You may have heard that the federal government is changing the names of the three main branches of our armed forces back to what they were 50 years ago: the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Canadian Army (which apparently never warranted the connection to the world’s richest welfare bums, lucky them).
Last week, Defence Minister Peter MacKay made the announcement on the 100th anniversary of the date that King George V bestowed the “Royal” designation on the Canadian Navy. Said MacKay of the move: “The country that forgets its history does so at its own peril.”
It’s a purely symbolic move, but as symbolism, it gives us a pretty good idea of where we are headed under a majority Conservative government. And that’s back, way back, to a time when the lowly commoners didn’t question their betters.
We saw some of the preparatory campaign for this change in the Conservative government’s enthusiastic sponsorship of the embarrassing tour of Canada this summer by Prince William and his unblushing new bride, “Princess” Kate, who to our delight decided not to wear underwear beneath her skirt on a windy day during one of her Canadian events.
That last bit of crumpet was the best part of a phenomenon that saw the pro-Conservative mainstream media embrace the royal brats with a fervour that would have you believe that these two kids on a life-long luxury vacation were heroes of some sort. But no, actual good work doesn’t compare any more to celebrity worship and endless, cringe-inducing analysis of what Kate wears or how she does her hair.
For the Conservatives, however, this is great journalism. Get the so-called reporters to focus on the unelected royal figureheads while the actual business of government receives no scrutiny whatsoever.
Canadians, of whatever origin, should see this as what it is: an insult for our country, its history and its accomplishments. Far from forgetting our history, we need to remember it in order to understand why we dropped the “royal” designations for our naval and air forces in the first place.
Indeed, let’s not forget the sacrifice by British generals of thousands of Canadian troops in a doomed and disastrous raid on Dieppe during World War II. Of course, these soldiers belonged to the non-royal Canadian Army, and thus perhaps didn’t deserve greater consideration. But the point remains: insisting on the royal designation was a way of diminishing our own independence in favour of a greater loyalty to an unelected and unrepresentative authority. And, as Dieppe demonstrated, with the results one could expect. That episode alone amply demonstrates the peril of forgetting one’s history, but not in the way Peter MacKay meant.
Let’s look further back in our military history. Canada actually did not have an independent foreign policy and control over our own armed forces before World War I. Thus, when Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, Canada was automatically at war, and our young men and women in uniform were hers to command. That’s what it means to have “royal” armed forces: we are ruled by foreign royalty.
Canadian heroism and sacrifice during World War I led to our recognition on the world stage as a truly independent nation. That’s why Canada symbolically waited three days before declaring war on Germany at the outset of the Second World War; as a way of reminding the world that the duly elected Canadian government alone now controlled our military forces, and thus our nation’s destiny.
The culmination of that proud history came when we dropped the royal appendages to the navy and air force, adopted our own flag, and ultimately, repatriated the constitution. The Conservative Party, of course, opposed all three moves to demonstrate Canadian sovereignty in favour of a servile posture to a faded colonial power.
In any country with a colonial past, you will find a former elite that depended on the patronage of foreign masters for its status, material perks and sense of culture. This class is infused with nostalgia for a golden past that is largely myth and has little to do with the challenges of the modern era. The Conservative Party is playing on this nostalgia partly to satisfy its political base, but also to prepare the larger Canadian public for other trappings of aristocracy: the slow strangling of democracy in favour of unchecked political power.
The irony is that the Conservatives of today don’t give a fig for the connection to the British royal family. That’s so much fluff to disguise the real agenda of giving up our democratic power to the hidden power of its corporate agenda, an agenda controlled by today’s colonial masters in the United States. And therein lies the unintended truth behind Peter MacKay’s snobby lesson on the peril of forgetting one’s history. Lest we forget, indeed.