Opinion Letters

History not about moral absolutes: LETTERS

The Big Three meeting held in Yalta in 1945 was where Russia agreed to enter the Pacific War. Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Josef Stalin are shown with some of their advisers at the conference. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

The Big Three meeting held in Yalta in 1945 was where Russia agreed to enter the Pacific War. Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Josef Stalin are shown with some of their advisers at the conference. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

In New Bond Street, in London, a pair of dead men sit on a bench, two ghosts enameled in bronze, forever frozen in an intimate pose of mutual admiration and love.

Roosevelt flashes his winningest smile as Churchill leans in attentively, taking momentary leave of a cigar.

The statue is called The Allies. It commemorates the fellowship of two great leaders who set aside political differences (Roosevelt was a social democrat, while Churchill was a relic of 19th-century imperialism) in order to defeat Hitler.

But even the casual student of history knows there was a third man in the band.

Where’s Joseph Stalin? Was he not one of The Allies, after all?

Indeed, he was arguably the most important of the three. The United States lost 400,000 soldiers in the war; the Soviet Union lost at least 11 million, along with anywhere from seven to 20 million civilians. The suffering and sacrifice of the Soviet people was so extensive that it’s literally beyond reckoning.

We in the West tend to see the Second World War through the lens of Dunkirk and D-Day, as we relate the legendary deeds of our forebears to new generations.

But most of the killing, and dying, and vanquishing was done under the auspices of the man who is conspicuously absent from that lovely statue.

The relationship Roosevelt and Churchill cultivated with Stalin is uncomfortable in retrospect. It was uncomfortable at the time. Stalin was as bad as (or worse than) Hitler, and the proper Allies knew that.

They also knew that if the Soviet Union collapsed or capitulated, Hitler would stand unchallenged in Europe, free to unleash his horrors on the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

Throughout the war, and in the aftermath, the Allies whitewashed and ignored Stalin’s atrocities – and his earlier complicity with Hitler in the annexation of Poland. (Hitler didn’t invade Poland; Hitler and Stalin struck a deal to divide it between them.)

And now the sculptors whitewash the whitewashing, ignoring the fact that the victories of the greatest generation were all contingent upon the co-operation of the most evil man who ever lived.

Here’s the point: The study of history isn’t an exercise in moral absolutes. History is about what is significant, not what is right. Any attempt to impose 21st-century values on figures of the past is a fool’s errand, because those values simply did not exist at the time.

Does that mean we must commemorate everything and everyone ever? Of course not. Most of the Confederate statues in the U.S. were built in the early 1900s, in the Jim Crow era, as a symbol of white supremacy.

And what is the legacy of the Confederacy in any event? They were losers, traitors who levied war against their own country, and extreme racists even by the standards of their own time. Their contributions to history aren’t just unimportant, they’re nonexistent.

John A. Macdonald is important. He was a deeply flawed man, corrupt, racist and divisive. And he was the person most responsible for creating the Dominion of Canada.

Go ahead, criticize him; he left you plenty of material. But don’t try to expunge him from the collective memory.

Informed people don’t have the luxury of imagining that they come by their many blessings honestly; the torch was passed to us from blood-soaked (and scotch-soaked) hands.

Without Stalin, the Allies would have lost the war.

Robbie Woods

Toronto

Businesses the backbone

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hasty proposal to gut tax legislation to supposedly correct tax unfairness by closing ‘loopholes’ abused by incorporated small businesses is more than a broken promise.

Small businesses, according to Statistics Canada, create 97% of jobs. Most don’t enjoy the gold-plated pension plans that you and other civil servants have at taxpayer expense.

I built a successful financial planning business from scratch over the last two decades in Barrie, having risked all of my capital constantly over those years.

I provided local, high-paying jobs and made a point of using local businesses as my suppliers. While 90% of small businesses fail in their first 10 years, we are survivors.

Yet, despite these odds, and like the majority of small-business owners, our family income resembles the Canadian average. We have no pension or health benefits as we approach 65, but continue to pay personal, corporate, real-estate and income taxes at a higher level than most of our employed or retired cohorts.

This government is either incredibly misinformed, venal or cynical to rush this substantial legislation through Parliament. We are not the wealthy parasites that the Liberal government seems to portray in its pandering to ignorant populist voters.

We, the business owners who are the backbone of a thriving Canadian economy, will remember come election time.

Alan Atkins

Barrie

Food guidelines

(Re: ‘New food guide could hurt farmers, health’ in the Aug. 22 edition of the Examiner)

Jim Merrriam’s column, suggesting that the people who author Health Canada’s food guides are “ideologues,” “brainiacs” and “holier-than-thou bureaucrats” was dismissive, misleading and fear-mongering.

Even though Health Canada is encouraging people to eat less (but not eliminate) red meat and foods high in saturated fat, Merriam, as well as Canada’s dairy and beef sectors, are overreacting and mounting a doomsday scenario for those sectors of agriculture.

Smart farmers know the recommendations have already been implemented by many health-conscious consumers and therefore have already taken steps to reposition their farm businesses to meet changing consumer preferences. To these farmers, Health Canada is simply catching up to a well-established marketplace reality and therefore they do not share Merriam’s alarmist, “shoot the messenger” viewpoint, nor should they.

Stephen Thompson

Clinton, Ont.

 



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