No na­tion is born on the bat­tle­field

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky is an At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell. wanger­ — Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

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.

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