Sunday April 9 marked the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s Vimy Ridge battle, where Canada lost 10,000 soldiers in breaching the German lines. TV ads prepped Canadians for days ahead of time. “They died for your freedom,” the announcer said, in a twist on Easter’s more traditional message.
Prince Philip attended the ceremony, as did Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. According to the speakers, Vimy Ridge marked Canada’s emergence as a real nation. This victory was achieved on the Canadians own initiative, without the British generals telling them what to do.
Only days before we’d seen a chemical attack on a Syrian village. In response the Americans attacked a government base with missiles.
Few draw a connection between today’s violence-ridden Middle East and the First World War. As one who grew up in the British Empire however, I can’t help but remember.
In fighting for the British Empire our soldiers fought for Englishmen’s freedom to rule over the millions who were less industrialized. Canada would not exist but for the British lust for conquest. However in 1960 Canada’s Prime Minister John Diefenbaker set the country on a higher path by enacting our Bill of Rights. Then in 1982, Pierre Trudeau repatriated the Constitution and established the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
These actions marked this country’s true emergence as a real nation. People of all races and creeds live in freedom here today, with the chance to have a decent life.
The idea of Canada finding its national identity through some World War I victory may be pagan in origin. Europeans believed they were the master race, but who was the most masterful? Only the battlefield could sort it out; Odin loves a warrior, and the Valkyries take the fallen up to Valhalla, where they feast forever.
Warfare forms a huge part of old Europe’s history. England and France’s Hundred Years War is fairly typical. Both sides viewed a successful king as one who expanded the realm, and so things went back and forth forever.
World War I introduced slaughter on an industrialized scale. Nobody could have foreseen the monstrous nature of what developed, as the war was triggered unexpectedly by Serbian terrorists. The major European powers had formed defence alliances which committed them to show up in time of need. Then when Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia to avenge the assassination of their heir-apparent Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, a whirlpool developed into which everyone was drawn in.
Not too long before, the French and British had sided with the Ottoman Empire in their dispute with Russia, with the Crimean War. This time though, the Ottomans picked the wrong allies. The mistake cost them dearly and in the aftermath of their demise, France and Britain seized control of their territories in the Middle East.
The Middle Eastern area enjoyed seven hundred years of peace under the Ottomans, but today refugees flee the hell hole by the millions. Apparently the main cause of the present ongoing conflict is sectarian, similar to the deadly rivalry between Protestants and Catholics, hundreds of years ago.
One modest question: if outsiders refrained from selling arms into the region, would this not cut down on the slaughter?