Death on Two Fronts

Death on Two Fronts

National Tragedies and the Fate of Democracy in Newfoundland, 1914-34

Book - 2013
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Death on Two Fronts , part of The History of Canada series, examines the tragic trans­formation of Newfoundland's political culture between 1914 and 1934. For many people throughout Canada and the rest of the world, 1914 was important because it marked the beginning of the First World War. While the year became significant for the same reason in Newfoundland, it was not originally so. Newfoundland's economy depended on the sea, and the seal hunt was vital. During the spring of 1914, seventy-seven men of the S.S. Newfoundland died and many more were injured when they became lost on the ice fields, locally known as "the front," off the north­east coast. What became known as the Newfoundland sealing disaster galvanized popular discontent against mercantile profiteering and recklessness on the seal hunt, and influenced Newfoundland politics. The Great War muted this discontent and fostered a nationalist political culture founded on notions of honour, sacrifice, and patriotism--particularly after the mass deaths in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel. This nationalism was easily shaken, however, in the post-war economic crisis that plagued Newfoundland, frustrating more progressive attempts to deal with economic and social problems, and led to the collapse of responsible gov­ernment in 1934. Although sealers had died in 1914 and soldiers fell in the years of the Great War, it was liberal democracy in Newfoundland that was the final casualty in the bitter struggles over the meaning of these events.
Publisher: Toronto :, Penguin Canada,, c2013
ISBN: 9780670065394
Branch Call Number: 971.802 CAD NVD
Characteristics: 384 p
Alternative Title: Death on 2 fronts


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Mar 06, 2016

When we think of failed states, we usually think of those in the the developing world. This is a story of a developed country that met that fate.

It is often forgotten that from 1855 to 1934, Newfoundland and Labrador was an independent country that consistently refused overtures from Canada to join the much larger federal state - and on what would have been surprisingly favourable terms.

The "two fronts" referred in the title was a sealing disaster that killed dozens of fishermen and could have been avoided but for lack of a radio, and the bloody battle of Beaumont-Hamel, where 801 soldiers of the Newfoundland Regiment went into the fight and only 68 came back at day's end.

These two events created a crisis of confidence in the country; but bad management of resources, war profiteering, the inability to take care of war veterans and widows - as well as the ill-advised decision to abolish the income tax and rely solely on customs duties - proved to be overwhelming, and the Great Depression was the last straw.

Newfoundland was so desperate and so much in debt that many people considered socialism or fascism as solutions, before the legislature finally gave up and surrendered its sovereignty to Great Britain; which ruled it directly until it ultimately decided by referendum to join Canada in 1949, with terms of union giving it unique powers, including with its distinctive education system.

The book, written by a Newfoundlander, is a case study on how NOT to run a country - developed or developing - when it is in crisis.

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