Dalhousie & the Great War: “Don’t Let Patriotism Blind Your Vision”

Nova Scotia Highlanders Recruiting Office, Wolfville1

In my last post, I wrote about the wave of patriotism that swept over the Dalhousie University campus upon Canada’s entry into The Great War of Nations in 1914. As I noted in that post, support for the war was not universal on campus. Today I’m going to  share some representative excerpts of a month-long debate in the Dalhousie Gazette sparked by an opinion piece written by Robert Jamieson Leslie, Class of 1915.

Don’t Let Patriotism Blind Your Vision, by Robert Jamieson Leslie, Class of ’15

Robert Jamieson Leslie, Class of 19152

It is decided unpopular just at present to look upon the war from any other but a distinctly British viewpoint. We read the loss of Germans with delight; we herald the loss of Allies with anguish. A German merchantman is sunk on the high seas by a British cruiser. What a brilliant example of the efficiency of our navy! Three of our ships are torpedoes by the Germans. What a disgraceful act of underhanded meanness!

. . . It must not be forgotten, however, unless we allow patriotism to scale our eyes, that there is just as vital a prejudice on the thither side of the [Battle of the] Aisne. Each and all of the belligerent nations are, from their standpoint, right, and it would be fatal to our reputation for intelligence to assume that the god of battles has chosen us.

. . . Some people imagine that they are fighting for that spark, the neutrality of Belgium. Some gladly throng the enlistment offices feeling deeply their obligation to France. Others of us fight in the fear that if we don’t come out, we’ll be wiped out. The most of us can find a good moral ground to load a rifle and kill a man. The rest of us are driven forward by that phantom Patriotism.3

STUDENT SCORES PRO-GERMAN WRITER: And upholds the righteousness of Britain’s cause, by Andrew Joseph MacDonnell, Law ’16

. . . That such a puppet [of pro-German sentiments], then should dare to stand up in our midst and question the honor and righteousness of His Majesty’s cause in this unfortunate carnage as is at present taking place along the French, Russian and Austrian borders and filling the whole world with horror and dismay, is a matter of treachery, ruthlessness, and arrogance as is worthy only of the Kaiser himself.

. . . Further, the writer has the audacity to go on, “We are English. Years ago we found opportunity to lay our fingers on the best part of the world’s surface. We got it by blood. We got it by theft. Enough! We have it . . . ” Conquests, when Britain acquired her territories, were all of a sanguinary nature. We could not obtain these territories without the shedding of blood no matter how just our cause, but none were acquired by theft. This is another absolute falsehood. The charge is traitorous and is an insult to every loyal Canadian and indeed unworthy of a student of this University.4


. . . “Let not patriotism blind our vision” but let us look up to the statesmen of England as men who knowing far more about the situation than we do, after untiring efforts and with unlimited patience endeavored to maintain peace and failed. Many of us assuming the role of critics would do well to remember the old adage:

“I do not know,” admits the wise.
“I know,” the braggart fool replies.
Midway the modern highway lies,
“I do not know but criticize.”5

Enter, the Apathetic Man.

Frank D. Graham, BA, 1913, LLB, 19156


What fools these mortals be! Can we deny it? Look how we struggle and strive and kill. Look at the fruit of our war. Thousands of dripping bloody messes that once were men made in the image of God. In the images of God and we blot out each other’s lives. For what? In fine, merely for possessions. As if it were the key to Heaven we fight and tear and murder for this or that piece of ground and it becomes a burden, a care, a problem on him who finally acquires it. Of what consequence is it whether we struggle to retain or struggle to obtain? Dogs that we are, we growl over our bones, considering not at all that we are already full and fat and favored.

. . . We even fail to see what a matter of extreme indifference it is whether the World a century hence is called Britain or Germany or Utopia, provided its people are enjoying their full measure of happiness.7


Can the truth be told in respect to the present crisis–the whole truth, the comprehensive truth, the pro-German truth, the pro-Ally truth?

In Mr. Graham’s admirable effort “The Apathetic Man” and in a article written by myself headed “Don’t let Patriotism blind your vision” there was an attempt made to look at certain phases of the war question in a manner which has brought showers of abuse. Against both these articles bitter and voluminous criticism has been directed. This has not only been of a private nature. The public press [The Halifax Herald] has seen fit to publish Mr. Graham’s article and to cover it with editorial mud. The Herald’s comment was dastardly and shames the journalistic profession.

. . . But there are those from whose eyes the scales have fallen, those who are unpatriotic enough to doubt, who feel that the potentate is cynical, that to more than Kitchener [British military leader] a man is but a unit. This type of mind cannot be expected to be patriotic, to enthuse and to wave a flag. This type of mind cannot think think the way it should think. It can’t help but be “a little tired of it all.”

Should those who think in this way hold their peace? No! Is one man’s opinion as good another’? Yes! Is free speech an anomaly? No! That is the way these questions would have been answered four months ago. But the world has been turned upside down since then and with it the answers to those questions. We should only think one way; we should only talk one way.8

In my next post, I’ll share a poem written to express the experience of women, such as my grandmother Velma, who had loved ones in the armed forces fighting overseas.

1Nova Scotia Highlanders Recruiting Office, Wolfville, image, Reference no.: CC. 412 Randall House, Wolfville Historical Society, An Act of Remembrance, Nova Scotia Archives.

2Image of Robert Jamieson Leslie: Photograph of Dalhousie Foot Ball Team – 1914, PC1, Box 22, Folder 20, Gauvin, Gentzel & Company, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

3Robert Jamieson Leslie, “Don’t Let Patriotism Blind Your Vision,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII, no. 3 (October 22, 1914): 7.

4Andrew Joseph MacDonnell, “Student Scores Pro-German Writer: And Upholds the Righteousness of Britain’s Cause,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII no. 4 (November 14, 1914): 7.

5“Let Not Our Patriotism Suffer from the Blindness or Hallucinations of Others,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII no. 3 (November 4, 1914): 4.

6Photograph of Frank D. Graham, 1913, PC1, Box 45, Folder 7, Item 19, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

7Frank D. Graham, “The Apathetic Man: The Other Side of the War. Why an Officers’ Training Corps is an Anomaly,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII no. 3 (November 4, 1914): 3-4.

8Robert Jamieson Leslie, “To Think or Not to Think: That Is the Question,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII no. 4 (November 14, 1914): 3.

6 thoughts on “Dalhousie & the Great War: “Don’t Let Patriotism Blind Your Vision”

  1. Thanks for the post. I suspect this is a reflection of the debate and opinions expressed at the provincial and national levels as well. I wonder what we have learned in the intervening 100 years?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Laura. I was a little surprised to see the anti-war sentiment, but upon reflection, I can see that my education emphasized the contrast between the patriotic fervor when the war began and the horrors of trench warfare and the disillusionment that resulted. I’m really appreciating the new perspectives I’m gaining on history through the easy access to digitised primary sources we now have.


  2. Hooray for Robert Jamieson Leslie. A voice in the wilderness. It’s interesting to wonder whether the war could have been ended earlier if there had been more thoughtful, balanced voices like his and fewer arrogant, bullying ones like Andrew Joseph MacDonnell’s. Of course, we have the benefit of a century of hindsight. But this post demonstrates that ignorance is an extremely poor justification for war.

    Liked by 1 person

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