If Canada wants to be healthy and decent and prosperous and stable, it needs to face its demons

Posted on July 2, 2021 in Inclusion Debates

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – News/Canada/Analysis

No country can be realistic about itself. Nations live by myths, both in the sense of collective stories that give meaning, and in the sense of lies. Ordinarily, the myths permeate the background of national life, unobserved and assumed. There are days when the myths go on display, like Canada Day, when everyone goes out and waves flags and talks about how lucky they are to live here.

Then there are other days when the myths shatter, like when investigators discover the bodies of 751 Indigenous children in unmarked graves. This year the myth-displaying and the myth-shattering have come very close together, almost simultaneously.

Canada is far from alone in finding an uncomfortable duality surrounding the stories it tells itself, a confusion of pride and horror. There’s a strange contradiction at play all around the world: The more successful a country is the less likely it is to celebrate itself.

Anyone who has visited Germany over the past seventy years will have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of historical memory to be consumed. Germans reckon with the evils of their past in a continuous way. It’s not just Holocaust memorials and museums. There are over 75,000 stumbling stones in Germany, small brass plaques on the streets each identifying a separate national disgrace — a family sent to a concentration camp, a business burned to the ground. Their confrontation with horror, their humility in facing it, has had serious political consequences. It is no coincidence that Germany has become the world’s leading democracy, one of the most stable, prosperous and decent nations in the world. They have put the spiritual work in.

Contrast Germany with Britain. On June 25, British schools celebrated “One Britain One Nation Day” in which the Education Secretary encouraged all school age children to sing the “Strong Britain, Great Nation” song. “We are British and we have one dream,” it begins, and the chorus which repeats itself ad nauseam is “Strong Britain, Great nation!” The sheer creepiness of the totalitarian esthetic is grotesque. But I honestly felt sorry for the British after I heard “Strong Britain, Great Nation.” Somebody had to commission that piece of music. Somebody had to compose it. Somebody’s children had to sing it. It’s so humiliating for everyone involved.

England has chosen to decline in a fit of make-believe Imperialist nostalgia, embodied perfectly by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In 2016, 44 per cent of Britains agreed with the statement that the British Empire was “something to be proud of.” Through Brexit, they have paid a heavy price for their comforting myths of their own magnificence: a sharp decline in global influence, a shrinking economy and the instability of the Union itself. The contrast between the rhetoric and the reality is growing ever more extreme: Five years after their great splurge to “take back control,” they don’t even have control over shipments of sausages to Northern Ireland. I guess that’s why they need to sing ridiculous hymns to their own strength.

It’s not that the Germans are somehow better people than the English. It’s not that Germany doesn’t have its own problems with nationalism. It’s that Germany has chosen to reckon with its own history problems rather than pretend them away. In the case of America, the matter is starker: Four years of “Make America Great Again” have led to a political system in mid-collapse. Hollering for American greatness led to suffering American catastrophe.

What all of this shows is simple enough intellectually if hard to grasp emotionally: If you want your country to be healthy and decent and prosperous and stable, you should want it to face its demons. “I think Canada is a great historical achievement,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said recently. “It is an imperfect country, but it is still a great country, just as John Macdonald was an imperfect man but was still a great leader.” Kenney was not exactly wrong (the full text of his remarks is far more nuanced and reasonable than the reaction to the sound bite clips would lead anyone to believe) but, to me, the frame of his question is a false dichotomy: Every country is imperfect just as every person is imperfect. Facing the imperfections is what patriotism looks like, not turning away from them. The celebration and the confrontation must occur together to be meaningful.

Quite apart from the political future of Canada’s relationship to Indigenous communities, the process of truth and reconciliation is essential for our own survival. Every former residential school in this country should be a museum. Every school age child should visit one. These locations are the very black diamond of our national evil. We must face them not because we hate Canada but because we love it. The honour of this country is at stake, and Canadian honour is worth fighting for. It is our duty to fight for it.

Four hundred thousand people are going to move to Canada next year. That’s not a myth. That’s a fact. They’re not moving here for the weather. There is a great deal in Canada that is lovable, but love comes at a cost. Let’s celebrate this country, but quietly this year. Let’s celebrate, but remember.

Author Stephen Marche is currently working on a book about the possibility of a civil war in the United States.

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