Today is Vimy Ridge Day and the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued a brief statement. The statement is full of colourful pronouncements: the battle was “one of the Great War’s most decisive victories,” that “Canadians proved themselves as an elite force,” and even that the soldiers had “helped pioneer new fighting techniques.” The statement is capped with several nods to the soldiers’ bravery, courage, honour, and sacrifice as well as an affirmation that our respect and gratitude be unwavering. The mythology Vimy holds over Canada is certainly unwavering, and authors Jamie Swift and Ian McKay have gone to great lengths to document its influence, a phenomenon they call ‘Vimyism’ in their book.
The Great War was a tragedy, an almost criminally insane war that should fill us with a sense of dread, sadness, and most important, a “never again” attitude. But over 100 years later we appear to be uncomfortable making anything less than fervent patriotic overtures to the War and Canada’s so-called most important battle and assert that the country was born in conflict, born on Vimy Ridge. In an interview on the CBC’s As It Happens last year, Jamie Swift aptly argued that
you have to ask yourself well whose nation? What nation was born there? Certainly it’s widely recognized that World War One nearly ripped Canada apart. Vimy, itself, gave rise to the conscription crisis of 1917, one of the great national traumas of Canadian history — of Canadian existence. So when you talk about the battle just in terms of patriotism and nation building you’re really ignoring a lot of important factors that characterized the battle.
After 101 years we are still trapped by Vimy Ridge and pulled towards the idea that Canada was forged in a militaristic past that is to be celebrated for its achievements rather than condemned for its crimes.
Listen to the interview with Jamie Swift on CBC’s As It Happens here.
Posted April 9th, 2018