Debating Vimy

Posted By: John Moore · 4/15/2014 10:14:00 AM

My column in the National Post about Vimy Ridge has sparked lively debate, some reasonable and some laughable. Over the years I have learned that e-mails with the salutation "Sir" are usually from retired British Colonels or vainglorious, self important bores. One opened his e-mail with the words "You sir, are a complete ass" and went on to say that had we not triumphed in WW1 I would be writing in German (as opposed to my niece and nephew who seem to do just fine in the language). Another correspondent offered that I would have found a coward's way out of the war (as if failing to die in a pointless war is something to be desired). 

But I always find it tedious when people go on too much about their hate mail. It's too easy a means of seeming controversial and of suggesting that all people who disagree with you are hysterical cranks. 

You can read the full column here. But the general point is that it's wrong for us to glamorize or valorize the deaths of our men in the First World War. It was a war Canada had no business being in. Neither our national security nor personal freedoms were on the line. Men died out of duty and out of the fact that many were shamed on the streets by the White Feather campaign. While it's true that my reflections on the war are through a modern lens, I think the wider issue is how many of Canada's conservatives today try to score political points by feeding on the tragic deaths of our men in the Great War. 

In today's print edition of the NP Graeme Thompson mounts a passionate defense of the notion of Vimy as being at the heart of the modern Canadian identity. It's a fine column and Graeme makes some very solid arguments. 

I also want to give a nod to two people with whom I exchanged e-mails on the topic. Barry Rhodes and his friend Jim Henderson mounted a spirited defense of Vimy and I think scored real points in pointing out that even if you regard the war as a tremendous waste of human life you have to recognize that the men who fought in it fought for each other. Writes Henderson: "I  believe the members of the First Canadian Corps ,after they initially experienced the dreadful trench and constant death and maiming, realized that they were not fighting for King and Country ,but alternatively for their comrades, family and a way of life. They died being soldiers, who realized that their sacrifice started with their fellow soldiers, not their officers or politicians at home".

I will never question the valour of the men who fought and died at Vimy; only the price of our presumed national birth. If anything on November 11th we should beg them for forgiveness rather than banging some drum about how they laid down their lives for a bunch of cosseted civilians a hundred years down the line. 

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  1. Barry Rhodes posted on 04/15/2014 02:34 PM
    Thank you , John, for your thoughts and comments . I felt we had a fair chance to make our ideas known. As you say, the entire war was needless, and pointless, over a trivial matter, but we couldn't afford to lose it.

    Best regards,

  2. StephenS_5505 posted on 04/16/2014 07:16 AM
    Bad leadership for the first half of the war by when career officers like Sir Julien Byng showed up and of course Sir Arthur Currie, things started to turn around a little.

    The sad part was that technology had raced ahead of tactics resulting in the horrendous death tolls. As a friend once told Hiram Maxum if you want to make a lot of money invent a weapon that will allow Europeans to kill one another faster. He of course invented the modern machine gun.

    I think your article points out more about Canadians and how we refuse to be defined by what we are told and would rather define ourselves within the contect of the country than have the country do it for us.
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