No nation is born on the battlefield
What makes a nation?
Is it sending your youth to war, where they can die by the thousands, in order to settle a border spat between rulers of other countries? Rulers, by the way, who never seem to have to make the same sacrifice?
Don’t get me wrong: I think we should recognize the bravery and sacrifice of young Canadians in foreign wars. I think we should take time to remember those who died and, even more, those who lived on with shattered limbs and ruined lives. I have plenty of time for those who sacrifice; I have no love at all for those who wear the glory of others’ suffering like a suit.
I spent a good part of the weekend turning off the effusive remembrance coverage of the role of Canadian forces at the battle of Vimy Ridge. I have the same feeling about the incredible sacrifice by young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians at Beaumont Hamel, another so-called birth-of-anation battle that actually killed off a huge portion of that thennation’s youth.
I’m not opposed to remembering, or to marking, the horrible events of a century ago. No, I really only have a problem with one aspect of the commemoration, an aspect that seems to surface with startling regularity — the notion that nations like ours somehow “came of age” through war.
I don’t see any way that war builds a country. Not when there are so many more important measures.
Nationhood is when one part of your country is starving in drought, and other parts send food. Nationhood is a national system of basic primary and secondary education, along with broad access to post-secondary education.
Nationhood is an involved and active electorate, one that keeps governments to account, so that those governments feel their futures depend on the needs of the whole of the populace, not on mining the narrowest of electoral seams of right wing or left wing thought.
Nationhood is making sure that all of your citizens have access to clean, safe drinking water — something that, 150 years in, Canada still hasn’t managed to deliver to every community in Newfoundland and Labrador, let alone across the country, where our nation’s record for supplying drinking water in indigenous communities is abysmal.
(It’s worth thinking about the differences between war and water: much is being made in the United States about the fact that a 30-or-so-minute attack on a Syrian airbase cost US$100 million in missiles, yet that country cannot find US$55 million to clean up the waterline contamination in Flint, Mich.)
Nationhood is making sure there is prompt, fair access to medical care. That’s what nations should be — all citizens working together and paying their share to make sure that people get basic medical care, rather than only the care they can afford on their own.
On July 1 of next year, will there be a celebration of the 50th anniversary of medicare? Will we take the time to talk about the lives saved, instead of the glory of the lives lost?
A nation is measured by the way its citizens come together to help regions struck by disaster, and not just here, either. If you’re lucky enough to have been born in a strong and vibrant nation, nationhood becomes the ability to export that good: in disaster relief, election monitoring, peacekeeping, policing, and the list goes on.
Nations are sum of their parts, not marked by some onetime singular ability to “measure up” to the military needs of other larger, more established nations.
A pat on the head from others for having our soldiers willing to take a bullet is not the birth of a nation.
So remember the soldiers, the sailors, the pilots, the civilians.
The generals and their hollow glory? Not so much.