Tuesday, August 05, 2014

One Hundred Years Later


Yesterday, the prime minister attended a ceremony to mark Canada's entry into the First World War. The standard interpretation of Canada's part in that war is that we blindly followed Britain to war. But we emerged from it a mature, independent nation. Andrew Cohen writes that the one hundredth anniversary of that war is a good time to ask some hard questions. After all,

It was a wasting conflict – a slaughterhouse, really – killing more Canadians than all of Canada’s wars before or since. As the superb historian Tim Cook says: “It was a total, unlimited war … felt all the way back through Canadian society.”

Some 620,000 Canadians served, of whom 60,000 died. It was devastating in a country of eight million; today, the equivalent would be 250,000 dead.

But was it worth it? And would we do it again?

In a fine essay in the current Maclean’s, Peter Shawn Taylor puts some of these questions to leading historians and commentators. He comes up with some hard truths.

One is that the Great War evoked a depth of sacrifice in a conservative, Christian, rural, lily-white, Anglo-Saxon country that seems “unfathomable” today. Canada was a more deferential society, half its population of British descent, willing to follow the mother country into the killing fields.

In reflecting on the Great War a century after its outbreak, what is striking is the consensus that Canada could mount no such effort today, that we lack the kind of pride, attachment or national honour that that enterprise demanded.

These days, our patriotism is rather facile:

These paroxysms around the Olympics or other boasts (the strength of our banking system, our successful multiculturalism) inevitably bring a predictable breathlessness. We’re the best in the world! We’re the greatest!

This is what passes for patriotism in Canada in 2014. It demands nothing of us. Our pride in country, however real, does not seem to manifest itself in anything very substantial, such as volunteerism, voting, or national service, community or military.

Our prime minister talks like General Patton. But he treats voters as consumers:

Balance the budget, keep cell-phone rates low, fill in the potholes. No big ideas or no national projects, please.

On the other hand, that very attitude might have kept us out of World War I. And, one hundred years later, the whole enterprise seems rather futile.


Edstock said...

"And, one hundred years later, the whole enterprise seems rather futile." — the English language can be vague; what is this "whole enterprise"?

Is Canada futile? No. Has the process of maturing from a semi-independent colony been futile? No.

Mamzers are eternal, every generation has 'em, Stevie is the current poster boy for our domestic sociopaths. We will get rid of him, because more and more Canadians everyday are realizing that evil happens when good people stand by and do nothing.

My 2¢.

Owen Gray said...

Your two cents are always welcome, Ed. Let's hope that a majority of Canadians show up at the ballot box and put an end to this tragedy.

Anonymous said...

No-one adds up Harper's ethnic votes. How many Chinese in Canada? There are 413,000 Chinese in just Vancouver. 45,000 more want in.Kenny just did a major suck-up to China. So did Christy Clark

How many East India people in Canada? Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Canada is calling under the *FEDERAL* scheme. jobs.monsterindia.com ashakiranimmigrationlive.incanada The perks the Engineers from India are given? I was in disbelief.

How about the Jewish, Ukrainian and Harper just gave Poland, the BC ship building contract. Harper still has a lot of time, to give more of Canada away to foreigners, to gain their votes.

Harper encourages Israel to make war on Palestine. The dead children of Palestine, are merely collateral damage.

Harper and Israel are the worst evil, since Hitler. I truly hope, they are tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Owen Gray said...

At some point, Anon, Mr. Harper will be held accountable.

Toby said...

There was a time we had a Ministry of War. Now we have a Ministry of Defense. How Orwellian. We don't get involved in foreign wars as a matter of defense.

My grandfather was one of many to come back from WWI totally disgusted with the rulers of the day, both in England and in Canada. He regarded WWI as the stupidest endeavor he was ever involved with and he had lots of company at that. All the flag waving and glorification by the political classes and their supporters dishonors the truth that all those people died for nothing.

Owen Gray said...

The people who were there knew what it was really like, Toby. And, unfortunately, they're all gone now.

thwap said...

The First World War did much for Canada the abstraction. It made us an independent nation in the world, it helped us to industrialize.

It also did a great deal of damage to the 60,000 dead, the thousands more wounded, the even thousands more traumatized, and the families of all of those.

It existed, it happened. It contributed to who we are today. But let's try to avoid a further senseless slaughter.

Owen Gray said...

It will all have been for naught, thwap, if we refuse to learn the lessons it should have taught us.

the salamander said...

'honourable in our dealings and courageous in our undertakings' .. spoken by one Stephen Harper
Impossible to connect to him or his 'base', MP's Ministers or vast political apparatus of lawyers, electoral wonks, trolls or corporatist partners

Seeking a single example that Harper personally or via one of his various associates during one of their political larva stages exhibited such 'Canadian character' as per Canadian WW1 combatants is impossible..

Examination of the entire Harper timeline in Canadian politics reveals a chameleon like passage. Using Canadian citizenship as cover for a mealy grub-like political creature..

Better persons than me will define the stunning failure & deceit.. and the costs of his bizarre ascendancy.. and the toxicity of his legacy

Owen Gray said...

"Toxic" is the appropriate word, salamander. It sums up his legacy.