Monday, July 01, 2013

Keep The Militarism Out Of It

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.


the salamander said...

.. good thoughts there.. and appreciate the link to the Walcom article .. the personal notes re your dad n mom & WW2 remind me that many of us have much in common... a heritage of investment in Canada.

Speaking for myself only.. up till now, being Canadian has been a euphoric experience.. we're a long way from Donegal & the Ireland of my ancestor's clan.. the oppression of colonial England and The Famine left behind, long ago.. when in wooden ships we sailed here.

My greatest dream in this fairest of lands will be to help ensure any Canadian can experience the natural wonders as I did... and see the mountains I saw, breath the same clean ocean air, feel the prairie winds, smell the pines, paddle the inland waters, pick the wild berries, hear the geese in the marshes or the slap of a leaping fish.

Today I'll quietly cherish Canada, Canadians .. our past & our present.

Tomorrow I'll take up my pen and raise my voice in defense of Canada and Canadians..

Unfortunately.. like many other Canadians, I'll be defending the environment of this land against flawed, entitled, grasping, deceitful fools that see it only as plunder for some hellish economic crusade and as fuel to feed the twitching, staggering foul corpus, of their self serving corporatist evangelism

Lorne said...

Owen, my father was sent home just before Dieppe,as he had a bad skin condition. Were it not for that fact, I wouldn't be here today. My father-in-law served, but never talked about those experiences, seeing nothing glamorous or glorious in war.

In my view, poems like Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est should be mandatory reading for all high school students, standing, as it does, in stark contrast to the kind of jingoist nonsense that Harper and company are trying to promote as desirable.

Salamandar, I was touched by your comment, as it reminds us all of a dream and a reality quickly slipping away thanks to the arrogance of those in power.

Owen Gray said...

Like your clan, salamander, my great grandfather arrived from Ireland -- at the age of 12 -- escaping the blight of famine.

He farmed in the Eastern Townships, and -- family legend has it -- at election time he filled a valise with whiskey and delivered it to those with influence.

It's not a story of noble sacrifice. But, then, in the 19th century, whiskey oiled the political machinery.

That said, I can't imagine him delivering whiskey in support of the present government.

Owen Gray said...

Like your father-in-law, Lorne, my father did not tell war stories; and he had no patience for those who did.

When he came home, he refused to have anything to do with guns -- either large or small.

Kirby Evans said...

I will tell you what is interesting about the militaristic discourse that you are talking about here. Whenever anyone talks about the 'sacrifices' of the soldiers they love to tell us about how these people fought and sacrificed for our freedoms. And yet if one examines the 20th century wars with any kind of objectivity one realizes that much of the military efforts have been little more than imperial escapades.

When I think of those people who fought for our freedoms and rights I think of all those activists who spent a life-time struggling for rights right here in Canada. It has never really been some foreign "bogeyman" who has wanted to take our rights - it has always been our own ruling-class and our governments. The activists who struggled for the 40 hour workweek, pensions, workers' rights, workplace safety, the vote, gay rights, equality for women, etc. These are the people who really fought for our freedoms and the real reason people have these freedoms.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Kirby. We forget about the civilians who gave us our freedoms.

War always results in waste -- a waste of life, of treasure and of good will.

Way Way Up said...

I wish I could find the source for this now but not too long ago I read of a major study of MA and PhD history theses at Canadian (and American) universities. The study looked at what types of keys words popped up in theses titles (military, Western, social, war etc.) with the greatest frequency. Contrary to what some on the right may think, military and political history (while not quite as dominant in the past) still have a pretty big lead over other types of history.

Owen Gray said...

Perhaps that's not surprising, Way. When I think back to my high school history, it seems to have begun with the Norman Conquest -- which was followed by one conquest after another.