Before I go on, let me just say that this is a second-page story right now. It’s dismally predictable that this is attracting more attention that another issue which I have written about before and other bloggers are still writing about, justifiably so: the fraudulent stripping of tens of millions of dollars from border security funds by Tony Clement for “infrastructure” projects in his own riding. For this sin, Clement has been promoted to the Treasury Board, where he is now responsible for all government spending.
Nevertheless, as a historian, I feel compelled to say something after reading defence minister Peter MacKay’s preposterious rationale for renaming the Canadian Forces: “the country that forgets its history does so at its peril.”
Really, Peter? What perils are we encountering by having a Maritime Command instead of a Royal Canadian Navy? Do young airmen, fresh out of training, look up at the night sky and think, “I’m glad the Russians aren’t coming anymore, because we could have stopped them if we were the Royal Canadian Air Force, but there’s no hope now that we’re just the Air Command?”
Let’s follow this logic through to its conclusion. Should we change the Department of Foreign Affairs back to the Department of External Affairs? Why did we change Berlin into Kitchener? Shouldn’t we demand that the royal family change its name back from the niggardly “Windsor” to the more resplendent “Saxeburg and Gotha”? Why did we rename Lower Canada into Quebec, thus fostering decades of civil unrest? Why did we make Upper Canada into Ontario, thus depriving them of a more superior-sounding title? Maybe we should just go back to Canada being Rupert’s Land in the west and New France in the east. After all, whoever forgets their past does so at their peril. Right?
The only history that involves the remotest sort of “peril” here is the history MacKay didn’t bother telling. The reason we have a navy at all is because the Laurier government decided it should compromise between English nationalists demanding we hand money to the Crown for the Royal Navy, and French nationalists saying we didn’t need a navy at all. Now, the result of that, the first Royal Canadian Navy, was still stuffed firmly into the back pocket of the British Crown. But it was a step in the direction of independence.
What we have now is the opposite. The Harper government is returning to a traditional, British imperial name, but the armed forces themselves are now totally dependent on the American government, and this does nothing to help that. Our navy, when it goes abroad, does so in company with the Americans. Our air force and army deploy abroad as minor contributors to American wars.
And they will continue to do so under their new “traditional” name.Tweet