Radio host John Moore comments on the claim that the Battle of Vimy Ridge is fundamental to Canada’s national identity (John Moore, “The First World War is nothing to be proud of,” National Post, 13 April 2012):
Modern Canada was born on the bloodied field of battle of Vimy Ridge. Your high school history teacher told you that. Our current military-happy federal government repeats it often enough. The Governor-General recited the accepted wisdom to a crowd of thousands just this past Monday at the Vimy memorial, where he described the battle as a “very defining” moment in Canadian history….
But is Vimy really the best of Canada? Does our modern identity and national purpose hinge on the harrowing slaughter of our citizens on a foreign field of mud in a pointless war?…
If anything, modern Canada should reflect on Vimy and our total First World War sacrifice as a national tragedy. Sixty-thousand Canadian men died in a war in which we had no real casus belli and which was largely administered by damnable incompetents. A generation of teachers, milkmen, farm hands, labourers, students and artists died on the field of battle, so hollowing out the population that many of the women they left behind would never marry….
So why, 95 years later, do we venerate Vimy? Perhaps because it’s far easier to stir emotions where military matters are concerned. You can’t erect a heroic statue to the civility for which Canada is renowned. Social justice has never been able to muster an inspiring flypast. The national understanding that in Canada we look after each other doesn’t have a solemn bugle call to draw a tear.
In place of the notion that our national identity might rise from something as unremarkable as compassion, hard work and character, we prefer to imbue the solitary terror of a prairie farm boy calling for his mother as he bleeds out into the soil of a French field with a purpose and nobility it does not deserve.