As expected, Canada's National Battlefields Commission cravenly surrendered the field yesterday, announcing that it was cancelling plans to re-enact the Battle of the Plains of Abraham this summer, because it couldn't guarantee public safety.
The commission's decision is the greater of two evils. Pressing ahead with the re-enactment might have risked some disruption from the lunatic fringe of the separatist movement, but caving into a couple small groups' threats and intimidation will only embolden the likes of the Jeunes Patriotes du Québec and Impératif français.
Even those who think the re-enactment was a silly way to celebrate the 250th anniversary of that brief but iconic clash between the French and British empires have reason to worry about the commission's ignominious retreat. Yielding to intimidation produces not peace but more intimidation.
In most countries, re-enacting old battles is no big deal. Even those who can trace their roots to the losing side seem to find them enormously entertaining. Men from Georgia and Alabama, for example, routinely dress themselves in grey uniforms, arm themselves with muskets, and spend a weekend restaging the Battle of Gettysburg among several other Confederate defeats. And that conflict was both more recent and more bitter than the clash in Quebec City.
Talking about bitter, Scots even restage the Battle of Culloden, a brutal little fight that made the skirmish on the Plains of Abraham 13 years later look like a tea party. At Culloden English redcoats wandered the field after the fighting, murdering wounded Highlanders. The battle crushed the last traces of Scots resistance and resulted in the proscribing of both the tartan and the Gaelic language. Scots could argue, with some justice, that Canada's French settlers got off comparatively lightly after the Plains of Abraham.
It seems, however, to take a certain amount of maturity and self-confidence to celebrate the defeats as well as the victories of the past.
The sad part of this fiasco is that we have no doubt that most Quebecers have as much of both those virtues as do Alabamans and Highland Scots. And many Quebecers - schoolchildren in particular - would probably have found the re-enactment both entertaining and instructive. Talk about bringing dry, dusty history to life.
Unfortunately, however, small minds with big mouths and unhealthy sensitivities carried the day this time, without so much as firing a shot.