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Canadian foreign policy vis-a-vis Great Britain, the United States and the Far East, 1937-1941 Johnson, Gregory Allan


The central theme of this study is the plight of the small power entrapped in a power struggle between large powers. In this case it is Canada enmeshed in a three way struggle that included Britain and the United States on the one hand and Japan on the other. The aim is to demonstrate that Far Eastern events played a significant role in the formulation and conduct of Canadian diplomacy between 1937-1941. An attempt is made to approach the subject by utilizing a contextual analysis instead of the traditional textual 'centralist' approach. The study prinicpally focuses on two important issues that have so far not been fully explained by Canadian historians. The first is the Canadian government's decision to give the West Coast of Canada defence priority status over all other areas from 1937-1939. The second is the matter of Prime Minister Mackenzie King's growing suspicion of the United States and its intentions in Canada. Canadian historians generally explain the government's decision to grant the Pacific Coast defence priority status in one of two ways. First, historians take the view that since no Japanese attack upon Canada ever occurred the government's decision was made as a result of political pressure and war hysteria from the West. The second argument usually shows that the government was entirely justified in providing for the contingency of such an attack, even if it never materialized. This study attempts to demonstrate that many leading government officials, including the Prime Minister, feared that such an attack was possible and that in the period after 1939 there is some evidence to show that their fears may have been founded. Nevertheless, it would appear that the overriding concern was not whether Japan would attack, but what the United States would do in the event of an all-out Pacific war. It would seem that the government believed the United States might use the threat of a Japanese attack on North America as a pretext to justify its expansionist aims in Canada and especially in Northwest Canada. This is precisely what did happen in the aftermath to Pearl Harbour and the government sought to offset the growing American presence in the Canadian Northwest by stationing still more troops on the West Coast. Mackenzie King's concern over the question of Pacific Coast defence is intimately tied to his growing suspicion of American intentions in Canada. Canadian historians have tended to brush aside the Prime Minister's fears as examples of 'irrational paranoia'. This study attempts to show that these fears were far more than examples of paranoia. United States policy in the Far East was expansionist, imperialistic and directed towards the establishment of a Pax Americana in the Far East. This massive growth in American power took place against a background of a rapidly declining Britain. Moreover, Washington's failure to define the purposes for which that power was to be used soon led Mackenzie King to believe that the aim of American foreign policy was to hasten the decline of Britain and to take over Canada. This study is not an attempt to 'defend' Mackenzie King and his government; rather, it is an attempt to cast new light on a critical period in Canadian history from a different perspective.

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