Skip to comments.Why go to war? Because we have to
Posted on 02/20/2003 2:18:35 PM PST by knighthawk
In June, 1939, Stephen Leacock wrote about Canada and the coming world war in The Atlantic magazine. "If you were to ask any Canadian," he said, " 'Do you have to go to war if England does?' he'd answer at once, 'Oh, no.' If you then said, 'Would you go to war if England does?' he'd answer, 'Oh, yes.' And if you asked, 'Why?' he would say, reflectively, 'Well, you see, we'd have to.' " That was precisely the case and Leacock's reasoning has been used ever since by historians of Canada and the Second World War to explain the country's situation in 1939.
What is striking is that if we substitute "the United States" for Britain in his formulation, we have a perfect description of our current situation. In 1939, Canada had to go to war because of its values and its sentiments. Today we have to go to war because of our values and our economic interests -- and, if I may say, our economic interests are and should be paramount given the extent to which we are dependent on the U.S. market.
But it's no easy sell. As Josef Joffe, the editor of Die Zeit, wrote recently about Europe, "Power corrupts but so does weakness. And absolute weakness corrupts absolutely. We are now living through the most critical watershed of the post-war period, with enormous moral and strategic issues at stake, and the only answer many Europeans offer is to constrain and contain American power. So by default they end up on the side of Saddam, in an intellectually corrupt position." That, in my view, precisely sums up the Canadian position today. Unlike Europe, however, Canada shares a continent with the United States and we will pay heavily if we do not support our neighbour.
Canada clearly does not want to accept its global and continental responsibilities. Instead, we want only to be a moralizing do-gooder, the world's moral superpower. We fear terrorism and global instability, but we appear to fear the United States more, an attitude springing from our endemic and unworthy anti-Americanism.
Certainly, the United States after 9/11 is in an angry, vengeful mood, ready to go it alone if necessary (but looking for reliable allies), ready to undertake pre-emptive strikes, ready to talk of ensuring that no rival superpower should emerge anywhere, and ready to spend US$400-billion a year on defence. The Americans, moreover, have reorganized their homeland defences, creating a federal Department of Homeland Security last fall with 170,000 employees and a US$40-billion budget; establishing a new Northern Command charged with the defence of North America; and assigning national missile defence (which they are proceeding with full speed ahead) to their Strategic Command. Security is Issue No. 1 in Washington. Let us make no mistake: The United States is serious about defending itself. All great powers traditionally have done this; this superpower will do it more forcefully and with more money
And Canada? We continue to sleepwalk into the future. The shock of 9/11 passed quickly here. Most Canadians grieved with the Americans for a few weeks, then moved on. As a result, we largely missed or misunderstood the transforming impact of 9/11 on the United States. Our response to Washington seems to be "get over it," and the gulf between Canadian and U.S. attitudes has expanded in the past year and a half. There has been no defence buildup here; no effort to refurbish the ruined temple that used to be the Department of Foreign Affairs and to play a serious role in Washington and abroad; no effort to draw closer to the United States. Indeed, I believe anti-Americanism is now at a 15-year high.
The United States understands Canadian attitudes and does not like them at all. The Americans have sent repeated messages to us on military and trade areas, and the only problem is that Canada is not getting the message.
The message is very simple: Get serious. The West is under attack. North America is under assault and the United States is determined to prevent further 9/11s. In the circumstances, the U.S. elite is furious at the way Canadians talk about America. Furious at Canada's utter incomprehension of the present situation. Angry at our lax immigration and refugee policies and our sloppy border and port security. And the U.S. is especially furious because it believes we aren't serious about doing our share to militarily protect Canada, North America and the values we profess.
The United States offered Canada the opportunity to enter an expanded North American Aerospace Defence Command designed to include land and naval forces, but the government said no, fearing this might be too risky to our sovereignty -- as if we hadn't worked out the ways of protecting our sovereignty in NORAD over 45 years. All that was established was a small planning cell in Colorado Springs. This was a tragic mistake.
Why? Because the United States has a legitimate and pressing interest in its own defence -- which means it must be concerned about all of North America. Because close co-operation in these circumstances is the best way, indeed the only way, for us to preserve Canadian sovereignty. This is not new, but somehow Ottawa has forgotten the past lessons. If we want to be heard on the defence of North America -- or a war with Iraq -- we must be prepared to contribute. Very simply, Canada must be at the table with the United States, assets in hand. Today we have neither a place nor assets. As a result, Canada has less clout now with the Americans (and in multilateral fora) than ever in our post-1945 history.
Thus decisions that directly concern all of North America will now be made subject to unilateral U.S. interests. And let us be clear: We were asked, we said no, we abandoned our sovereign rights. And the main aspect of sovereignty we have sacrificed is that of being able to participate in the defence of our homeland. Can a nation be truly sovereign if it cannot defend itself at all? If it completely turns its defence over to a neighbour? I doubt it.
The Ogdensburg Agreement of 1940, the Cold War, NORAD, and free trade permanently changed the game and tied us directly and permanently to the U.S. for good or ill. The default defence of our sovereignty today has been to deny the threat or to resort to anti-Americanism. That anti-Americanism is stupid and unworthy does not matter; it is the response of choice of the media, intellectuals and government. It neglects the simple truths that the United States is a benign neighbour from whom we gain much. That the American values of democracy, pluralism and secularism are closer to ours than those of any other nation. And that a sound Canadian identity cannot be built on spite toward a larger, richer neighbour.
There are iron laws we must accept: We are part of North America; our economic prosperity depends on the United States; and North America will be defended by the United States with or without our consent. We must live with these facts -- and the only question is how an adult nation deals with them.
Historian J.L. Granatstein is the author of many books on Canada's foreign policy, defence and military history. He is Chair of the Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century.
Pssssst! Here's a secret - no you won't. Canada is not France, and principled opposition will be regretted but respected...as usual. Could do with fewer insults, personally, but there it is...
Pretty well sums it up.
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