The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy: Inquiry and Intrigue (Studies in Canadian Military History) Hardcover – 3 May 2002
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Armstrong's account and analysis adds considerably to our knowledge not only of the explosion, but also of the influence of the media, and the concerns of Ottawa. Having spent years in the latter as an official historian, the author has had first-hand knowledge of how covers-up work. -- Robin Highman American Review of Canadian Studies, Winter 2005 While the disaster has been subject of several popular histories, until now, the event has not been given the detailed scholarly study required to sweep away myth and provide an accurate account of what took place. John Griffith Armstrong has undertaken the first such academic work, and it is a very good study indeed. Armstrong's focus is the role of the Royal Canadian and Royal navies in the events leading up to the explosion, its aftermath, and the investigations that followed. By shifting the attention of the reader away from the calamity that befell the city, Armstrong has provided a remarkable fresh look into the explosion. -- David Zimmermann, University of Victoria International Journal, Summer 2005
About the Author
John Griffith Armstrong is a retired career officer who taught history at the Royal Military College of Canada and was part of the team at the Department of National Defence's Directorate of History that wrote volume 3 of The Official History of the RCAF.
Top Customer Reviews
The results of the enquiry and following report was a bit ambiguous as to blame. But the British empire was at war and the Canadian navy was still developing.
Still, a good introduction to this tragic event. Remember, our women, children and other family memebrws who weren't at the front in WWI were still fighting.
Anyone interested in the social history of the first world war should include this in their enquiries - as well as the Silvertown munitions wors explosion in East London.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As the author notes early in his book, the Halifax explosion, to the extent it's been studied by historians at all, is generally approached from a sociological viewpoint that concentrates on the event's impact on the people of Halifax. Armstrong's brief is different. He analyses the effect of the explosion and subsequent investigation on the Royal Canadian Navy.
In so doing, he's created a surprisingly interesting story that, while it gets a little bogged down in the minutia of inquiry transcripts quoted at length, nevertheless develops a number of themes that are still relevant today. For example: the tendency of military and political bureaucracies to obfuscate, shift blame, and throw others to the wolves in order to protect themselves (and the difficulties military and civilian bureaucracies have in communicating with, or even understanding, one another); the dangers that result from unclear divisions of responsibility; the ease with which opportunistic politicians can manipulate and enflame public opinion; and much more.
It's also very interesting to see the developing institutional ethos of the Royal Canadian Navy, which had existed as a nominally independent body for less than a decade at the time of the explosion.
On the whole, this book is a study of bureaucracy, legal proceedings, and institutional evolution that frankly may not appeal to a lot of people. But for students of disasters, institutions, the navy, or just an overlooked chapter in Canadian history, this title has a lot to recommend it.
The main reason I still enjoyed the book was due to Armstrong's superb summarization of various legal and military documents associated with the disaster's inquiry. This summarization showed how political pressure distorted an otherwise perfunctory legal hearing. The documents' sections that he chose also brought to life the scapegoats for the catastrophe and the villains behind the pillorying that followed the hearing. In bringing these proceedings and people to life, Armstrong showed that the political traumas resulting from the calamity affected people and institutions in ways that were as destructive as the explosion itself.
Many potential readers may not think that this book is worth reading, because it barely focuses on the tales of survival and heroism that sprung from the tragedy. But, thanks to his meticulous research and solid writing, Armstrong presents a cautionary tale that is especially relevant in the aftermath of September 11th. This book is one that will appeal to anyone who is interested in how people and institutions react to disaster.
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