; ESSENCE OF INDECISION
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ESSENCE OF INDECISION

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[Patricia I. McMahon Montreal]'s book, Essence of Indecision, is the most recent attempt to try to make sense of this episode. Building on a relatively smaU body of scholarship (perhaps the best known of which remains Jon McLin's seminal 1967 work Canada's Changing Defence Policy), McMahon chaUenges the consensus view by arguing that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was not indecisive in being unable to determine whether Canada should accept US nuclear weapons during his period in office. Rather, his inability to reach a final decision was the result of "political considerations." In particular, Diefenbaker's Conservatives were attempting to navigate government waters for the first time in decades, and the prime minister was acutely aware of the political consequences of making the wrong decision. At the same time, the government had come under withering criticism for its decisions on other defence issues (especially establishing NORAD in 1957-58 and cancelling the Avro Arrow in 1959), thereby making the nuclear weapons decision even more difficult.That said, I have some concerns. Most critically, while I can agree with the author that political considerations were a major part of the prime minister's dilemma, I cannot accept the suggestion that Diefenbaker's interminable delay was not as bad as it seemed. It was, and McMahon's argument is occasionaUy too nuanced for its own good. It should go without saying that any elected leader is always concerned about political considerations, as most will eventually run for reelection. But to argue that these considerations give decision-makers a virtual pass on the most contentious issues of the day simply because they can never be sure of the political consequences seems misguided. Governing requires making difficult decisions, and it is a given that those decisions can either help or hurt a politician's reelection prospects. By refusing to make a final decision on nuclear acquisition, Diefenbaker failed in his most basic du

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