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Avoiding history

One of the reasons I enjoy learning about human history is that the past often presents analogues to current-day situations, and someone who knows history will know what choices and alternatives have been explored already—to positive or negative effect.  Those who operate without that benefit would be at risk of repeating history’s lessons.  There is a certain strain of thought in the Canadian body politic that likes to imagine the past not as it actually was, but as one might have wished it to be through the lens of current opinion.

In giving way to such tendencies we partake in what Jean-François Lyotard called “memorial-forgetful history”; this is the construction of a historical narrative which distorts the story of the past into its own present image, conveniently forgetting all that might be contradictory.  I’m a little disappointed that Craig and Mark Kielburger—men who have earned one of the country’s highest honours for merit, the Order of Canada—seem to engage in this practice.  Writing in the National Post‘s Full Comment blog, Mr. Matt Gurney takes the Toronto Star‘s Kielberger brothers to task for having a particularly narrow view of Canadian history.

There’s a lot to pick apart in their column, but let’s start where they did. Here’s their intro:

Last month, archaeologists unearthed a street lined with sphinxes in the Egyptian city of Luxor. We have to wonder if they found any remnants of Canada’s once-strong record on foreign policy down there.

Maybe that’s a little harsh. Nonetheless, Canada’s prominence on the international stage started back in 1956 when Lester B. Pearson launched the world’s first peacekeeping mission during the Suez Crisis.

… the contention that Canada sprang into being the moment Mr. Pearson accepted his Peace Prize, while much beloved of starry eyed progressives, kind of skips over a few chapters of Canadian history. History isn’t for everyone, of course, so while I might not expect them to know much about the Reciprocity Treaty, it’s not unfair to expect to them to know that there were two really big wars — world wars, very much on the “international stage” — that Canada played a major, disproportionately large role in. Right?

— Gurney, Matt. “Would it be wrong for the Kielburgers to learn some history?National Post, 15 December 2010.

Mr. Gurney’s snark-meter is turned up a little, but it is worth reading for the impressive list of achievements in Canadian arms and influence.  There’s a lot of history that is poorly taught, dimly understood, or willfully ignored because it is contradictory to the prevailing political or popular winds.  In Canada it is generally our martial history which tends to get papered-over, in our vain rush to convince the world (and ourselves) that we were born a post-modern nation, free of the bloodshed, strife and sins of the Old World.  The danger in intentionally forgetting our past—even the unpleasant bits—is that at some point, a future generation will be forced to relive it—but without any benefit of hindsight, since we will have struck any potential lessons from their collective memory.

RELATED: Another little-known episode in our military history, Canada’s occupation of Iceland.

Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Z-Force occupation patch, from the collection of Hinrik Steinsson.

CBC Radio, 1943-44

Canadian war correspondents in a jeep, Modica, Italy, 13 July 1943. (L-R): Peter Stursberg, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; Ross Munro, Canadian Press; Captain Dave MacLellan, Public Relations Officer; Lieutenant Al Fraser, Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit. (Capt. Frank Royal / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-204808)

Matthew 'Matt' Halton, CBC war correspondent making a recording in Sicily on 20 August 1943. (CBC/Library and Archives Canada)

Engineer Paul Johnston of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation setting up equipment to record a broadcast by CBC correspondent Matthew Halton, Catangora, Italy, 14 September 1943. (Capt. Frank Royal / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-206169)

War correspondent Peter Stursberg of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recording a radio broadcast, Potenza, Italy, 22 September 1943. (Capt. Frank Royal / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-145343)

War correspondent Benoit Lafleur of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation near San Vito Chietino, Italy, 8 April 1944. (Sgt. J. Ernest DeGuire / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-197554)

A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter interviewing two parachute-qualified officers, one from the Royal 22e Régiment, who are part of the First Rotation Leave, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 8 December 1944. (Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-213625)

Category: Historica, Media  Tags: ,  One Comment

Pad 110/37 (110L), Baikonur Cosmodrome

English Russia displays a collection of contemporary images from the former launch facility for Russia’s Buran-Energia space shuttle.  The one and only launch from Pad 110L occurred in 1988; it’s been inactive ever since.

RELATED: Pad 110L and the Buran-Energia program in happier days, some 22 years ago.  Many outstanding images and videos at the link.

Category: Ars Gratia Artis, Historica  Tags: ,  Comments off

Things that will ruin your impression of mediæval France

Lots of folks know that under the ancien regime, the heir to the throne of France was known as le Dauphin. But do you know why? While doing some historical research I discovered a tiny nugget of information that has forced me to re-evaluate my impressions of France from 1349-1830.

Arms of Guiges IV, Count of Albon

The fourth Count of Albon, Guiges IV, had a dolphin on his coat of arms, and because of it he acquired the nickname le Dauphin (or “the Dolphin”).

From that nickname he also derived a whole new hereditary title—Dauphin of Viennois.  I suppose there are worse fates than to go to your deathbed having been called “the Dolphin” for most of your adult life.  Just ask these guys.

Now, this is where things get strange.

Arms of the Dauphin of France

The territories the Count and his successors ruled thus took on the name Dauphiné (we would call it “the Dolphiny” in English), and when Humbert II of Viennois sold them to France in 1349, he stipulated that the heir to the throne of France must be known—in perpetuity—as Dauphin (“Dolphin”), a state of affairs that French monarchs not only agreed to, but perpetuated right up to the end of the French monarchy almost five hundred years later in 1830.

I am forced to wonder why anybody ever took France seriously in that five hundred year span.

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