Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Do you remember the last "just" war? I don't. I wasn't born yet.
The 2nd World War was arguably the last time nations gathered with a clear cause and a sense of righteousness to eliminate an identifiable threat. The vanquished assumed a mantle of shame for the acts perpetrated by them, regardless of any justification which was provided before 1939 or subsequent to the end of hostilities. The victors, suffering from national states of financial, physical and emotional exhaustion, cloaked themselves in pride coupled with relief.
Unless you're over 70 years old, none of what happened during the 2nd World War is something you likely remember from personal experience. Everything you know about the 2nd World War you learned from the accounts of those who lived through it or from handed-down historical narratives.
Plant that truth in the back of your mind for a moment.
Today, the first minister of the Crown of Canada apologized to both the surviving victims and the descendants of the now-dead native residential school system. The system was church-run and government-funded.
Some seem to think the apology is both unnecessary and a problem. (Find them yourself.) Interestingly, most (not all) provide as a reason for their position the fact that the events which took place in the native residential school system, and the existence and raison d'etre of the system itself, occurred at a different time under a different government.
They believe there is no reason Stephen Joseph Harper, prime minister in the Government of Canada, should have spoken the words "We are sorry" for the events in and the existence of the now past native residential school system. They believe that since the native residential schools no longer exist as physical plants and were not the product of the Harper government, there is no reason for the current government to provide such an apology.
They are not able to make the distinction between the office of the leader of the government and the individual holding that office. What seems to gall them the most is that it is Stephen Harper mouthing the words - and that he seemed to have been put up to it as a means to score political points.
Further, they seem offended that the apology, spoken on behalf of all Canadians, includes them personally. (It does! It includes us all.) The source of their indignation? They personally did nothing, they did not create the problem and they should not inherit shame, nor be force to embrace a group posture of penitence. It wasn't their idea, they were not participants and for a great many, the actual events leading up to today's development had ended before they were born.
Their argument is that they are being forced to accept responsibility for the actions and behaviour of their forebearers and that is wrong.
In short, they refuse to accept any responsibility. It wasn't them.
They have a point. But they have to keep that point clean.
Back to the 2nd World War, the last armed extended conflict involving Canadians which can be cleanly justified.
Canada, as a nation, continues to wear the cloak of pride for accomplishments in that war. Particular accomplishments have provided a legacy of gratitude from the descendant populations of those who were liberated in 1944 and 1945. Battles and arduous campaigns survive as a part of the national psyche. Canadians took Ortona; Canadians took their objectives before any other force on D-Day; Canadians fought their way through the Scheldt; Canadians liberated the Netherlands; it was Canadians who provided the invaluable lessons for the invasion of Europe; Canadians were key to winning the Battle of the Atlantic and won the Battle of the St. Lawrence.
And in conversation most of us use "We" as a turn of phrase when discussing those events. Even though "we" weren't there. Those tulips in Ottawa are a reminder to "us", even though most of "us" had nothing to do with the events which caused the Dutch to deliver that gift.
If you feel no responsibility for providing a statement of penitence for the abhorrent acts of those who preceded you, that's fine. But neither can you share in the legacy of the valiant acts of your forebearers.
If you ditch one you have to ditch the other. If you choose not to participate in a national apology for the shameful acts of this nation's past then you cannot share in the pride and the glory of this nation's past accomplishments. You weren't there!
You were not at the Scheldt. You did not liberate the Netherlands. You did not fight the U-boats. You did not defend Britain in a Hurricane or a Spitfire. You did not take Ortona. You did not land at Juno Beach.
You share in none of that.
When a Netherlander tells you how much they appreciate Canadians for liberating Holland, tell them that their gratitude is misplaced. You had nothing to do with it, you want no part of it and you accept no thanks for the performance of your predecessors. It has absolutely nothing to do with you.
You have beer bottles to return.