Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maclean's: What if they did the First World War over, and nobody came?

Wouldn't that be the best possible outcome?

Maclean's doesn't think so.  In the current issue but not online, Peter Shawn Taylor offers "Could We Do It Again?", a paranoid screed about the heroic way that hundreds of thousands of Canadians loyally volunteered to be sent off to the slaughter -- and about how Canadians today lack the discipline and moral fibre to do the same thing again.
Any attempt to put Canada's effort in the Great War in modern perspective runs headlong into the uncomfortable question of whether we still retain that apparently boundless capacity for suffering and commitment we displayed from 1914 to 1918.  Would Canadians today answer a call to duty for a national project the size, scope, and duration of the Great War?
Kids today!

Taylor interviewed several leading historians  -- Tim Cook, Jonathan Vance, Don Drummond, John English, Jack Granatstein -- and while interviewees don't get to control what an interviewer makes of their comments, it is discouraging that none of them moved Taylor to any consideration of the notion that for Canadians to have refused to provide unlimited amounts of cannon fodder to a self-defeating participation in Europe's dynastic struggles would have been A GOOD THING.

The best he can get is John Manley, "rare eminence grise of Canadian politics," confidently predicting that kids aren't so bad and really could be roused to serve in a great national cause. But surely "Could we refuse to do it this time?" would be a better question to be asking .

Is a salute to Ready, Aye, Ready really going to be the theme of Canada's WW1 centenary? Maclean's believes it should be. Andrew Cohen seems to buy in.

Image: The Independent

Update, July 31:  Russ Chamberlayne comments:
Judging by what appeared in the Calgary Herald in August 1914, the opening of World War I elicited horror in a substantial part of the population. The Herald published poetry (a literary form long missing from opinion pages) with the most evocative titles and texts. The poem "The Wail of the Mothers" repeated the line, "Oh, give me back my son!" Elsewhere in the Herald's August pages, another poem — titled "Peace!" — began with these lines:
Great God of Peace and Love, how long shall man
Shed blood of man for paltry pomp of power,
And earth be rife with warfare, and the land
Filled with the tears of widowed hearts, that cry
To Thee in bitter agony for aid?
The paper also printed the brooding "War From Its Inglorious Side." It contained lines such as: "I was conceived in passion, hatred, envy and greed, born in the morning of antiquity, and have a genealogy whose every page drips with the red blood of murdered innocence. I lay waste the green fields and still the hand of industry."...
Remember that these clear-sighted cris de coeur were published before the reality of
slaughter became apparent. How many of us would be that perceptive and passionate

Follow @CmedMoore