More Earthquake Thoughts

By Bryan • blog, canada, china, environment, personal, politics • 19 May 2008

I wrote little regarding the recent increase in Chinese nationalism and noticeable rise in anti-western sentiments last month, but to paraphrase my feelings, I continue to be very suspicious and concerned regarding some components of this nationalism, the fenqing (angry youth) and what some bloggers have cleverly described as the Red Guard 2.0 (a play on their ability to effectively wield the internet to pursue a nationalist agenda) and the direction this movement appears to be taking China.

Ever since I read Michael Ignatieff’s 1997 bookWarrior’s Honour: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience (which I randomly picked out of the $2 bin at Coles a few years ago) I became more interested in the negative effects of nationalism and grew increasingly skeptical and distrustful of the whole theory and phenomenon, regardless of country or culture, and more acutely aware of the dangers of such strong feelings. Living for four years in easily one of the most fiercely nationalistic countries in the 21st century hasn’t done much to mitigate my fears regarding this line of thinking.

There was a lot of nationalism last month. A lot. A lot of very angry, very aggressive, very irrational and at times, unnerving and frightening voices spilling out against the world via web forums, media outlets, blogs, discussion boards and bbs. Much was defended and justified as being patriotic, but didn’t fit Sydney J. Harris concise differential of nationalism and patriotism and instead felt more like a line from My Country.

My country right or wrong – Midnight Oil

Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is. – Sydney J. Harris

What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility … a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. – Adlai Stevenson

I was not seeing patriotism in March and April. I was seeing blame, anger, frustration and hate and mistrust wrapped in a facade of ‘honour’ and ‘loyalty’. I was seeing a country take a step backwards circa 1960’s.

What I’m seeing now is completely different. I am seeing patriotism now. I am seeing what Adlai Stevenson described as national responsibility. Nationalism is often reactionary displays, attacks against disloyalty and those who ‘damage’ image, country and flag, patriotism is often displays of action, responsibility and improvement.

Like I have written previously, I cannot go anywhere without encountering some form of fund-raising, donation collection, benefit concert/show/performance. I would appear as if everyone is in motion, everyone is participating, everyone is concerned and everyone is helping. Walking to work today I came across a massive display of posters and photos documenting efforts in Sichuan in the entrance to my building. I would say that I’m most impressed the pro-active (just don’t ask me 3 times in five minutes) response by the youth. Angry youth have morphed into helping youth. In less than a week almost a billion dollars has been donated. The collective feeling at attitude of responsibility is impressive.

I can’t help but ponder the question…how well would Canada respond to a large national tragedy brought down by an either a natural or human induced disaster? I’m will admit, I’m slightly jealous of the ability of the Chinese to rally, surround and address a problem in a seemingly united and fashion.

Unfortunately, I have less confidence in Canada.

I’ve listed the ten largest (fatalities) disasters in Canadian history.

Half of the disasters are attributed to natural phenomenon, four are shipwrecks and one the cause of war-time activities.

What should be of notice is that the most recent of these disasters occurred in 1918. None of these disasters is likely to exist within the memory of any living Canadian. Recent disasters within my memory include the 1987 Edmonton tornado (27 fatalities) and the 1998 Ice Storm (28 fatalities). Flooding continues to be problem in some areas (Manitoba’s Red River, for example) but damage remains predominantly financial as is damage precipitated by the 2003 forest fires in British Columbia.

It is highly possible (with many saying it is a ‘when’ question, not ‘if’) of Canada experiencing an earthquake of similar magnitude on the West Coast. Could Canada emulate a similar country-wide response to a tragedy of epic proportions? Could the country unite in a similar fashion? Or would the shock be too great? Would it be similar to the American (another highly nationalistic and patriotic state) response to Hurricane Katrina? Does Canada even know how to respond to a national disaster? Do Canadians even remember? It has been said that the Sichuan quake was the first disaster experienced by the new Chinese generation, but there are still many, many who remember Tangshan in 1976. Does Canada remember their national tragedies? Have we ever really had one?

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3 Responses

  1. Pingback: More Earthquake Thoughts | Politics in America

  2. angela

    We all know about the one in Tangshan. and the press has compared the two for differences and improvements.
    I’m also very much impressed by the patriotism and national responsibility I’ve seen these days.
    Thus I do believe the recovery is a problem of “when” but not “if”, I just hope this “when” will happen faster.
    One more thing, I think you need a little faith in your own country and government. Your people are better taught how to behave in case of emergencies, you will know what to do to help.
    Like the US, and also us, your people will be united as one.
    Take it easy.

  3. I know people are aware of Tangshan, but I was pointing that argument to the angle that your generation hasn’t experienced a disaster atmosphere. I know a lot about WW2, but I never experienced it and the lack of experience can have a profound impact on a new generation.

    I am confident in Canada’s ability to deal with disasters from a financial and resource side but Canada is not a united country and it would possibly be a challenge to find something that the country has been united on since WW2. There isn’t a Canadian identity and people generally have little in common with one another, a feeling shared especially by new immigrants. The country is divided on most political issues and this includes both foreign and domestic policies. For example, there was a HUGE opposition to the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 – is there any opposition in China to Beijing 2008? I would say not.

    But I don’t think I would trade this situation for an increase in nationalism or patriotism. Don’t misunderstand me…I’m very, very, very skeptical of nationalism – radical nationalistic thinking can have terrible consquences. I’m just curious has to how Canada (as a culture…?) would handle a major disaster with high death rates. Everyone is different in Canada…there is really isn’t a ‘binding’ glue that holds the country together.

    I don’t even know if I want that glue. Ideally, I believe in cosmopolitan values…that pride, love, compassion, truth, honesty and trust don’t stop at national or cultural borders. Glue merely prevents that from happening. But that is a perfect world that doesn’t exist.

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