In The Vimy Trap: Or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift interrogate the mythology surrounding the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge, and how that myth has been manipulated to inform our understanding of Canada and its nationhood. In this excerpt, the authors offer competing and conflicting ways in which war is commemorated in Canada and around the world.
Vimy is a trap because, as it has come to be mythologized by militarists, historians, and nationalists, it tempts us to think that chivalric war somehow survived the coming of the epoch of mechanized warfare. There is a childishness to Vimyism. In its essence, it wants us to return to a day of glorious warfare—as signalled by the Citizenship Guide’s visual homage to the charges of the mounted cavalry, which were, in one soldier’s words, “exceedingly gallant, but futile” in an age of heavy artillery.[i] So many official and popular representations of war today avoid something that the returned soldiers of the Great War kept insisting upon: that under conditions of modernity, war had changed—changed quite completely.
Yet Vimyism persists. In November 2015, days after terrorists murdered civilians in Paris (while others had just, with far less attention paid, mur …