AS OTHERS SEE US
November 8, 1984
The President Catherine R. Charlton, M.A. Chairman
Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen: As this is the closest meeting to Remembrance Day I have asked Brigadier General Reginald Lewis, a Past President of the Empire Club, to make some remarks in commemoration of November eleventh.
BGen. Reginald Lewis
Four years ago in the cool spring sunshine of a May morning, I stood on a hill north of Groesbeek in Holland with the neat geometry of the Dutch countryside falling in each direction. I was standing in the Groesbeek Military Cemetery and although one has heard how beautifully the wartime cemeteries are kept, the first-time visitor is not prepared for the simple quiet dignity of the place, nor the meticulous care lavished on the smallest detail. The scene at Groesbeek was dominated by a tall Cross of Sacrifice standing like a sentinel over the neat orderly row of headstones which mark the resting places of the young dead of thirty-five years before. Here 2,336 young Canadians lie buried, and here 108 of their comrades with no known graves are memorialized. I was standing in the company of several hundred veterans who had returned to Holland at the invitation of the Dutch people in order to commemorate with them the thirty-fifth anniversary of the liberation of that country, and who on this morning were paying tribute to their former comrades.
Many of these same veterans had stood in the same place on a cold winter's February morning of 1945 when Groesbeek was on the start line of Operation "Veritable" which launched First Canadian Army into Germany, and the bloody battles of the Reichwald Forest lying less than two miles to the east. And now they were there to remember. Those who like them had left their families, the farms, the towns and the great cities with all the anticipation, vigour and confidence of youth - but unlike them, were to die in a foreign land in service of King and country. And now they lie buried beneath the headstones recording brightly in the spring sun the regimental number, name, unit, date, and most poignant of all, age - nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two - and here and there the old man of thirtyfive.
As I watched the veterans threading their way through the headstones, searching out familiar names, I was struck by the bond that existed even yet between the aging veterans and those for whom time had stopped thirty-five years previously, and who will remain forever young. That bond was heightened now by the physical nearness of one to the other. It was an emotional experience for me, one that I will not soon forget. I want to share the moment with you on this occasion of remembrance when some recall the memories of fallen comrades, while others conjecture on the sacrifice of those who lie in the likes of Groesbeek.
Ladies and gentlemen, will you rise and join me in a moment of silent remembrance of those who paid the supreme price.
Thank you General Lewis. Service to Canada is appropriately the theme for today and who better to exemplify the best in public service than our guest speaker, Mr. Charles Ritchie. To some extent it could be said truthfully that the world owes something to every diarist, to any person who will take the trouble to preserve while it is still garden-fresh an incident, an event or the passing scene in the amber of the written word. This can be true even of trivia, as the briefest dip into the diary of Samuel Pepys will reveal. But the greatest debt is owed the diarist who is keenly observant, articulate, witty and who has lived his life backstage so to speak in the world drama, helping to shape what is happening on stage. Such a combination is exceedingly rare but one such person is our speaker today.
That Charles Ritchie does have these requisites is patently established in each of the four interlocking volumes he has published; The Siren Years (1974), An Appetite for Life (1977), Diplomatic Passport (1981), and the final book of the quartet, Storm Signals (1983). With never-flagging interest these books cover his youth in Halifax and Oxford, his years as a young diplomat serving Canada in London, his steady climb in the diplomatic service in Paris, Ottawa and Bonn, to the final volume which tells of his last two postings as Canadian Ambassador to Washington and as High Commissioner in London.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Charles Ritchie.
Madam Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: I was rather over-powered when I looked at the roster of speakers who have addressed this historic influential club, and I thought "what is an old retired diplomat doing among these former Prime Ministers and active Prime Ministers and Profound Thinkers," but I find that I am enjoying myself so much due to the warm welcome that I have had from your distinguished President that I am beginning to relax. I think that the fine hand of my old friend the Rt. Hon. Roland Michener had something to do with my being here, which of course sets me a very high standard.
I was asked whether I had a text of my speech. I have not. At the moment I am rather off texts and I will tell you why. During the last electoral contest a friend of mine was working as a speech-writer for one of the protagonists, and he had a row with his political master, when the politician was making a speech (I will not say where or for what party). He started to read the speech and it began "there is no easy solution to the twin problems of inflation and unemployment, but I have a few positive thoughts to put before you today." He turned the page and on it the script-writer had scrawled, "you're on your own now Mac". So, I feel I really am on my own.
I have called the subject of what I am going to say to you today "As Others See Us" because it really did seem to me that, having spent a great part of my working life abroad, I must have some idea of how we Canadians look to other people. I have tried to picture the Canadian delegation as arriving at a conference, beginning to participate - and to see what are the qualities people would find in them. I think they would say that the Canadian delegation had a lot of goodwill, were pretty hardheaded when it came to bargaining on practical things, were friendly - perhaps rather touchy, and not welcoming anything that hints of condescension.
Canadians are seen as having a real gift which we have shown in NATO, in the United Nations and in the Commonwealth, for constructive compromise. By compromise I do not mean lying down supinely and being walked over, but the kind of conciliatory approach to practical problems which is so necessary in the international world of today and which is a mirror image of what has so far kept this country together. I do not know whether there would be another comment, perhaps less complimentary. We express ourselves sometimes in a very preachy, moralistic tone. We do not notice it ourselves, but it is as if we said "if only everybody else was as sensible as we are, there wouldn't be these problems in the world," and this sometimes is noticeable as smugness. I am talking of course about official Canada, but Canada abroad is all of us when we go anywhere and it is business, it is the arts, it is professional groups who are meeting all around the world with their opposite numbers so there is an enormous network of relationships. On the artistic side Maureen Forrester is a better ambassador than most.
... When I was a boy ... we were all for the Empire ...
It is a curious thing that we have in the past defined ourselves as a nation by what we were not. When I was a boy growing up in Nova Scotia we were all for the Empire, we were all Imperialists. Now it is a dirty word, but that was what we believed in. Then when as a young man I served under Mackenzie King, we were founding a foreign policy of our own and the principal thing was to show that we were not British, we were something different. And under his aegis we evolved a foreign service of our own and a foreign policy. By the way, I must interrupt myself for a moment. I had a visit from Mackenzie King quite recently. I was reading aloud from his diaries to my wife, as we were sitting up in bed and I made some rather impertinent comment and suddenly the whole bed slid from under us and I knew who had done it. There was no question in my mind that he was up there "listening to me". Poor Mackenzie King, he was a really remarkable man but it was those damn diaries that did him in. Speaking as a diarist myself the message is "burn before dying". Perhaps I will.
... We then entered the fraternal embrace of the United States ...
Well, we differentiated ourselves from the British. We then entered the fraternal embrace of the United States. Now at the present moment, we are on the brink we think, of one of those delightful honeymoon episodes in our up-and-down relationship with the United States. Long may it last! It will not last forever but you can have recurrent honeymoons. When I was in Washington we had first of all the collision between Mr. Diefenbaker and President Kennedy. On top of that there was a honeymoon between Mike Pearson and Kennedy. That lasted for a time and was followed by the outburst of outrage on the part of President Johnson with Mr. Pearson for suggesting, very mildly suggesting, a temporary interruption of the bombing of North Vietnam.
There were bound to be these ups-and-downs, but I think that in the present atmosphere there are more opportunities than there are points of dispute. After all, you see, it is not as if we were married to the United States but we are shacked up with them. If you have to be shacked up with somebody I do not think you could be shacked up with a better partner because in all these rows, diplomatic rows about which I have been talking, one thing that was noticeable was that there was no intermission in the personal friendship of Americans. It never spilled over into any bitterness between the two peoples. Or even between their representatives. One thing I would suggest to all ministers and prime ministers visiting Washington is that when they arrive in the capital they do not give a speech aiming at their own constituency at home, because Americans are not particularly interested in it.
... But how much do others see us at all? ...
But how much do others see us at all? It is as hard to get a really, informed, lively interesting story about Canada into the press in New York or London or Paris as it is to get a camel through the eye of a needle. It is a sort of invisibility syndrome and yet exchanges at all levels go on between us and other countries. Still we do not grab the headlines; whether we have to have more revolutions or not I do not know. I do not think we should worry too much about it. I know in Nova Scotia we used to think that though we may have been invisible to other people, we did not feel invisible. We thought it was the other people who were unenlightened. We were taught that it was an educational m.~ssion for Nova Scotians (I hope there are a few in this audience) to go to outer regions like Upper Canada and try to spread a little general civilizing influences. I do not know how well the job has been achieved. Canadians are sometimes seen as respectable people but a bit on the stodgy side, dull. Well, I think this is nonsense. Temperamentally, Canadians are rather', highly emotional, excitable and often acting on impulse;', if all that is bottled up it is still there and so far from ,~ being a particularly nice or respectable race, we are nothing of the kind. A city like Toronto is so varied and so alive and so vibrant that nobody could possibly describe it as stodgy! I come from Ottawa. I have been asked several times, "You live there! You live there! Are you in the government?" I said, "No, no I'm not in the government". "Oh, everyone to his own taste - but if you want to live in the sticks!" The name Ottawa has not resounded in the ears of the population of Canada with a very melodious note, but perhaps it will get more melodious.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have had a lot of worry in the past; some people have worried a great deal about the Canadian Identity. Now I personally have never spent a sleepless night about it but it has been a problem for many people. And I think it is about time we stopped going on about the Canadian Identity. It is a sort of adolescent fantasy that has hung on too long. We are not a young country at all. In the United Nations we are elderly or middle-aged compared to three-quarters of the nations there. This idea of our future - the future - what about the present? If we do not do whatever we are going to do now, we will never do it because we are quite grown up now.
Seen from the outside any group of Canadians, no matter what their racial origin, would seem more like each other than any of the countries or races from which they sprang. I do not really think we need to be sloganized or lectured as to what it is to be Canadians. I think we all have a pretty good idea of what it feels like, and I think we have no intention of relinquishing the privilege.
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by the Rt. Hon. Roland Michener, former Governor General of Canada and a Past President of the Club.