19 February 2010

The death of John Babcock and the Great Lie about the Great War

The papers this morning featured the death of the last Canadian veteran of the First World War, John Henry Foster Babcock. A sad day indeed for the friends and family of Mr. Babcock although he did live a long and active live, dying at the remarkable age of 109.

Sad, too, is the occasion being used to perpetuate the Great Lie about the Great War. Prime Minister Harper, referring to Mr. Babcock and his compatriots, said "They paid dearly for the freedom that we and our children enjoy every day." That of course isn't true. Quite aside from the fact Mr. Babcock never saw action, no one "paid dearly" for anyone's freedom in the First World War. The only possible exceptions are those Africans and Asians who served in British, French and German regiments. They may have naively thought they were fighting for their freedom, but they were quickly disabused of that dream once the war was over.

The 67,000 Canadians who died in the war certainly paid dearly, as did the 173,000 who were wounded, but they weren't paying for anything of value. They didn't sacrifice their lives for any great cause. They died in a bloody-minded exercise in mass stupidity perpetuated by a bunch of arrogant, decaying European empires. They died participating in easily the stupidest thing Canada has ever done. They died for nothing, for less than nothing.

The war is often referred to as a defining moment in Canadian history. And it was. It defined the low point in our history. It defined the nadir of misguided colonial loyalty. We participated for no other reason than we were part of one of the arrogant empires involved in the Great Folly. If we had had the imagination and courage to stand up and say no, we are not participating in your foolishness, now that would have been a defining moment worth commemorating.

If we want to learn from history we have to accept hard truths, including the hard truth that the Great War was little more than pointless mass slaughter, that we made a huge blunder in immersing ourselves in it, and that we threw away the lives of thousands of Canadians like we would throw out the garbage. We should stop telling ourselves easy lies, as comforting as that may be.

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