Gray: WWI an odd place to start our national mythology

Nice contrarian piece by Charlotte Gray on World War 1 and the government narrative:

As early as October 1914, Maclean’s magazine called the bloody conflict in Europe “the Great War.” But it wasn’t a great war, let alone “the war to end all wars” as British writer H. G. Wells suggested. It was a failed war. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles was supposed to ensure that the major European powers would never go to war again. In fact the Versailles Treaty turned out to be “the peace to end all peace.” Within twenty years of the treaty being signed, brutal conflict had erupted again in Europe.

The boundaries that the victorious powers slapped onto their maps of the Middle East reflected their own self-interest rather than the religious and ethnic realities on the ground. The current turmoil in the Arab world can be traced back, in part, to decisions taken in the Hall of Mirrors and subsequent diplomatic get-togethers.

The second reason for my increasing unease is a disturbing thread in some of the First World War commemorations: Military battles are being presented to Canadians as significant moments in our “coming of age” as a country. Yet you only have to read about the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge see historian Tim Cook’s wonderful Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918 to know that this “coming of age” was the result of poor military planning by British generals, and involved hundreds of needless deaths. Amongst those Canadians that returned, there was an undercurrent of resentment that they had been embroiled in a British imperial crusade. This is a funny place to start the national mythology. How much is our past being manipulated for nationalist reasons? Many of the citizens in today’s multicultural Canada have their roots in countries that were either defeated in 1918, or played no part in the conflict. What should the killing fields of Europe mean to them?

So let’s recall the nobility of individual young men who answered the summons “Your Country Needs You” and marched to their death. But it should not obscure the most depressing side of the story – the pointlessness of the massacre.

Gray: WWI an odd place to start our national mythology | Ottawa Citizen.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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