The Unexpected War: Kanada in Kandahar.


348 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-670-06722-0
DDC 958.104'7





Reviewed by Galen Roger Perras

Galen Roger Perras is an assistant professor of history at the
University of Ottawa.


As a historian obsessed with research in archives, I am suspicious books that seek to explore contemporary and ongoing issues possessing deep historical roots. The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, by noted political scientist Janice Gross Stein and former Liberal government insider Eugene Lang, falls in this category. Canadian forces have been in Afghanistan for five years, and they may remain there for years to come. We may need 20 years or more (likely many more given Canada’s dismal record for releasing archival materials) to truly comprehend why Canadian soldiers ended up in that war-torn place. In the interim, we have this book, which relies overwhelmingly on journalistic articles and insider interviews, not documentary evidence.


That said, the authors have painted a dismal portrait of how political expediency, basic ignorance, and wishful thinking compelled Canada’s military intervention in Afghanistan. As a former strategic analyst for the Department of National Defence in the 1990s, the players and issues are all too familiar to me. The authors have been praised elsewhere for driving home the fact that while so many call the conflict “Harper’s war,” Canada’s military commitment was initiated and deepened by successive Liberal governments led by Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. I must agree. Further, their assertion that relations between DND and the Department of Foreign Affairs were poor is all too true. But if DND knew little about Afghanistan when key decisions were being made, it has only itself to blame. I recall attempts in the 1990s by DND analysts to provide strategically vital background on global issues generally were frequently rejected by upper management as pointless duplications of what could be obtained from DFA. Those chickens have come home to roost, and Canadian soldiers are paying for so many mistakes with their lives now.


It is likely that more books will follow this edition in their attempts to make sense of Canada’s increasingly bloody and controversial military commitment in Afghanistan. Whether they will be able to truly discern the “truth” behind that war is debatable. We may need far more historical distance to achieve that goal.


Stein, Janice Gross, and Eugene Lang., “The Unexpected War: Kanada in Kandahar.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024,