Opinion Letters

Gov’t perpetuating Vimy myth

There’s history and there’s mythology. History attempts to recount the facts. Mythology builds a story on those facts and, in the process, freely alters them to fit specific purposes.

Those purposes can be various, some laudable, some less so. The founding myths of a nation can help to build a national identity and improve social cohesion. As a child in England, it did me no harm to believe that King Alfred burnt the cakes or that King Arthur still lies sleeping in a cave somewhere in the west, waiting for the summons to arise and once more save England.

Other myths are less innocent, such as the myth of an Aryan pure race used to justify Nazism and the extermination of “lesser” folk. We need to be cautious in the myths we promote because they are often used to support present or planned actions, actions that history would not recommend.

Knowing something of the history of the First World War, including my grandfather’s experience in it, I am uneasy at the current promotion of the Vimy myth. That war’s history is not something of which our species should be proud. It was, in the first place, entirely avoidable, entered into because of the vanity, ambition and stupidity of politicians and militarists. It led directly to the Second World War. It devastated Europe, killed millions (more civilians than soldiers) and was conducted with a boneheaded idiocy and savagery that resulted in unspeakable suffering. If you want to get an accurate picture of what it was like, and have a very strong stomach, I recommend reading the early chapters of Into the Silence by Canadian author Wade Davis. It is dedicated to his grandfather, who served in the First World War.

Vimy Ridge was a minor incident in the carnage. It achieved a small advance in the blood-soaked, corpse-ridden territory, an advance that was soon reversed by a German advance won at the same appalling cost. Individual Canadian and German soldiers showed that mixture of courage, terror, endurance and helplessness common to such experiences. Thousands of families on both sides suffered lifelong bereavement at the pointless loss or maiming of their sons. Those soldiers on both sides were betrayed by the leaders who put them there and, shamefully, too few of those war leaders went anywhere near the trenches to see the consequence of their decisions. It was a crime against the troops sent into a futile slaughter and should be remembered as such.

It’s a sick joke that such tragic blundering should now be elevated into a sacred patriotic myth and, by implication, an example to be repeated.

Apparently, our present government, constantly pleading poverty as an excuse to stint social services, nevertheless has $3 million spare cash floating around in its coffers that it can use to propagate this bogus Vimy myth. Surely, this country deserves better. We do not need new generations primed to become cannon fodder.

Margaret Clare Ford


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