The words jumped out from the printed page in the display case at the Juno Beach Centre, the Canadian D-Day Museum in Courseilles sur mer, France. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, speaking to the Canadian Parliament, asking for a declaration of war against Nazi Germany.
In 1914 Canada did not issue a declaration of war against the Central Powers. Although an independent country, it was still a British colony. Matters as significant as a declaration of war were not within its purview. When the UK declared war, the Canadians were automatically in in.
Things had changed by 1939 (thanks to the 1931 Statute of Westminster), and a more sovereign Canada had the choice, in theory anyway, whether to follow Britain’s lead or not. The decision to go to war was a popular one, given the temper of the times. As reported by Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper on September 11, 1939, the day after Canada declared war, “We are in the war against German aggression for the protection of principles without which life would be worthless” and “Canada could not honorably or conscionably make any other choice.”
The Juno Beach Centre gives an overview of Canada at war (and before the war), a social history of the nation, not just a record of the battle fought at Juno Beach. King’s words were those I strongly suspect no Canadian Prime Minister (or politician at any national or provincial level) would have the courage to utter today, even if he or she believed them to be true. There are words that are no longer to be spoken at any level of public discourse because they make some people uncomfortable. King used many of them in his speech.
The Nazi doctrine of force is the very antithesis of what one finds in the Christian gospel.
If it prevails, there will be as I see it, an end to our Christian civilization. It will prevail, unless men are prepared to sacrifice their lives in opposing it.
That is why the present war is for the Allied forces a crusade.
The time has come, when, to save our Christian civilization we must be prepared to lay down our lives for its preservation.
The young men who are enlisting in our forces today, to serve on land, on the sea and in the air, are first and foremost, defenders of the faith.
Like others who have gone forth to battle in the past, they are placing their lives at the service of King and country.
That Parliament agreed with King is shown by the vote to declare war. It was a voice vote, not a recorded one. There were those, such as J.S. Woodsworth who did not think going to war was a good idea, but they did not insist on a recorded vote.
It is no longer fashionable to identify a civilization as Christian, or to see Christianity as a good thing. (I won’t get into the issue of whether you can have a Christian civilization, other than to say I doubt it. Christians are people with a relationship with God. It seems presumptuous to claim that an entire civilization can have that – though I will accept that a civilization can be founded on Christian principles.) We are reluctant in 2014 to label things as good or evil, to make those judgements, to take a stand – because taking such a stand might offend others. It’s just not politically correct.
By today’s standards King’s words would be considered politically incorrect. That doesn’t make them any less true.