The Centennial of the Armistice

Lapel poppy as sold by the Royal Canadian Legion.

For the past four years we have been observing the centennials of the various events that comprised the Great War, including the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916) and the Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917). Today we mark the end of it: on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, an armistice went into effect, ending hostilities on the Western Front, which had thus far killed over three million people and wounded over eight million, all started by some damned fool thing in the Balkans. And, as everyone knows, the settlement that ended the war simply set the stage for the next one: the Treaty of Versailles was not as fair as Wilson had promised in his Fourteen Points, nor as punitive as it needed to be to ensure that Germany did not rise again. So just as the Great Famine of 1315-22 weakened the immune systems of a whole generation of Europeans, and made the Black Death of 1346-51 more virulent than it otherwise would have been, so also did the First World War lead directly to the Second, which then overshadowed it in cultural memory.

Garden of Remembrance, St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard, City of London, November 11, 2010.

This is especially true in the United States, which only joined the First World War in 1917, and only as a result of a potential threat as revealed by the Zimmerman Telegram. The United States also joined the Second World War “late,” i.e. over two years after Germany invaded Poland, but it did so as the result of a direct attack on its naval base at Pearl Harbor. The Americans played a significant role in defeating Nazi Germany; they played an even bigger role in the defeat of Imperial Japan, including through the use of the atomic bomb, which they had developed at great expense. So it’s only natural that, to an American, the Second World War means more than the First.

The Cenotaph, Whitehall, 2018.

It’s somewhat different in Britain and the Commonwealth. Once the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, all the Empire, even the Dominions, immediately followed, and fought, and bled quite profusely, for the sake of Britain’s allies on the continent. For well-known reasons, the war bogged down into a bloody stalemate where the advantage was always to the defense, and it soon became obvious that this was going to be a war of attrition – the first side to run out of men and materiel was going to be the one to lose, and this is more or less what ended up happening. Four years of mass industrial slaughter on the Western Front was deeply traumatizing, and gave birth to rituals of remembrance that Americans generally don’t share: the sanctification of November 11 (at first designated Armistice Day, and now as Remembrance Day), the wearing of a lapel poppy* in the run-up to this, the ceremonial placement of wreaths of poppies at war memorials on the day itself, and the two-minute silence at 11:00 AM. (November 11 may be Veterans’ Day in the United States, but memorializing the war dead is the function of Memorial Day in May, which derives from the Civil War. The VFW occasionally sells poppies, but the practice is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is in Canada or the United Kingdom.) Of course, as with the United States, the UK and its Commonwealth also remember the Second World War, and probably to a greater extent, given Churchill’s refusal to make a deal with Hitler, his inspirational speeches, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, D-Day, and an unconditional surrender forced on a monstrously evil regime.

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey. Wikipedia.

All the same, the First World War does loom larger in the Commonwealth than in the United States. And it deserves to be remembered, in both places. As pointless as all the killing was, the Great War turned out to be the Great Divide, and represented the real end of the nineteenth century and the birth of the twentieth. When the dust settled, four empires – the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman – had fallen, and many smaller nations won their independence. Communists took over Russia, and the stage was set for what Henry Luce called the American Century. Women were granted the right to vote in both Britain and the United States. Perhaps most importantly, the Great War shattered European self-confidence, and caused the mainstreaming of skepticism, pessimism, and “uncertainty” (one of the reasons, unfortunately, why Britain and France did not stand up to Hitler until it was too late).

Diamond War Memorial, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

So I was pleased to learn that a World War I memorial is being planned for Washington DC. From a BBC article about it published last year:

“The Great War” was overtaken in the national consciousness by the Great Depression and World War II, says Edwin Fountain, vice-chairman of the WWI Centennial Commission. The commission has been authorised by Congress to build the new memorial in Washington, DC, as well as increase awareness of the war.

“The Centennial is the last best opportunity to teach Americans that World War I was in fact the most consequential event of the 20th Century,” he says. “It had effects that we live and struggle with today, overseas and at home.”

“The debate about the role of America in the world, the balance between national security and civil liberties, the place of women, African Americans and immigrants in our society – all those issues were vigorously discussed during WWI.

“You cannot contribute to those discussions today without understanding our historical roots.”

Gable end mural, Northland St. (arbitrarily renamed “Thiepval St.”), Belfast, Northern Ireland.

At the same time, how the war was fought, and not just its aftermath, deserves closer attention too. If anyone knows anything about the Great War, it is an image largely created by Remarque’s great autobiographical novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Historian Dan Snow recently countered several myths about it, including that most soldiers died, that it was the bloodiest conflict in history to that point, that the upper classes got off lightly, and that soldiers lived in the trenches for years on end (in truth, they were cycled out regularly).

Mural, Glenwood St., Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Still, it was no picnic, as a recent article in the Economist reminds us:

The first world war was not just a grand tragedy. For the 67 million who fought, it was a sordid hellscape. Few of the ten million killed in combat died from a “bullet, straight to the heart”, as pro forma telegrams to relatives put it. Many more bled to death in no-man’s land, their wails lingering for days like “moist fingers being dragged down an enormous windowpane”, as a British lieutenant wrote of the Battle of the Somme. Traumatised survivors sometimes slept in open sewers, and begged for their mothers as superiors ordered them over the top.

They guarded what slivers of humanity and dignity they could. At Compiègne today visitors can view silver rings from the trenches bearing initials (LV, MJ, SH or G) or four-leaf clovers; pipes with marks worn where teeth once clenched; a tube of insect-bite cream; letter-openers fashioned from shell casings, the names of yearned-for correspondents etched into their blades (“Marguerite”, “Mlle Rose-Marie”). A certain stoic humour also played its part. “I was hit. I looked round and saw that my leg had shot out and hit the fellow behind me (who got rather annoyed about [it])” wrote Charlemagne’s great-grandfather in his diary in 1915, just outside Ypres.

The article goes on to note that (emphasis added):

The first world war happened because a generation of Victorian leaders took for granted the stable order that had prevailed in most of Europe for decades. They should have read their history books. Yet the war was also a tale of forces beyond the power of any leader, however well-read; of nations and continents not as trains on history’s railway lines, run by drivers and switchmen, but as rafts tossed about on history’s ocean, dipping at most an occasional oar into the waves. Fate was the real grand homme of the “Great War”. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 would not have happened had his driver not taken a wrong turning in Sarajevo. The German army’s initial advance was halted at Nieuwpoort by a Belgian lock-keeper who flooded the surrounding marshlands. Political twists in Berlin, not crushing defeat on the battlefield, pushed Germany to sue for peace in 1918.

I am chary of drawing “lessons” from history, but it seems in this case that history really does provide us with an instructive example.

Memorial to Lt. Col. John McCrae, Guelph, Ontario, 2015.

* The poppy as a symbol of remembrance derives from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario, who was serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and who died of pneumonia in January, 1918. He was by no means the only English-language war poet: the First World War produced a remarkable amount of poetry from the viewpoint of its participants, a product of the war taking place after the advent of mass literacy but before other forms of entertainment relegated poetry to a niche interest (see Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory for more on this). I was pleased to see the memorial to sixteen representative war poets in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey this summer, including the greats Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen.

Sadly, the poppy is “political” in some parts of the world, and not just because people believe that it justifies war. Among the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the poppy represents “Britain’s War,” and thus represents British imperialism and British oppression. Nationalists, as noted, wear lilies in memory of the Easter Rising, and will generally refuse to wear poppies, even going so far as to taunt those who do.

O Canada

Watching the opening ceremonies of a Toronto Maple Leafs game last night reminded me of something that might end up being Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most lasting legacy: a slight change in the lyrics of the Canadian national anthem to make it less sexist. The second line used to be “True patriot love in all thy sons command”; as of February of this year it is “True patriot love in all of us command.” I don’t have anything against this change on principle, although the new version is less poetic and will take some getting used to.

But I’m sure I will get used to it, because this is not the first time that such change has occurred. The English lyrics to “O Canada” were only officially standardized in 1980, when I was in grade four. Prior to that time there were a number of versions sung throughout the land. The one we sang went like this:

O Canada! Our home and native land
True patriot love in all thy sons command
With glowing hearts we see thee rise
The true north strong and free
And stand on guard, O Canada
We stand on guard for thee
O Canada, glorious and free
We stand on guard, we stand on guard for thee
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee

The version sung by Roger Doucet prior to Montreal Canadiens’ games featured “We stand on guard for rights and liberty” as the penultimate line. We would sometimes sing this at school to show what great hockey fans we were.

The version unveiled in 1980 goes like this. Changes are boldfaced.

O Canada! Our home and native land
True patriot love in all thy sons command
With glowing hearts we see thee rise
The true north strong and free
From far and wide, O Canada
We stand on guard for thee
God keep our land glorious and free
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee

This version is better insofar as it has fewer redundancies, but by introducing a reference to “God,” it guaranteed resentment in certain quarters. And although they’ve dropped “all thy sons,” we still have the word “native,” which is now claimed as exclusive property by Canada’s First Nations people – and is alienating to immigrants anyway. So the national anthem is still slightly dodgy.

Still, though – “True patriot love“! “With glowing hearts“! “True north strong and free“! “Stand on guard for thee“! These expressions have entered the Canadian vernacular and echo down the years. I wipe away a tear just contemplating them.

But there is a further detail that needs to be mentioned. As you may be aware, Canada is officially bilingual, with a full quarter of its population speaking French as its native tongue. This is the Fundamental Divide in Canadian politics and society. The original lyrics to “O Canada” were composed in French, for a Francophone holiday – la fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste – in 1880. English lyrics were published in 1906, and the song eventually became the de facto Canadian national anthem (I guess the centennial of the song in 1980 prompted the government to make it official). So it turns out that, like the beaver and the maple leaf, the national anthem was a Francophone thing that the Anglos simply appropriated, forcing the Québécois to find substitutes (the fleur de lys and “Gens du pays” come to mind).

The fact that the original French lyrics of “O Canada” were not translated directly into English is supposedly symbolic of how divided the country is. Here is what the French lyrics mean:

O Canada! Land of our ancestors
Your head is crowned with glorious jewels
Because your arm knows how to carry the sword
It knows how to carry the cross
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant exploits
And your valor, steeped in faith
Will protect our hearths and our rights
Will protect our hearths and our rights

These lyrics really illustrate the song’s Francophone origin. You can see the Catholic (cross, faith) and ethnic-nationalist (ancestors, hearths) content in it – whereas the English is a little more deist and geographical.

But I do think that national symbols (anthems, flags, etc.) should actually be saved for when national teams play other national teams, and shouldn’t appear before mere professional games.

Cowboys and Mounties

CineMasterpieces.

One enduring embodiment of the American male is the cowboy. He is a rugged individual on the western frontier, living by skill of his hand and the sweat of his brow, voluntarily submitting to a cowboy code of honor and unafraid of defending his property with armed force if need be. Innumerable Western-themed movies and television shows have ensured that we all admire cowboys, or at least that we know one when we see one, dressed in some combination of the cowboy hat, bandana, leather vest, jeans, chaps, and boots, carrying a six-shooter or lasso, and riding his trusty horse. 

Wikipedia.

A Canadian male, by contrast, will find himself well reflected by the Mountie, that is, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A Mountie’s distinctive uniform of red tunic, Sam Browne belt, beige stetson hat, and dark blue breeches with a gold stripe down each leg make him instantly recognizable. Like the cowboy, the Mountie operates in the west of his country, and often acts independently, with a reputation of great competence and integrity, but there the similarity stops, for the Mountie represents state authority, not private enterprise. To this day the RCMP acts as Canada’s FBI, and in most provinces as the provincial police as well. That we are familiar with Mounties can also be attributed to cinema – “Northerns,” that is, Westerns set in the Yukon and featuring Mounties as the main protagonists, were popular between the wars.

The famous Marlboro Man. From The Lyrical Elitist.

This difference between the cowboy and the Mountie is one of the alleged fundamental differences between the United States and Canada. The difference is also reflected in the founding documents of each country. America’s 1776 Declaration of Independence values “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” while the British North America Act of 1867 was passed to ensure “Peace, Order, and Good Government.” It does seem to me, as someone who has lived in both countries, that Americans are more comfortable with private initiative, and Canadians with government intervention, than the opposites.

A depiction of the RCMP’s Musical Ride on the reverse of the Canadian $50 note, in circulation 1975-89. From the website of the Bank of Canada Museum.

As mentioned, Mounties enjoy a pretty good reputation. The idea is that they really do “maintain the right” (their motto), and they “always get their man.” The cartoon character Dudley Do-Right, from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-64), offers a lighthearted satire on this image, but his surname is fully in accord with it. That this idea was largely promulgated by Hollywood, and not by any Canadian organization, is even more remarkable. Canadians like to believe that Americans are only interested in themselves, and constantly rewrite history to make themselves the heroes of it. In this instance, though, they voluntarily burnished the image of the state police force of a foreign country, somewhat uncharacteristically.

This whole topic came to mind again recently, when I found our copy of Looking North: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Illustrations – The Potlatch Collection (2003) by Karal Ann Marling, an art history professor at the University of Minnesota. The Northwest Paper Company of Cloquet, Minnesota (i.e., nowhere in Canada!), sponsored an advertising campaign featuring the Mountie doing Mountie things, all in his bright red tunic to show off the superior quality of their product. The Mountie’s alleged qualities of integrity and courage also polished the company’s image.

The campaign, the brainchild of Chicago ad man Frank Cash, started in 1931, at a time when advertising agencies employed highly talented artists who could produce beautiful and realistic paintings on demand, and when the weekly newsmagazine (e.g. Life or The Saturday Evening Post) served as a far-reaching vehicle for them. Arnold Friburg, Hal Foster, and Paul Proehl were responsible for the three reproduced here.

As a born Canadian, I am proud that the Mounties enjoy such an upright reputation. Unfortunately, they haven’t always lived up to it, or so I discover from Wikipedia’s “List of controversies involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.” Some choice ones:

• On the night of May 6, 1972, the RCMP Security Service burned down a barn owned by Paul Rose‘s and Jacques Rose‘s mother in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Quebec. They suspected that separatists were planning to meet with members of the Black Panthers from the United States. The arson came after they failed to convince a judge to allow them to wiretap the alleged meeting place.

• There have been many Inuit accounts related to the alleged killings of sled dogs during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as well as the impact of the federal government’s efforts during that time to relocate Inuit into modern settlements.

• The RCMP bombed an oilsite in Alberta October 14, 1999, on the instructions of the Alberta Energy Co. No injuries were caused or intended. The Crown lawyers, representing the government, accepted that the allegations were true. An Alberta farmer was blamed for the bombing.

• The Robert Dziekański Taser incident occurred when a Polish immigrant who arrived at the Vancouver International Airport on October 14, 2007, and waited 10 hours at the airport before being taken into police custody. He died after being tasered a total of five times by a group of four RCMP officers and then placed face down with several officers sitting on top of him.

• In October 2016, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson apologized for what he referred to as “shameful conduct” by the organization. An internal investigation determined that up to 20,000 female officers and civilian employees since 1974 may have been the victims of harassment, discrimination, and/or sexual abuse.

On a more general level, “American historian Andrew Graybill has argued that the Mounted Police closely resemble the Texas Rangers in many ways. He argues that each protected the established order by confining and removing Indians, by tightly controlling the mixed blood peoples (the African Americans in Texas and the Métis in Canada), assisted the large-scale ranchers against the small-scale ranchers and farmers who fenced the land, and broke the power of labour unions that tried to organize the workers of industrial corporations.”

So, as ever, one must take care to examine both sides of an issue…

Addendum: A group of musically-inclined policemen from Windsor, Ontario calling themselves The Brothers-in-Law recorded a satirical song on the RCMP for their album Oh! Oh! Canada in 1965.

Addendum: How could I have forgotten RCMP Constable Benton Fraser, the main character of the television series Due South (1994-99)? This was a Canadian show, although set in Chicago. True to form, “Fraser is a strait-laced Canadian, and his faith in the honour and goodness of others tends to lead to interesting and humorous moments.”

News from Canada

• A statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald has been removed from the front of the Victoria (BC) City Hall, on account of him being a “key architect of the Indian residential school system.”

• Canada might be getting a new statutory holiday “to mark Canada’s ‘tragic and painful’ residential school legacy.”

• One alumnus of the residential school system was Tom Longboat (1887-1949), a Mohawk from Brantford, Ontario, and the premier long-distance runner of his day. The National Post‘s Joe O’Connor remembers Edgar Laplante, a con artist who traveled around the United States pretending to be Longboat while Longboat was actually fighting in France, and then, when the jig was up, “Chief White Elk.” (Reminds me of Grey Owl, a.k.a. Englishman Archibald Belaney.)

Vikings in New Brunswick?

From the National PostAlas, for now it seems just a collection of circumstantial evidence; no actual artifacts of Viking settlement have yet come to light.

Why this retired archeologist is convinced New Brunswick is home to a lost Viking settlement

If confirmed, it would be only the second Viking settlement in Canada, the other being L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland

Chris Arnold

March 15, 2018

In the Saga of Erik the Red, a 13th century Icelandic story, intrepid explorer Thorfinn Karlsefn travels to a land called Hóp. There he finds grapes, plentiful supplies of salmon, barrier sandbars and natives who use animal-hide canoes.

The Viking colony of Hop has long been lost to history, but Birgitta Wallace, a retired Parks Canada archaeologist, is convinced it was located in modern day New Brunswick.

In a new article for Canada’s History, she described all the evidence that points to the Miramichi-Chaleur Bay area in particular.

Wallace said that knowledge of such Viking settlements was largely passed down through oral history, with no locations being documented until centuries after the Viking’s travels.

“Going south one summer, (the Vikings) come upon Hóp which has more resources than they can count, great lumber, masses of salmon, halibut, and grapes growing in the woods,” said Wallace, who noted that the description of Hóp in Erik the Red’s Saga matches New Brunswick’s eastern shore.

“The only area on the Atlantic seaboard that accommodates all the saga criteria is northeastern New Brunswick,” she said in an email.

Scholars have theorized for years that Hóp could have been located in New England, New York or Maine. However, Wallace discredited those theories, one reason being salmon were not commonly found in New England, but were plentiful in New Brunswick.

“Salmon has always been rare in New England and has not been found at all on pre-contact sites south of New Brunswick, while they do occur throughout the Atlantic region,” Wallace said. ” The Miramichi and Restigouche river areas have been especially rich in salmon.”

More at the link. I guess the site on Baffin Island hasn’t panned out?

New Page

I have revised a piece I wrote about the arms of my high school (Trinity College School of Port Hope, Ontario), and placed it on its own page. Unfortunately, for now, no link is appearing on the bar above.

The United States of (All of) America

From Brilliant Maps: Making Sense of the World, One Map at a Time (hat tip: Tim Furnish): a map of what North America might have looked like if the Annexation Bill of 1866 had passed.

The bill would have authorized the President of the United States to, subject to the agreement of the governments of the British provinces:

publish by proclamation that, from the date thereof, the States of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East, and Canada West, and the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan, and Columbia, with limits and rights as by the act defined, are constituted and admitted as States and Territories of the United States of America.

Or to put it more simply, the bill would have annexed Canada, before Canada became a country.

I believe that annexing Canada, as a long-term policy goal of the United States, was only abandoned following the First World War. Throughout the nineteenth century, I understand, the USA saw British North America in the same way that the PRC views Taiwan, or the Republic of Ireland views Northern Ireland: as the rump state of the previous regime, and thus morally illegitimate.

Although I note that the bill does not mention Newfoundland, which had become crown colony in 1854 and was never part of Canada East; the map should probably reflect that.

Two Historical Sites

A road trip to Canada for the holidays allowed us to see a couple of things on our List.

1. Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ontario (completed in 1835). The home of Sir Allan Napier MacNab, Baronet, veteran of the War of 1812, lawyer, real estate investor, railway developer, colonel in the colonial militia and opponent of William Lyon Mackenzie during the rebellion of 1837, member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, and premier of the United Province of Canada 1854-56. As a colonial grandee he built himself a house (designated a “castle”) on the shore of Lake Ontario at Hamilton, where he entertained other such grandees. It’s now run as a museum by the city of Hamilton, and you get to see how rich people lived in the nineteenth century, including up-to-date conveniences like gas lighting, water closets, and bell pulls. Our guide Luke, in period costume, was a delight.

On the grounds is the Hamilton Military Museum, devoted largely to the War of 1812, which I regret to say I know little about. The War has especial relevance to the site of Dundurn Castle, since at the time the British built an ammunition dump there; this later was incorporated into the Castle as a subterranean wood storage area.

2. The Kirtland Temple, Kirtland, Ohio, dedicated 1836. Unfortunately it was closed when we stopped by, but it sure looked pretty amidst all the snow that had fallen the previous evening. This was the first temple built by the Mormons; like the majority of historic Nauvoo, Illinois, it is now in the hands of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), although like at Nauvoo, the LDS Church has also established a presence in the town. A Community of Christ church sits across the street from the Temple, and a visitors’ center is not far away. These were also closed, but I look forward to coming back someday when they’re open; unlike with a regular LDS temple, non-church members are allowed inside.

The Mormons largely abandoned Kirtland in 1838 in the wake of the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society.

Dieppe

August 19 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, an ill-fated mission during World War II that taught the Allies that any invasion of France would have to be planned a lot more carefully. (Just as the English Channel saved Britain from Nazi invasion, so also did it prevent an easy counterattack.) From the Globe and Mail (Toronto):

Dieppe raid, 75 years later: The country’s bloodiest day of the war

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr is leading a Canadian government delegation to France to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid during the Second World War.

The raid, launched on Aug. 19, 1942, would prove to be the bloodiest single day for Canada’s military in the entire war.

The Prime Minister released a statement Saturday to honour the hundreds of Canadians who lost their lives in the battle.

Of the nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers who took part in the ill-fated mission, more than half became casualties, and 916 would die on the rocky shore of Puys Beach on the northern coast of occupied France.

The beach landing was supposed to happen under the cover of darkness, but the Canadians, along with 1,000 British and 50 American soldiers, were late arriving on shore, and as the sun rose they were left exposed to withering fire from German troops on the cliffs above.

Justin Trudeau said the loss at Dieppe taught Allied forces valuable lessons, which he said helped “to turn the tide of the war on D-Day” less than two years later.

“As we commemorate the Dieppe Raid at events in Canada and France, I ask all Canadians to honour the people who gave so much at Dieppe, as well as their families at home who suffered the loss of their loved ones,” Trudeau says.

Governor General David Johnston noted that this year marks the centennial anniversary of two great victories for Canada — the battles at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in the First World War — but it’s equally important to remember the losses, like the one at Dieppe.

“We must never forget the terrible cost of armed conflict and ensure that future generations remember, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past,” Johnston said in a statement.

See also this recent Mark Steyn interview with screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd (video, starting at 22:45).