2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, “the war to end all wars.” The Harper government will commit a large sum of money to commemorating this war.
Anniversaries provide an opportunity for reflection. The First World War caused terrible loss and suffering, claiming over 16 million lives and leaving 20 million wounded.
Sadly, Canada will not be using the World War I centenary to promote peace, but rather to glorify war and support militarism. As the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Julien Fantino, put it: “The 100th anniversary of the First World War…represent[s] a unique opportunity for Canadians to reflect on our country’s long and proud military history.”
Rewriting Canadian History
- According to the Harper government, Canada is a nation founded in war.
- In 2012, the Harper government spent $30 million marketing the claim that the War of 1812 was Canada’s founding moment.
- Over the next four years, it will, no doubt, spend at least that much making a similar claim about World War I.
The Harper government has also identified a number of “key milestones” in Canadian history, almost all of which have to do with war: ●The War of 1812 ●World War I ●World War II ●Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
In its selection and reconstruction of past events, this version of Canadian history has two major problems:
- It omits the actual founding of Canada in a series of atrocities designed to terrorize First Nations peoples into submission. It is an invented story for the political purposes of the 21st century Canadian state, still trying to dispossess Indigenous peoples.
- The invention of a Canadian tradition of militarism is also designed to serve the political purposes of the Harper government, in this case to generate support for recent and ongoing military operations: the occupation of Afghanistan; airstrikes against Libya; interference in the affairs of Syria and Ukraine; participation in NATO; increased military spending.
Manipulating Canadian Identity
According to the Harper government, World War 1 played an important role in shaping Canada’s national identity.
- Here the government is replacing the image of the polite, peaceful Canadian with that of Canada as a warrior nation.
- While neither image accurately reflects the complexities of Canadian identity, the new image, like the reconstruction of Canadian history, serves the government’s purpose of promoting militarism.
A QUEST FOR PEACE
Three Initiatives For Peace
Originating in Kingston, PeaceQuest is an initiative to stimulate a conversation about peace in Canada during the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of World War I. Its symbol is an inch-square piece of white cloth that anyone can fashion to wear.
Find out more about PeaceQuest: http://peacequest.ca/about/
To End All War
An initiative of the Canadian Peace Congress, To End All War wants to “engage as many peace and progressive organizations as possible to develop and communicate an effective peace message to the public.”
Find out more about the To End All War campaign: Google “Canadian Peace Congress to end all war.”
No Glory In War
Established by actors, artists, teachers, and campaigners, No Glory In War is a British-based initiative. Its message is that the First World War Centenary “should not be used to celebrate nationalism but to promote peace and international cooperation.”
Find out more about No Glory In War: http://noglory.org/
ATTENTION ALL POLITICIANS
In 2007, at the age of 109, Harry Patch, Britain’s last surviving World War I veteran, wrote these words: “Politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder.”
MORE SOURCES AND RESOURCES
Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada In An Age Of Anxiety by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift (2012)
Novels and Poems
The novels and poems listed below all convey very powerfully the horrors of the First World War. The novels are available at Regina Public Library. The poems are available online.
The Wars by Timothy Findley (1977)
Regeneration by Pat Barker (1991)
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (2005): This novel also conveys the horrors of Canadian colonialism.
“Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen (1918)
“Suicide in the Trenches” by Siegfried Sassoon (1918)
“And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” by Eric Bogle (1971)