Sunday, April 08, 2007

Vimy Ridge: The Myth that Doesn't Work?

I see everything is ready for Great Leader's super duper photo op at Vimy Ridge. The one he'll probably use as his last uncampaign campaign appearance, before cooking up some way to trigger an election.

The only consolation I get out of this tawdry political spectacle is that it will be over by Tuesday and we can forget about Vimy for another ten years.

I mean the monument is magnificent. One can't help but be moved to visit a place where so many young men were killed and wounded. It is a special place.

But if I hear anymore jingoistic nonsense about the meaning of Vimy Ridge...

I think it's really important to remember because it's the key to understanding why we have the peace we have in Canada today,"

"It's my belief that you don't understand Canada until you've visited Vimy," he said. "It is where our nation was born."

"The society we have is not ours by divine right. They gave their todays so we could have our tomorrows.

I think I'll scream....or vomit.

Which is why I was glad that Michael Valpy took a closer look,in today's Globe, at the making of the Vimy myth.

And reminded us that most of the soldiers who fought there, and the people back home at that time, called themselves British rather than Canadian. That the only ones who called themselves Canadians back then were the French. And that Vimy was a relatively minor battle....

It had a negligible effect on the war's outcome. The Canadians had equal casualties and more strategic successes in other battles, such as Amiens and Passchendaele. If French or British rather than Canadian troops had driven the German enemy off Vimy Ridge, history probably would have forgotten about it.

Reminded us too why it's such a powerful myth for English Canadians...

It can be argued that what initially invested Vimy Ridge with mythology was the confluence of grief and nascent English-Canadian nationalism.

And something else for French Canadians....a myth that doesn't work.

Celebrated as an event that forged a nation, it led directly to an event that almost fractured the nation — conscription, and its cleaving of English- and French-speaking Canadians.

Which is why this act of disrespect and incompetence leaves me absolutely dumbfounded. I mean if a myth is going to work for a country...shouldn't it be shared by everyone?

Which makes me wonder whether we would be better off mythologizing other the ones that freed Holland, or the disaster at Dieppe.

Oh I know we didn't win that one. But the Australians lost at Gallipoli and it still worked for them.

And Dieppe is such a perfect symbol. Our colonial masters treated us like cannon fodder and sent us on a doomed mission. But we still fought bravely and we showed them.

And the best part came after the surrender when the Nazis and the Vichy traitors tried to separate the French Canadians from the other Canadian prisoners. They tried to sweet talk them and offered to take off their handcuffs, and give them full rather than half rations.

But the French guys refused.... and marched half way across Europe chained and hungry with their English-speaking comrades.

Now that's a myth that works for me... French and English Canadians fighting the fascists. Instead of British Canadians fighting for King and Empire.

Which leaves me with one final question. Was our country really born on a battlefield? This Quebecois Libre doesn't think so.

It is ludicrous of course to pretend that Canada was born at Vimy. French settlers, the first European occupants of the territory we today call Canada, arrived three centuries earlier, which is one good reason why this Vimy mythology never caught on among French Quebecers.

Nations are not born all of a sudden when politicians sign some document, they are born and grow everyday when people work together, exchange goods and services, create a culture and develop common references, in short, build their lives and their communities peacefully....

Which is of course our greatest achievement..... Getting a whole bunch of nations to coexist peacefully inside one country..... without the kind of war that tore the United States apart.... thanks to our genius for tolerance, compromise, and peacekeeping.

And leads me to believe that maybe the new myths that this country needs to reinvent itself and survive have been there all along, right in front of us, far from any battlefield...and certainly far from Vimy.

And that just because they're not bloody or pumped up with hollow jingoism from another age....which somehow seems to appeal to a lot of Canadians...and is being fanned by the ridiculous nerd chickenhawk Steven Harper.

So many Canadians can't seem to see them or don't want to. Too bad. It's one thing to use the past to help us with the future.

And another thing to live there....


  1. Anonymous9:44 PM

    I'm glad I had a history teacher who did double duty as a French teacher in high school. Learned a fair bit more than the avg. stubblejumper about Vimy and the "birth of Canada".

    Un plus grand "pfbbbbbbbbt!"


  2. Anonymous2:36 AM

    didnt walmart pay for the vimy ridge memorial? no wait, that was juno beach memorial that walmart paid for.

    but yea, vimy ridge was moreso a moral victory which defiantely increased the fighting spirit of the allies and hurt the axis. other than that, it was not too important. In fact, it was a slaughter on both sides.

    Gotta thank my quebecois grade 10 history teacher for that.