of foreign policy and the integration of its various elements (diplomatic, aid, military and financial) should be high on [the next prime minister’s] list of his or her policy challenges. If so, much will be owed to Andrew Cohen for this passionate, informative, entertaining and mostly convincing volume.”
–David Malone, Literary Review of Canada

" Excellent … This is an exceptionally easy book to read – popular but built on scholarship and masterly in its smooth transitions."
–Douglas Fisher, Legion Magazine

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wake up call Sept. 2 2005
By A Customer
Throughout this work, Cohen challenges the notion that Canada remains the class of the world. He illuminates Canada's gradual, yet concerning decline from its golden days; and how so many of us were "asleep" while this decline took place and maintain great complacency with a stature that has not been renewed in a long time. In the end he suggests an integrative approach to recapturing our glory days, which must begin with our awareness of how far we have fallen. Not a difficult read and ideal for the reader who is seeking an open minded account of where Canada should be.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent June 16 2004
By P. Smy
I wish every Canadian politician would read this book. I was afraid at first that Cohen would be a bit too partisan - he has presented before House of Commons Special Comittee's - but it is not. It is firstly a guideline to how Canada can attempt to pull itself out of it's (our!) apathetic slump. Secondly it is a fascinating, all be it partial, history of Canada's famed Diplomatic and International dealings.
Please buy a copy and send it to your MP.
Oh, and I don't know what that other reviewer was talking about - a good section of the book deals with the world changing and thereby Canada's role changing.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful read for any Canadian April 3 2004
I would recommend this book to any Canadian interested in our nation's place in the world. This book examines the foundation behind many of our national myths and demonstrates the decline in our stature and influence. The book isn't simply a litany of problems, it also suggests what could be done to improve the situation. At the very least, these issues deserve a national debate, not the gradual decline through neglect that is currently happening.
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This critique of Canadian foreign policy will humble readers who are under the impression that Canada has a notable place in the world comparable to its illustrious past. Andrew Cohen gives us a brief overview of the history of Canadian foreign policy, dispeling several myths including our supposed past of being primarily neutral peacekeepers. At the end of ww2 Canada's military was the 4th largest in the world with the capacity to develop nuclear weapons if necessary. More importantly, Cohen reveals information about the state of the current military detachment in Afghanistan which makes one wonder whether our presence there is more of a liability than an asset to coalition forces.
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