17 February 2009

On commemorating folly

The battle about the battle is over. The plan to reenact the battle of the Plains of Abraham has been canceled, announced Andre Juneau, head of the National Battlefields Commission. While the idea quite naturally outraged many Quebecois, the organizer of the event, Horst Dresler, who has been involved in a series of reenactments of battles of the British conquest of North America, claims the motive of the organizers was innocent. "We're just celebrating history," he insisted, "We're not actually celebrating who won, who lost, whatever. It's to commemorate and honour the people who were there." Mr. Dresler, now a resident of Vermont, was born in Quebec and should have understood the sensitivities involved.

But there's a bigger question here. Why on earth was celebrating this battle considered seriously in the first place? Is war not the bottom of the barrel of human behaviour? And the British and the French killing each other over a continent that didn't belong to either of them certainly wasn't one of humanity's finer moments. Not that I'm suggesting we forget our history. On the contrary, it's important we remember the foolish things we do so we don't do them again. But how do we avoid repeating our stupidity if we commemorate war and honour the men who engage in it?

The planned restaging was apparently canceled because of a fear that demonstrations at the event might turn violent. A celebration of violence canceled because it might turn violent -- now there's irony.

If Mr. Dresler and his merry band of reenacters want to pursue their hobby privately, that's their business, but it should not involve public expense. The cancellation was most appropriate. On the other hand, if they want to conduct a memorial to the pointless deaths of foolish men and to the suffering of their innocent victims, that's a different matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment