If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Century Approaches

Hello, all.  I've had a wonderful and busy few weeks, with  surprise opportunites to help with some research for the Leeds University War Memorial.  Thanks again for this to Dave Stowe (@DBS48).  Also, Mike of Wokingham Remembers (@wokyremembers) for the chance to share some info on a very bad day for the 1st (Western Ontario) Battalion, CEF.  My pleasure on both counts, gentlemen.  These opportunities offer more proof  of the deep connection shared by Canada and the UK at this point in our past. (for more see my post Canadian, Eh?).

I am only too pleased to give a hand where I can- I'm really eager to branch out with my military genealogy work.  Any questions or requests in this regard can be forwarded to me at ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.  
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I've done a dry run with the draft copy of the print version of the collected essays, having converted them to PDF and ported them to my e-reader.  It's not perfect, and the book isn't quite finished; so I'm going to play with it a while before it's ready to see the light of day.  That, and call me a traditionalist, but I'd much rather see the blessed thing bound in paper first.

One thing I really haven't touched a lot on is the upcoming centenary of the First World War.  Starting in 2014 and throughout until 2018 will be the hundredth anniversary of all the events of this crucial conflict.  Running up to this I've begun to hear a fairly divisive debate on how exactly these events be remembered:  As either a reflection of sacrifice or a celebration of victory.  The difficulty is that we are so far removed from the events of the past, coupled with the notion that our modern conception of the First World War was a tragedy of history.  This idea permeates so much that I can recall offhand that the late Sir John Keegan begins his introduction to his book "The First World War" using terms such as "avoidable" and "waste".  We can talk circles around whether a historical event was or was not avoidable; that does not change the fact it happened; moreover we run into a great amount of difficulty whenever modern sentiments of morality are placed upon events of our past.  To attempt to view or observe a past event with emphasis on our modern sense of morality being better than that of the time seems a bit apologist in approach and completely discounts the importance the events of the past had on the development of our current sense of morality.

For that matter, I don't believe we are obligated to solidly categorize any four year period of human history as all of one thing or all of another-that would be an entirely prejudicial notion.  It stands particularly true of the First World War.  We need to keep in mind when discussing this war (which comes by its pejorative alternate name very honestly)  we are thinking about an epoch that involved and touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people; had grand political, social and economic change throughout the world and its impact is still evident even now.  It is important to view any conflict as a difference of value systems; of differing ideas or attitudes.  When the Triple Entente and Central Powers went to war in 1914, the differing ideologies of the two camps- even to the nature of what they hoped to gain as a result of the war- were the rallying points for the respective populations.  We might not hold these values true over time; but it certainly doesn't negate their contemporary importance.

The difficulty in existing all in one mode of thought or the other is that it is subjective, and often linked to emotion.  My viewpoint, as I have expressed here before is that history need not be a subjective study; it must be as objective a study as is practicable.

There is a general misunderstanding centering on what the First World War was about and that the peace process was inconclusive which then leads to the idea of futility and wastefulness.  It must be understood the reasons why countries went to war when they did and attempt that understanding in a context contemporary to the events rather than notions which were assigned after the fact. 

Perhaps, then it may not be pertinent exactly which way the war be viewed in light of the upcoming centenary; it is that we need to  understand the event as it was, not what we feel it is or believe it should be.  If we don't understand, properly, objectively we cannot learn- and if we cannot learn, we can't  change.

I find it very pertinent to begin to raise this issue as here in Canada there has been very little official announcements as to any observance of the war.  Both the governments of the UK and Australia have committed funds to the Centenary- which is where the debate on the "how" of the observance has stemmed.  For Canada, it is my belief that the First World War is a particular touchstone of our history because of the impact on our nation which has helped develop the direction our affairs have taken in the subsequent decades.
So, in fact, marking the Centenary of World War One is not a celebration of a blood letting, but an appreciation of what our antecedents made possible in the development of Canada as a modern nation.

A challenge in the need for observance here is linked into a misunderstanding from a civil viewpoint of military endeavors; particularly difficult to a country that doesn't strongly identify with a martial origin.  It is crucial to remember that the war and its impact was not isolated to what took place in the trenches.  Between 1914 and 1918, our country was united as it hadn't been previous.  It is true that the majority of our population was not engaged directly with combat in Europe but that should not discount the nation's efforts in production and economics was geared to the prosecution of the war.  In this, in addition to Canada's successes on the battlefield, our country proved itself as capable of undertaking its own affairs domestically as well as abroad and was instrumental in gaining a further independence in our national direction from that of Britain.

1 comment:

  1. As a retired Canadian and member of the RCAF, this is my contribution for Remembrance Day 2013 as Canada remembers our Canadian Forces.