Michael Petrou. Renegades: Canadian in the Spanish Civil War. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2008. (part of the Canadian War Museum’s Studies in Canadian Military History series).
AbstractTo the Editors, It is a dicey proposition to assign a book review to an author whose previous work is in direct competition with the book being reviewed. There is always the chance the reviewer won’t have the maturity to get over himself and engage the text objectively. Sadly, this appears to have been the case with Mark Zuehlke, who has published a book about Canadians in the Spanish Civil War and reviewed my book Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War for the most recent issue of the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. Before he even addresses the content of Renegades, Zuehlke draws dark conclusions about the book based on the supposed symbolism of its cover photo. If Zuehlke had reviewed the European edition of my book, whose publishers chose a different cover, he would presumably have been forced to think up a whole new line of attack. Zuehlke also has a go at the title of my book and employs a dictionary to list the various meanings of “renegade.” When he finally gets around to saying something about what I wrote, rather than exploring the hidden meaning of eye patches in a cover photo and the etymology of the title, Zuehlke accuses me of exaggerating the involvement of the Communist Party and likens me to a character in a Bullwinkle cartoon who believes a Martian invasion is a Communist plot. Serious scholars can decide for themselves whether Zuehlke’s accusations have any merit. I will only say that the conclusions I draw are based on years going through declassified documents from the archives from the Communist International. When I say that the majority of Canadian volunteers were Communists, it’s because I have established the party affiliation for almost 900 of them (in addition to researching a multitude of other biographical details about almost 1,700 men). Zuehlke had access to material from these archives when he researched his own book but made comparatively little use of it. The documents he did consult were those that are available on microfilm at Library and Archives Canada – a valuable resource, but a fraction of what’s out there. This is a shame, and not just because it detracts from his own publication. He might also have saved himself some embarrassment when reviewing mine. In an effort to pad out his Bullwinkle analogy, Zuehlke cites the example of the Canadian volunteer Bill Williamson, who, Zuehlke says, was not a Communist but an “adventurer.” In fact, Williamson was a proud party member. If Zuehlke had spent the time that I have combing through the Comintern documents, if he had traveled to Britain and listened to the almost 20 hours of interviews with Williamson at the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive in London, he would have known this, and lots more besides. Perhaps he finds such painstaking research dry and tiresome. Michael Petrou Ottawa February 9, 2009