Stephen Harper: Revisionist Historian
May 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
By now, it should be patently clear that Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is not a benign force. He likes to consider himself an historian, he’s apparently publishing a book on hockey this fall. But, I find myself wondering just what Harper thinks he’s doing. I’ve written about the sucking up of the Winnipeg Jets hockey club to Harper’s government and militaristic tendencies. I’ve noted Ian McKay and Jamie Swift’s book, Warrior Nation: The Rebranding of Canada in the Age of Anxiety (read it!). And I’ve had something to say about Harper’s laughably embarrassing attempt to re-brand the War of 1812 to fit his ridiculous notion of Canada being forged in fire and blood.
Now comes news that Harper’s government has decided it needs to re-brand Canadian history as a whole. According to the Ottawa Citizen:
Federal politicians have launched a “thorough and comprehensive review of significant aspects in Canadian history” in Parliament that will be led by Conservative MPs, investigating courses taught in schools, with a focus on several armed conflicts of the past century.
The study was launched by the House of Commons Canadian heritage committee that went behind closed doors last Monday to approve its review, despite apparent objections from the opposition MPs.
When this first passed through my Twitter timeline, I thought it HAD to be a joke. But it’s not. Apparently, Harper thinks that Canada needs to re-acquaint itself with this imagined military history. I’m not saying that Canadians shouldn’t be proud of their military history. We should, Canada’s military has performed more than admirably in the First and Second World Wars, Korea, and Afghanistan, as well as countless peacekeeping missions. Hell, Canadians INVENTED peacekeeping. Not that you would know that from the Harper government’s mantra.
As admirable as Canada’s military has performed, often under-equipped and under-funded, it is simply a flat out lie to suggest that we are a nation forged of war, blood, and sacrifice. Canada’s independence was achieved peacefully, over the course of a century-and-a-half (from responsible government in 1848 to the patriation of our Constitution in 1982). And nothing Harper’s minions can make up or say will change that, Jack Granatstein be damned.
To quote myself at the end of my War of 1812 piece:
Certainly history gets used to multiple ends every day, and very often by governments. But it is rare that we get to watch a government of a peaceful democracy so fully rewrite a national history to suit its own interests and outlook, to remove or play down aspects of that history that have long made Canadians proud, and to magnify moments that serve no real purpose other than the government’s very particular view of the nation’s past and present. The paranoiac in me sees historical parallels with the actions of the Bolsheviks in the late 1910s and early 1920s in Russia. The Bolshevik propaganda sought to construct an alternate version of Russian history; in many ways, Canada’s prime minister is attempting the same thing. The public historian in me sees a laboratory for the manufacturing of a new usable past on behalf of an entire nation, and a massive nation at that.
Every time I read about Harper’s imaginary Canadian history, I am reminded by Orwellian propaganda. And I’m reminded of the way propaganda works. Repeat something often enough, and it becomes true. The George W. Bush administration did that to disastrous effects insofar as the war in Iraq is concerned. But today, I came across something interesting in Iain Sinclair’s tour de force, London Orbital, wherein Sinclair and friends explore the landscape and history of the territory surrounding the M25, the orbital highway that surrounds London. Sinclair is heavily critical of both the Thatcherite and New Labour visions of England. In discussing the closing of mental health hospitals and the de-institutionalisation of the patients in England, Sinclair writes:
That was the Thatcher method: the shameless lie, endlessly repeated, with furious intensity — as if passion meant truth.
I suppose in looking for conservative heroes, Harper could do worse than the Iron Lady. But it also seems as if Harper is attempting nothing less than the re-branding of an entire nation.