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ANDERSON: Peacekeeping on Vimy Ridge (part one)

Image Credit: Contributed by author
February 23, 2016 - 8:25 AM

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..." ~ Ecclesiastes 3:8

The claim that Canada is a peacekeeping nation has been bandied about by Liberal governments for years as if no Canadian has ever fired a shot in anger, and our present Prime Minister seems to be trying to revive that fable with a bit of a twist. This multipart essay will explore the mythology of Canada-as-peacekeeper in an historical context, and end with an analysis of why our present Prime Minister's middle eastern strategy, within the context of current geostrategic reality, is doomed to ridicule and scorn.

A time for war...

To my great uncle Melvin (Mel) Hewitt, Vimy Ridge was just a few particularly nasty days in years of muddy hell. He wrote home a week before the battle that it was cold and they were training hard, and then again after the battle from atop the cold miasmic ridge, not about the grand heroics of the Canadian Expeditionary Force but rather, with the laconic gruffness of a prairie farm boy, "it's been a rough few days, and I am well." And he thanked my great grandmother for the knitted stockings.

Over 10,000 Canadian boys were killed taking that ridge from the Germans in 1917, advancing over what the Canadian War Museum calls the "open graveyard" of 100,000 French and British soldiers who had tried unsuccessfully to take it in wave after wave of slaughter. In the words of British Prime Minister Lloyd George, "[After Vimy Ridge] the Canadians were marked out as "storm troops" and for the remainder of the war they were brought in to head the assault in one great battle after another. Whenever the Germans found the Canadian corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst."

Mel fought as an infantryman on Vimy Ridge and later at Passchendaele where he lost another 15,000 compatriots, then came home and died a year later of influenza on the Canadian prairies in one of the small and tragic ironies of war. I have his letters and his insignia and his last written words, faintly scrawled in pencil on a crumpled scrap of yellowed paper a century ago in Pipestone Manitoba, but I can't quite make them out. He would have liked the roaring twenties, my grandfather used to say.

Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Green Beach, Potenza, Termoli, Ortona, the Gustav Line, Lake Trasimeno, the Gothic Line, Juno Beach, the Low Countries, Helmand Province - these battles make up our military tradition. Our battle flags hang silently in our messes, sombrely recounting each memory in golden thread, and every year at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - the moment Mel's war ended - we honour not peace nor the United Nations, but our Canadian warriors and their lives. That is our Canadian military tradition.

To be continued...

— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer, and a bunch of other stuff. His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.

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