Bercuson, David J. 1945–

views updated

Bercuson, David J. 1945–

(David Jay Bercuson)

PERSONAL: Born August 31, 1945, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; married, 1966; children: one. Education: Sir George Williams University, B.A. (with honors), 1966; University of Toronto, M.A., 1967, Ph.D., 1971.

ADDRESSES: Office—Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, 701 MacKimmie Library Tower, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada.

CAREER: University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, visiting assistant professor, 1970–71, assistant professor, 1971–75, associate professor, 1975–78, professor of history, 1978–2004, university professor, 2004—dean of the faculty of graduate studies, 1989–97, director of Centre for Military and Strategic Studies. Special advisor, Canadian Minister of National Defense on the Future of the Canadian Forces, 1997–, member of monitoring committee, 1997–2003; vice president, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, Calgary. President, Calgary Hebrew School, 1986–88; founding partner, The Charter Group, Inc. Board member, Museum of the Regiments, Calgary, 1998–2003; member of national board, Canadian Institute for International Affairs. Historical consultant for films and television programs; consultant to World Book, Chicago, IL, and to law firms and other private interests. Military service: Honorary lieutenant colonel, 33rd Field Engineer Squadron (Canada), 2001–.

MEMBER: Canadian Historical Association, Royal Society of Canada (fellow), Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (president, 1996), Organization for the Study of the National History of Canada (president, 1996–98), Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East (Western vice president, 1975–83).

AWARDS, HONORS: University of Calgary research grants, 1974, 1982, 1997; Canada Council leave fellowship, 1975; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada leave fellowships, 1979, 1983, and research grants, 1980, 1983–84, 1984–86, 1994–97, 1998–2001; Killam research fellowship, University of Calgary, 1981, and Canada Council, 1985–87; J.I. Segal Cultural Foundation Award, 1986; Department of National Defence (Canada) research grant, 1989–94; Wilfrid Eggleston Award, 1997; D.H. L., Concordia University, 1998; Order of the University of Calgary, 2001; Prime Minister's Award (Japan), 2002, for Japanese translation of Maple Leaf against the Axis; J.B. Tyrrell Historical Medal, Royal Society of Canada, 2002; appointed Officer, Order of Canada, 2003; VIMY Award, Conference of Defense Associations, 2004.


(Editor and author of introduction) Western Perspectives 1: Papers of the Western Canadian Studies Conference, 1973, Holt, Rinehart & Winston of Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1974.

Confrontation at Winnipeg: Labour, Industrial Relations, and the General Strike, McGill-Queen's University Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1974, revised edition, 1990.

(With Kenneth McNaught) The Winnipeg Strike, 1919, Longman Canada (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 1974.

(Editor) Canada and the Burden of Unity, Macmillan of Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

Fools and Wise Men: The Rise and Fall of the One Big Union, McGraw-Hill Ryerson (New York, NY), 1978.

(Editor and author of introduction) Alberta's Coal Industry, 1919, Historical Society of Alberta (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1978.

(Editor, with L.A. Knafla) Law and Society in Canada in Historical Perspective, University of Calgary (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1979.

(Editor, with Phillip A. Buckner) Eastern and Western Perspectives: Papers from the Joint Atlantic Canada/Western Canadian Studies Conference, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981.

The Secret Army, Lester & Orpen Dennys (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1984.

(With Robert Bothwell and J.L. Granatstein) The Great Brain Robbery: Canada's Universities on the Road to Ruin, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

Canada and the Birth of Israel: A Study in Canadian Foreign Policy, University of Toronto Press (Buffalo, NY), 1985.

(With Douglas Wertheimer) A Trust Betrayed: The Keegstra Affair, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.

(With J.L. Granatstein and W.R. Young) Sacred Trust?: Brian Mulroney and the Conservative Party in Power, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1986.

(With J.L. Granatstein) The Collins Dictionary of Canadian History: 1867 to the Present, Collins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988.

(With J.L. Granatstein) War and Peacekeeping: From South Africa to the Gulf—Canada's Limited Wars, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.

(With Barry Cooper) Deconfederation: Canada without Quebec, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.

(With J.L. Granatstein) Dictionary of Canadian Military History, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

Colonies: Canada to 1867, McGraw-Hill Ryerson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

True Patriot: The Life of Brooke Claxton, 1898–1960, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993.

Battalion of Heroes: The Calgary Highlanders in World War II, Calgary Highlanders Regimental Funds Foundation (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1994.

(With Barry Cooper) Derailed: The Betrayal of the National Dream, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

(Editor, with S.F. Wise, and contributor) "The Valour and the Horror" Revisited, McGill-Queen's University Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1994.

Maple Leaf against the Axis: Canada's Second World War, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Significant Incident: Canada's Army, the Airborne, and the Murder in Somalia, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

(With Robert Bothwell and J.L. Granatstein) Petrified Campus: The Crisis in Canada's Universities, Random House of Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.

Deadly Seas: The Story of the St. Croix, the U305, and the Battle of the Atlantic, Random House of Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.

Blood on the Hills: The Canadian Army in the Korean War, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

(With Holger H. Herwig) The Destruction of the Bismarck, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2001.

The Patricias: The Proud History of a Fighting Regiment, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

(With Holger Herwig) One Christmas in Washington: Roosevelt and Churchill Forge the Grand Alliance, McArthur & Co. (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.

Contributor to books, including Studies in Canadian Social History, McClelland & Stewart, 1974; Prophecy and Protest: Social Movements in Twentieth-Century Canada, edited by S.D. Clark and others, Gage, 1975; Twentieth-Century Canada: A Reader, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1986; The Jews of North America, Wayne State University Press, 1987; Revolutionary Syndicalism: An International Perspective, edited by Wayne Thorpe and Marcel van der Linden, Scolar Press, 1990; Canada and NATO: Uneasy Past, Uncertain Future, University of Waterloo Press, 1990; The Cold War Defense, edited by Keith Neilson and Ronald G. Haycock, Praeger, 1990; Reappraisals in Canadian History: Post-Confederation, edited by A.D. Gilbert and others, Prentice Hall Canada, 1992; Making a Difference?: Canada's Foreign Policy in a Changing World Order, edited by J. English and N. Hillmer, Lester Publishing, 1992; Riel to Reform, edited by George Melnyk, Fifth House Publishers, 1992; Canada and the Soviet Experiment: Essays on Canadian Encounters with Russia and the Soviet Union, 1900–1991, edited by David Davies, Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto, 1994; Generalship and the Art of the Admiral: Perspectives on Senior Canadian Military Leadership, edited by Bernd Horn and Stephen J. Harris, Vanwell Publishing, 2001; and Canada among Nations 2003: Coping with the American Colossus, edited by David Carment, Fen Osler Hampton, and Norman Hillmer, Oxford University Press, 2003. Also contributor to encyclopedias, including Encyclopedia Brittanica and World Book Encyclopedia.

Also contributor to scholarly journals, including Studies in Canadian Social History, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Journal of Canadian Studies, Middle East Review, Canadian Historical Review, and Canadian Military History; contributor to newspapers, including the Toronto Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Calgary Herald, and National Post. Editor, Canadian Historical Review, 1977–83; member of editorial board, Labour/Le Travailleur, 1976–80; editorial consultant, World Book Encyclopedia.

SIDELIGHTS: A professor of history whose expertise has been sought after by both universities and the Canadian government, David J. Bercuson is a scholar of Canadian history, especially its military history. He has published numerous books on these subjects that are often accessible to both academic and lay readers. Bercuson is noted for praising the heroism of the Canadian military on the one hand while on the other offering warnings to his government about the dangers of underfunding the military at the risk of national security. In addition to his books on military history, Bercuson also writes on such subjects as education and the debate about the province of Quebec's secessionist aspirations.

Bercuson's books about the Canadian military have spotlighted both its honorable service and its occasional low points in history. In Blood on the Hills: The Canadian Army in the Korean War, for example, the historian observes that many of his countrymen may have forgotten about Korea, especially since the nation only lost about four hundred soldiers in the conflict. However, the war is still a vital chapter in Canadian history. A Report Newsmagazine reviewer attested that Bercuson "masterfully combines analysis of the domestic and international political system with a thorough account of how the war was actually fought, and a compelling list of conclusions." Bercuson especially points out how shamefully inadequate the supplies given to Canada's soldiers were, relating such facts as how Canadians would often trade their dated bolt-action rifles for the more advanced American M2s, even though they did so in defiance of their superiors. The author concludes that Canada was unprepared for the war because the government had relaxed military spending too much after World War II, and he warns against similar neglect in the future.

Another inauspicious chapter in Canadian military history is related in Significant Incident: Canada's Army, the Airborne, and the Murder in Somalia, in which the author discusses the incident in which a number of Canadian Airborne patrolmen beat and smothered an innocent Somali teenager. This incident is meant to highlight what is currently wrong with the Canadian army, including the disciplinary problems Bercuson attributes to national indifference about the military. A writer for the Alberta Report was puzzled by the historian's position that the military needs to adapt to a changing society increasingly tolerant of such personal preferences as homosexuality, while at the same time advocating more discipline among the ranks and a stern regimental system modeled after the British military. However, the reviewer praised Bercuson's "dispassionate analysis" of the situation.

Though he has often focused on the Canadian military, Bercuson has also written military histories covering broader topics, such as World War II. In One Christmas in Washington: Roosevelt and Churchill Forge the Grand Alliance, written with Holger Herwig, for instance, the historian discusses the difficulties involved in creating a united front of British and American cooperation against the Axis powers. While President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were friends and could easily work together, Bercuson and Herwig relate, the problem of getting their military commanders to do so caused significant headaches during the war. In The Destruction of the Bismarck Bercuson, again writing with Herwig, also recounts the famous battle between the battleships H.M.S. Hood and the pride of Germany, the mighty Bismarck, that resulted in the sinking of the Hood and the subsequent and ultimately successful efforts to sink the Bismarck. A number of tactical and engineering errors on the part of the Germans, note the authors, were what eventually doomed the historic ship, even though the British also made several errors.

Critics of The Destruction of the Bismarck found much to praise in the book. Naval War College Review contributor Carl O. Schuster calling it "an insightful, balanced, and fascinatingly fresh treatment." Comparing the book to Graham Rhys-Jones' The Loss of the Bismarck: An Avoidable Disaster, Schuster noted: "Neither book tells the story completely, but if one must choose, The Loss of the Bismarck provides a better naval story, while The Destruction of the Bismarck provides the better strategic treatment." New Statesman contributor Jan Morris reported that, although the authors do spotlight the often forgotten fact that a U.S. Coast Guard ship helped the British locate the German battleship, nothing "of great importance is new in this account. It is not a revisionist history." However, Nathan Greenfield, writing in the Report Newsmagazine, praised the authors' skill in discussing the tactics in the battle, adding, "Without question … this book … is a shot across the bows of any academic who believes that such historic technical stuff as gunnery is beyond the average reader."

In addition to his military history books, Bercuson has written about Canadian politics and society in several publications. The ongoing debate about whether the culturally distinct province of Quebec should be allowed to secede from the rest of Canada is the topic of Deconfederation: Canada without Quebec. Here, Bercuson, along with political scientist Barry Cooper, argue that Quebec should, indeed, separate from the union. However, as Michael Jenkinson noted in an Alberta Report article, the authors reversed their position five years after the book was published in 1991 to assert that the Canadian government should make some concessions to Quebec, but that the nation would be stronger and better off keeping the province as part of the union. "Bercuson and Cooper believe the peaceful separation they once advocated is no longer an option," observed Jenkinson. "However, violent separation would be unacceptable. 'Canadians,' they write, 'have no choice but to bridge the deep but narrow gap that stands between a majority of Franco-phone Quebeckers and the rest of us.'"

Bercuson has also written on other subjects of national importance, such as Canada's higher education system. In Petrified Campus: The Crisis in Canada's Universities the historian says that colleges and universities in Canada are becoming dangerously mediocre because admission standards have been lowered too far in order to fill campuses with students, even those who are unqualified academically. "Petrified Campus puts to rest any doubt that governments aided and abetted the dumbing down of education," commented an Alberta Report critic, who further observed that Bercuson places additional blame on overly liberal college professors. The problem only exacerbates itself, because although lowering standards allows more students to enroll, "large numbers of weak students make for high attrition rates and attendant loss of tuition income."

Through his books, Bercuson has done more than just write histories about Canada; he has also addressed many of his country's major issues, including the decline of the military and education, and has proposed solutions to rectify these problems. As director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, as well as a special advisor to the Canadian Minister of National Defense on the Future of the Canadian Forces, Bercuson has continued to strive toward these goals as a professional historian.



Alberta Report, September 30, 1996, Michael Jenkinson, "Deconfederate No More: Academics Bercuson and Cooper Decide Quebec Should Stay," pp. 9-10; January 27, 1997, review of Significant Incident: Canada's Army, the Airborne, and the Murder in Somalia, pp. 40-41; January 19, 1998, review of Petrified Campus: The Crisis in Canada's Universities, pp. 37-38.

Booklist, September 15, 2001, Jay Freeman, review of The Destruction of the Bismarck, p. 182.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of The Destruction of the Bismarck, p. 1255; August 15, 2005, review of One Christmas in Washington: Roosevelt and Churchill Forge the Grand Alliance, p. 890.

Library Journal, October 1, 2001, Richard Nowicki, review of The Destruction of the Bismarck, p. 118.

National War College Review, autumn, 2002, Carl O. Schuster, review of The Destruction of the Bismarck, p. 127.

New Statesman, June 17, 2002, Jan Morris, "Victory or Death," review of The Destruction of the Bismarck, p. 51.

Publishers Weekly, October 8, 2001, review of The Destruction of the Bismarck, p. 54.

Report Newsmagazine, July 24, 2000, review of Blood on the Hills: The Canadian Army in the Korean War, p. 57; March 4, 2002, Nathan Greenfield, "Lethal Hide-and-Seek on the North Atlantic: Two Western Professors Explore a New Angle on an Old and Crucial Naval Battle," review of The Destruction of the Bismarck.


University of Calgary Center for Military and Strategic Studies Web site, (November 22, 2005), brief biography and curriculum vita on David J. Bercuson.