Critical Analysis of J. Andrew Ross’ "The Paradox of Conn Smythe: Hockey, Memory, and the Second World War"

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J. Andrew Ross’ “The Paradox of Conn Smythe: Hockey, Memory, and the Second World War” seeks to analyze the criticism Conn Smythe faced, during the Second World War, when he enlisted for the war, but many Toronto Maple Leafs players did not. Ross critiques the “Conn Smythe: Light and Shadow” article, detailing Smythe’s beliefs as contradictory, prioritizing himself and his legacy (Ross 19). Ross explores this criticism as he exploits Smythe’s original disappointment with the lack of volunteers from his hockey players, to later expressing that there were more than enough volunteers coming from hockey and anymore would be discrimination.

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Ross seeks to give justification to Smythe’s actions, highlighting several different reasons as to why his views changed throughout the war. Factors such as the progression of war, development on the homefront, as well as Smythe’s character justify Ross’ overall argument. He concludes that while Smythe did have an obvious change in opinion, his actions were justified through the ever changing economic and political situation. While Ross does an adequate job of his analysis, there are certain points that can contrast with his views that are omitted. A factor that Ross uses in his justification of Smythe’s attitude being understandable was the ever changing dynamic of the war.

One of the main pieces of criticism he had for the Saturday Night article was that Smythe was portrayed in a way that expected him to know the developments of the war. This is an excellent critique of the source because Ross highlights, as it was a secondary source, the overall atmosphere during the publication date, 1951, was one where questioning the validity of the war was popular, unsure whether or not those who participated did so with a moral justification. As this is a secondary source, the Saturday Night article fails to consider the views of the people actually experiencing the war in that time, focusing on what was known after, in 1951. Ross even states this criticism, stating that the reviewed article demonstrates Smythe in a way that expected him to know the outcome of the war, not accounting for the perceived Allied victory. By doing so, the argument presented by the Saturday Night article is seen as inaccurate, as it fails to consider the current situation that Smythe found himself in. While Ross exemplifies his argument through his analysis of the secondary source, he fails to do so when commenting on the economics on the homefront.

Ross’ focus on the Foreign Exchange Control Board (FECB) placing restraint on travel from Canada to the US, questions the validity of Smythe’s intentions. The reason for the FECB’s decision on the matter was that of industrialization. Canada needed the funds from the US in order to develop adequate weaponry and machinery for combat. This is where Ross’ point suffers, due to his lack of attention to the development of capitalism through industrialization. As the FECB decision was happening, Ross highlights Smythe’s concern for his players, as opposed to the war effort. This demonstrates the overall inexperience most people, during the 1940s, had with capitalism. Smythe’s focus on his players, while good hearted, fails to consider the war effort as a whole. While he could not predict the future, Smythe’s inability to analyze the overall view of the war opens his character up for debate. The result is whether or not Smythe prioritizes the war effort, or keeping his players safe, which also means a succeeding Toronto Maple Leafs. It is unclear whether or not Smythe sought to protect his country, or his legacy as a business owner of the Leafs, solidifying the point made by the other article.

In conclusion, Ross’ article attempts to justify the contradictions of Smythe on conscription throughout the Second World War. While he does expose the bias views of the reviewed Saturday Night article, he himself becomes subject to it. Using Smythe’s autobiography as a source is bias as Smythe negates himself to controversy. The lack of focus on Smythe’s inability to prioritize the war over his own business venture questions his character as a whole, thereby leaving his motives up for debate.

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