Today is Canada Day - and not just any Canada Day, but the "sesquicentennial" (150 years). This means a lot of people will flock to the nearest downtown core decked out in red and white to scarf down copious quantities of cheap fast-food coffee and vaguely cheese flavoured buckets of bacon grease. The government will commission performances from the lamest possible local musical acts, (such as the disappointingly misnamed Barenaked Ladies) to promote its continuing vision of toe-bitingly boring national mediocrity.
It's lame, but largely harmless, even innocent, and in a world where nationalism usually means either going to war or ceaselessly persecuting ethnic or religious minorities, lame is not such a bad thing. If fascism is just nationalism by another name, then any nation that prides itself more on hitting rubber pucks with a stick than killing enemies on a battlefield, or selects a tree nibbling rodent as its national symbol, is perhaps worth celebrating. And, if on paper at least, it takes ethnic harmony and universal health care as not just points of pride but intrinsic to its identify, than it is definitely worth a party or two.
Not everyone will be celebrating of course. The Indigenous peoples can't pretend than any country founded on their destruction and subjugation is worth celebrating, and even a cursory awareness of the history makes it hard to disagree. By any standard, the residential school system was an atrocity. Who could approve of a project to take children from their parents, forbid them to speak their language, and hand them over to sex perverts?
That's what it amounted to. And it wasn't that long ago either, not some distant era of incomprehensibly different values. It was recent, within living memory. Victims and perpetrators are still alive to tell the tale. Nor was it an an anomaly, but official government policy - publicly elected officials called for it, taxpayer dollars paid for it and publicly paid bureaucrats carried it out. Nor just to one or two unfortunates, but thousands and thousands of people, an entire society.
Our country did this. Our country committed this act of evil.
There are lots of other examples too. While our boys were "over there" fighting Naziism, our government was conducting experiments on native people right here. Our government, our country, our beloved multicultural haven. The reserves are like third world countries, people are dying right left and centre, poverty and alcoholism and suicide is everywhere, there seems no end in sight. . .
So yeah, celebrations may be a little bittersweet this year. How does a society accept responsibility for evils done in its name? I don't know. I don't think anyone does. At the very least, we don't pretend it never happened.
But there are other stories to tell as well.
Perhaps all those Syrians dying to get in might one day have such a story. But I was thinking more specifically of my Polish grandparents who came fleeing Stalinism in the 40's, having lost everything to Hitlerism already. They opened up a small shop, never got rich, but did live peacefully ever after, and died knowing their children and grandchildren would never have to experience Hitlerism or Stalinism. That is not nothing, and that is worth celebrating.
Perhaps it is a mark of maturity that a country could be confident and secure enough to celebrate itself without pretending it shits gold (are you listening Russia?)
(Let's look at the fireworks!)