It's traditional to look back at our history on Canada Day. And on this Canada Day -- our 146th -- the Harper government has decided to review whether we teach our history the "right" way. Specifically, it feels that not enough emphasis is placed on our military prowess. Tom Walkom writes, in The Toronto Star, that Canada Day is a day for nationalism, not jingoism. The government is correct, he says, when it claims that Canadian citizenship has been devalued:
Where the Conservative government is off base, however, is in its attempts to refocus history solely on Canada’s military successes in war.
War is not unimportant. Canadians have fought in many — from early conflicts that pitted aboriginal nations against one another to Afghanistan and Libya.
But not everything is war. And not all wars in which Canadians took part were necessarily virtuous. To think otherwise is to veer into jingoism, where our team is always right simply because it is our team and the other guys (whoever they are) are always scumbags.
And, so, the Harperites spent a lot of money trying to convince Canadians that the War of 1812 was a glorious example of Canadians standing on guard for thee. The problem with that thesis is that war is never glorious.
My father was a World War II vet. Before the days of satellites, he was trained as an aerial photographer, tasked with the job of photographing potential bombing targets. But, when he finished his training, he was given command of an anti-aircraft battery. Thus, he spent most of the war shooting at targets, rather than photographing them -- and, in the process -- becoming one himself. He survived and came home, he said, because of pure dumb luck. Most of those he trained with never came home. My mother's first husband died in Europe and, like my father's fellow trainees, never came home.
The Harperite taste for militarism is the dream of adolescents who have never been tested in the crucible of war. One suspects they couldn't survive boot camp. Canada has always been the impossible country -- a huge land mass with a sparse population, whose constituent parts have managed to survive for 146 years. One hopes the country will survive the Harperites.