Cancel culture targets those who built Canada

Canadian soldiers march by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace during WWII.

Mark Milke, Toronto Sun, May 26, 2024

It’s popular these days to cancel historical figures when their views do not exactly mimic our own.

For those who practice such deliberate historic amnesia, streets, bridges, and entire neighbourhoods are renamed, or statues removed, to satisfy an Orwellian need to block out what is assumed to be a blot on the human species — men and women who came before us and built Canada.

But go down that road, and one can inevitably cancel any figure in history who might have accomplished anything useful despite having error-prone views on some other subject.

Ponder a few examples.

One famous Indian activist once advised German Jews, after Kristallnacht, to practice non-violence toward the German SS. He also wrote Adolf Hitler in 1941 to inform him that he, the writer, did not “believe that you are the monster described by your opponents.”

That was Mahatma Gandhi, who was egregiously naive about Hitler and the Nazis, but was right to demand independence for India from the British.

In the early 19th century, progressives assumed that eugenics — the assumption that race was a real “thing” and mattered to outcomes — was scientific. They were wrong. Eugenics was pseudoscientific nonsense.

But many progressives who held that view, the Famous Five suffragists among them, were also active in the early feminist movement to gain the vote and equal rights for women. Early progressives were dead wrong about eugenics, but right to argue women deserved the same rights as men.

Or think about this: Unless one is a deity, all of us in 2024 have beliefs and opinions that future generations will think of as misguided or worse. We should cut some slack to those who came before us and endured mass poverty, a Great Depression, and wars and still managed to carve out a steadily improving Canada, the one we all benefit from today.  

To wit, as we approach the 80th anniversary of D-Day, we should object to skipping tough history and cancelling those in it in favour of preening, moral self-congratulations.

Or more specifically, at the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary, we will soon commemorate — on June 6 — the sacrifices of the 15,000 Canadian soldiers who were part of the invasion of Normandy in which 960 were killed or wounded, and additionally, the thousands of Canadian Navy and Air Force personnel who served with distinction that terrible day.

We will also commemorate the more than 43,000 Canadians who perished in the Second World War to free Europe from the tyranny of Adolf Hitler, and large swaths of Asia from imperial Japan.

Every Canadian should remember those war dead and also the lone 1930s voice who warned of Hitler and the Nazis — Winston Churchill. It was due to their efforts — along with tens of millions of other allies and leaders — that at least part of our planet could breathe freer post-1945.

That cohort includes thousands of Indigenous Canadians who served in both world wars with the hope that Canada would one day treat them more justly than had been the case to date. It includes Canadians of every ethnicity, religion, and colour who came to Canada in successive immigration waves and did so in the proper belief Canada was where they and their children could succeed.

Let’s now turn briefly to Winston Churchill, who first visited Calgary and the West in 1929, and whom we at the Churchill Society of Calgary also remember. Churchill was fascinated by southern Alberta and its great potential, including its ranching country and the Turner Valley oil fields. He was mesmerized by Banff, Lake Louise and Emerald Lake, where he painted the vistas that he thought trumped even Switzerland in their beauty.

Churchill, too, is an example of why –unless one is Stalin, Mao, or Hitler — we should commemorate people for their achievements and not damn them to memory perdition for their flaws, which all of us possess.

Churchill was an imperialist but also a politician who early on advocated for the betterment of the working poor; an opponent of Gandhi but a Brit who wanted the Untouchables and Muslims protected from the majority population; and a stalwart defender of basic fairness as when he refused an American military request that white American segregationist practices be enforced in British pubs against Black military personnel.

As we approach the D-Day anniversary, the sacrifices of which were key to pushing back and ending Nazi Germany and thus defeating one of the evilest tyrannies in history, let’s not give into flippant and unserious voices. They think they have reached peak moral virtue and presume to judge and casually cancel the efforts of previous generations to build a freer, more flourishing world.

Instead, we owe the Second World War generation a tremendous debt of gratitude. Lest we forget.

Mark Milke is the president of the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy and the volunteer president of the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary.

Like our work? Think more Canadians should see the facts? Please consider making a donation to the Aristotle Foundation.