Book Review: Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War: The Politics, Experiences and Legacies of War in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand


by R. Scott Sheffield and Noah Riseman

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019.. Pp. xviii, 348. Illus., tables, notes, biblio., index. $105.00. ISBN: 1108424635

Wartime Recruiting of Indigenous Peoples

There have been several books on the role of indigenous peoples in the military service of a number of countries. But in this work, Prof. Sheffield (Fraser Valley), a specialist in the military history of Canada’s First Nations, and Prof. Riseman (Australian Catholic University), who specialized in the military history of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples, have undertaken what is the first comparative look at the military service of indigenous peoples across several nations during W.W. II.

This approach allows the authors to explore commonalities and differences in both the ways in which these peoples experienced military service in these nations and also how that service was perceived by the political and military leadership of the four countries. The book is divided into three parts.

In the first part, the authors give us some deep background on the history of contact and conflict between the indigenous and settler peoples in the four countries through the Great War. While generally a one-sided relationship favoring the settlers, the authors point out ways in which the indigenous peoples could find a role in military service.

The second, longest, part of the book offers a comparative transnational look at the willingness of the indigenous peoples to serve, experiences in the service, how the “mobilization” of indigenous languages, field craft, and warrior traditions affected the service of these peoples, and on limits to their willingness to serve.

The final part looks at postwar experiences of demobilization, reintegration into society, and the long term effects of indigenous wartime service, such veterans becoming prominent in indigenous rights movements. There are a number of interesting threads that run through the book, such as the imperialist notion of “Martial Races”, which generally restricted to the warrior people who were most cooperative with the settler societies, while neglecting other potentially valuable manpower. The book does, however, overlook the neglect by most of the countries in question of the value of the military traditions of their indigenous recruits. *

Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War is a very good read for the serious scholar.


* See, for example, Brummett Echohawk, Drawing Fire: A Pawnee, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2018)




Note: Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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