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Canada Day in Harperland: Militarism, militarism, militarism

Photo: flickr/tsaiproject

This year, Canadians celebrated the 147th birthday our great country. Well happy birthday to Canada, eh?

For some Canadians, it's a day of joyful celebration and proud reflection of our countless national achievements: Through compromise and commitment, Canadians from diverse regions united together to build a strong, federal state, modern democracy and common identity. We built a progressive health care system to provide equal care to all Canadians and established the importance of international peacekeeping missions in ending foreign conflicts.

For others, Canada Day is a reminder of Canada's colonial past and ongoing systemic racism, continued regression in areas like immigration, health care, foreign policy and democracy. 

For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada Day is another opportunity to champion militarism above everything else. So much so, he didn't even bother to mention peace or peacekeeping in his speech from Parliament Hill this year!

Harper delivered the following remarks on Canada Day:

One hundred and fifty years ago, the Fathers of Confederation, our ancestors, met in Charlottetown, and Quebec... this is their dream, Canada, a confident partner, a courageous warrior... the best country in the world! 

[L]et us never forget the sacrifices made by the member's of our military across our history. During the First World War, the Second World War, in Korea and, even more recently, in Afghanistan. This year, the Canadian military marks many significant milestones: the 200th anniversary of the end of the Canadian campaign of the War of 1812; the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War; the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the end of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan. We will always call these men and women who have served in these actions over the years, over the decades over the centuries, what they are Canada’s finest heroes!

This vision of Canada is not shared by most Canadians. 

Even Andrew Coyne took issue with Harper's description of Canada as a 'courageous warrior.' "Across the country, a thousand knees jerk in unison," Coyne observes. "A bit … militaristic, isn't it?"

"A bit militaristic," is putting it lightly. Harper's speech sounds like it was penned for a Remembrance Day ceremony, or possibly left over lines from his day of 'National Honour.'

"Still, it can hardly have surprised anyone," Coyne reminds. "It's a standard line in Harper speeches, part of a determined effort to refashion Canada's self-image -- some would say rewrite its history -- using the Conservatives' preferred iconography."

That preferred iconography has some very poignant fables and fibs hidden in it, however. Harper describes all the men and women who have served this country as 'heroes' and honours the sacrifices many have made in their service, before listing off every conflict Canadians were in during the 20th century (except, of course, for UN Peacekeeping missions that he's not too fond of). 

This lumps all our wars into the same exclusive category, 'good, noble and just,' and discourages thoughtful assessments of our history that might complicate such simplistic understandings of our history.

For instance, Remembrance Day (formerly Armistice Day) was not designed as an umbrella event to commemorate (nor celebrate) soldiers from all colonial aggression. It came about to remember the absolute horror and futility of the "Great War." The war that was to end all wars was a slaughter house fought by competing European Empires: it was not a fight for liberal democracy, as is often conflated. 

The Second World War, however, was a monumental fight for the values we cherish today in the face of rampant fascism. But its origins stem from the punitive conditions imposed on Germany by the victorious powers (including Canada's colonial administrator, Great Britain) at the end of the WWI.

The Korean War was a bloodbath (some say genocide) that saw 2.5 to five million Koreans slaughtered, so it's probably not a good war for us to glorify -- unless you are a rabid, anti-communist, cold-warrior-zombie that is.

Then there's the Afghan War (if we skip over 50 years of peacekeeping missions, like Harper's history book does), Canada's longest military mission and a deeply controversial affair.

While all these conflicts are an important part of our history, other events shine brighter from our past. The introduction of Medicare in 1962 by Tommy Douglas' CCF government is a proud moment for all Canadians, as were the extension of electoral franchise to women, Aboriginals and minorities and the abolition of the death penalty in 1974. None of these milestones were mention by Harper.

Could someone please lend Harper a copy of Dennis Gruending's Great Canadian Speeches before he subjects us to another droning, recitation of military history, void of all cultural and political significance?

 

Celyn Dufay is working as the Donor Service Officer with Ceasefire.ca and will begin his MIR at Queens this fall. Last year Celyn organized Ceasefire.ca's "Louder than the Bomb" campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, an action endorsed by over 100 parliamentarians, and the student led ‘white poppy' campaign "I Remember for Peace." Ceasefire.ca is a network of 25,000 Canadians who want Canada to be a global peace leader, and is a project of the Rideau Institute.

Photo: flickr/tsaiproject

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