(Prior to the Tom DeLay-Inspired Outage Dispute (a.k.a. the Tremulous DIODE), Canada and the U.S. were at odds over other charges. As a committed member of the United Nations Organization, Canada opposed the unilateral decision taken by the U.S. and England to invade Iraq. How have the terms of their closed circuit relationship been affected by Canada’s internationalist stance?)
The information age has made the U.S.A. every country’s neighbor. With foreign military bases gripping the planet like ants on a sugar cube, the U.S. President is a ruler whose decision-making now literally has implications for most sovereign peoples.
At an earlier time, when communication was not computed in gigas and traveling was confluent with spatial distance, only a handful of countries could lay claim to literally being a neighbor of the U.S. Canada was one of them. In the words of Canada’s former Prime Minister, the late Pierre Trudeau, this privilege was “in some ways like sleeping with an elephant.”
SHARED ORIGINS, SOVEREIGN PROGRESSION
The modern origins of both Canada and the U.S. go back to shared geopolitical events wrought by England in the 18th century. Ever since the flight north of the “Loyalists” during the American Revolution, Canada has! seen few periods, bar Vietnam, when large groups of Americans headed north to settle within its wintry landscapes. NAFTA seemed to permanently shift the tide southward. Throughout the nineties, thousands of qualified professionals and technicians drifted into the American palisade of a stronger currency with higher salaries and lower taxes.
Today the American flag flies high on house fronts and car hoods from Kansas City to Buffalo. American airport designs have stifled silent reading spots by force feeding confused travelers with CNN’s message of terror on scattered small screens or a few choice massive ones. The corporate media’s stake in the propaganda is to prove within a photographic cliche that Americans stand united behind their president and government. And when the forest of flags doesn’t bring the words of Samuel Johnson on patriotism to mind, it does end up begging for a question: so then why are evermore Americans cont! emplating a move north?
Such was the tenor struck by the Associate Press inquiry, “Discontent Americans Consider Canada” (July 19, 2003). It spotlighted a handful of American families openly discussing what it is about Canadian life that has drawn them to leave ol’ Dixie. As a couple from Minnesota put it, “the United States is growing too conservative and (we) believe Canada offers a more inclusive, less selfish society.”
The article is of a rare breed, objectively stressing the distinctive features between our two countries. “For decades, even while nurturing close ties with the United States, Canadians have often chosen a different path _ establishing universal health care, maintaining ties with Cuba, imposing tough gun control laws.” Unbeknownst to most Americans is also the fact that Canada topped the UN! ‘s Human Development ‘Best Country to Live In’ Index throughout the nineties.
Many more, by contrast, are familiar with the idyllic description of a gun and violence free land given by filmmaker Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine. To further the differences, the Canadian government has also undermined another American way of life. Its decision to decriminalize marijuana is a blow to Bush the elder’s wasteful “War on Drugs”, whose only result has been to increase the street value of cocaine and spill blood for trade in a way not seen since Britain waged its Opium Wars on China.
In the meantime, the War on Drugs has morphed entire tropical economies into becoming narcotics producers for the northern well-to-do and, especially, their kids. None of which means that access to afrodeeziaks and spiritual substances should be banned, but merely that under the current terms of criminalizing drugs, the U.S. consumer society has turned entire countries into outlaw economies. Government policy and bureaucracy have thereby filled their partners’ wallets fat, the very blood sucking gang running the banks in tax havens. For concomitant to the war on drugs has been the rise ! of the tax havens’ global dominance enable by globalization’s foremost act of breaking down trade borders and barriers: liberalizing the free flow of capital. As such, repressive government policies directly assist in the money laundering schemes without which no drug war economy would be able to function in the first place.
But back to Canada, with a strong conclusive timber: Canadian initiatives to legalize same-sex marriages have led many Americans, such as a gay executive from New York completing the aforementioned Associated Press survey, to single out the symbol Canada represents for the future. “Canada has an opportunity to define itself as a leader. In some ways, it’s now closer to American ideals than America is.”
THE AVERAGE AMERICAN HAS SPOKEN
This message is far from being a generalized one in the US, let alone one that is widely accepted. Yet even the most contrarian of Canadians has been watchful over the way the US retracts on its stance against war, for peace and with the UN. After all, there has been a sense of betrayal in the U.S. felt and expressed toward countries refusing to support the invasion.
Soon after the assault moved into its occupation phase, Secretary Colin Powell left a word of re-assurance on Canada’s doorstep. While the U.S. Administration felt let down by its eternal neighbor, business relations would not be destabilized, he maintained. With an estimated US$ 2 billion flowing in cross border trade with 200 million border crossings a year over what was once ‘the longest unprotected border in the world’, the Canadian business community breathed a common sigh of relief.
Still, reports indicate that the State Department is at odds not only with the Pentagon, but also with the National Security Advisor. Sure enough, on the weekend of May 30 at the G7 Evian summit, Condoleeza Rice, reputed to be one of Bush’s closest advisors, twisted this relief into repulsion when confirming that the US will indeed hold a grudge against Canada.
On the sentimental tone familiar to Spielberg films, Ms. Rice reminisced on how “there was disappointment that a friend like Canada was unable to support the United States in what [they] considered to be an extremely important issue for [their] security.” Meanwhile back at Defense, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s Straussian words began spinning the heads even of the convinced. Iraq’s weap! ons of mass destruction were focused on as the most persuasive reason to invade Iraq, he conceded in an interview to Vanity Fair. No other issue could so firmly rally Americans to the inevitable, that is, that US troops had to leave Saudi Arabia to avert further terrorist attacks. As for those countries who had doubted the direct link to the War on Terror, tough luck. If truth does not partake of the security afforded by universal concepts, the US would act on its own particular ones.
Rice’s speech was replete with the rant of a good friend who has been let down and lets you know it. Once she was through, her visor shifted to Canada’s knees. After complimenting the support of Europe’s Mussolinian heir, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, she stuttered a series of non sequiturs to explain how Canada would only gain economically from the US deficit: “because it’s an economy that is extremely connected to the American economy.” Contesters like Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who had earlier vaunted Canada’s budget surplus and slammed the deficit run by the Bush Administration as a destabilizing factor for the world economy, would best smarten up. Trade retaliations had yet to be elaborated. So it is no mere understatement, then, to suggest that the ties between our two countries have not been as terse in decades.
Advisor Rice’s emotional blackmail was not out of character with the recent shift in function of the US embassy in Canada. One of the major instructions for an American ambassador used to be to pressure the Canadian government to increase its military-industrial spending. Breaking with precedence, the current ambassador, Paul Cerrutti, chose to intervene directly into Canada’s affairs. In an address to the Economic Club of Toronto on March 23, he almost single-handedly triggered the country’s ire by pleading that the US would do anything to save Canada in the event the latter were attacked or invaded. As one astute writer, Silver Donald Cameron, rebutted: “Yours is the only country that has ever invaded ours, and it would do so again in a wink if it thought its interests were seriously threatened.”
Neither Cerrutti nor former State department spokesman, Ari Fleischer, understands that Canada has not unilaterally threatened another country with warfare since Confederation, save for the internal affair of its brutal crushing of the Metis nation. In the American view, this has little bearing on the force required to secure Middle East oil, help client states suppress popular revolts or the carte blanche given to ! Israel in its campaign to terrorize the Palestinians into abandoning their ancestral lands.
Late in 2002, as the American war drum beat ever louder, Canadian media reported insults flying across the border. Francoise Ducros, one of Chretien’s top aides, referred to the American President as “a moron.” When Canada refused to endorse Bush’s plan, the latter was said to be “furious”. In reference to the ideological mud being stirred on American television, a Canadian Member of Parliament labeled Americans as “idiots”. To which Pentagon strongman Richard Perle, beset by conflict of inter! est and illegal arms dealing allegations, did not miss the opportunity to taint Prime Minister Chretien as a “lame duck”.
Notwithstanding the hoopla, Canada’s one-upmanship fared much better than in the days when its leaders openly criticized the American attacks of South and North Vietnam and the bombing of Cambodia. At the outset of Vietnam, i! t had landed then-Prime Minister Lester Pearson with a hillbilly’s clutch. In 1965 the Prime Minister was invited by President Lyndon Johnson to Camp David where the latter reportedly lectured him furiously for half an hour for having spoken out against the mounting war. Johnson then grabbed Pearson by the lapel in the presence of his aids, yelling in his face: “you’ve pissed on my rug”.
CULTURAL MAKE OVER
The notion of ethnic minorities may be an American one. By contrast, multiculturalism is singularly Canadian. Canada contains 0.5% of the world’s population and encompasses 6.7% of its surface land area, but within its frontiers lie the world’s populations in a nutshell. The upshot of multiculturalism is that no single voice characterizes the nation, either about itself, let alone its foreign policy.
This multiplicity of voices also underscores the differences in how each country has reacted to the information explosion made available through cable TV. Canada is a country composed of three founding cultures: the Amerindian, French and English. Given that ethnic split, Canadians’ sense of history has always remained close to French philosopher Paul Valery’s when writing that “history is the most dangerous product contrived by the human brain. It clarifies virtually nothing because there is nothing that cannot be proved by it.” To avoid internal hemorrhaging, a concerted public effort was required to offer three often contradictory but complete versions of Canadian history.
Yet despite large anti-war protests in Toronto and Montreal, the Canadian media was unduly cautious about airing voices of dissent regarding the US, especially of Canada’s military partnership with it. Corporate censors in Canada have been tightening up free political opinion and criticism barely a tad less than they have south of the border. As for harboring co-existing alternate versions of history, Canadians can thank their public English and French radio/television networks. These are the same networks that the Bushes’s man in Ottawa, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, did his best to dismantle through unprecedented cuts to its operating budget in the 1980s.
As a result, and much to the displeasure of what neoconservative pundits proclaim about the “pure market” strengths of the private media, Canadians are not about to swallow a single view of history. Countering the so-called “ethics” of American mainstream journalism, that is, the neutralizing tactic of simultaneously exposing pros and cons to major issues while only reinforcing the status quo in the end, Canadians are given these histories in their full version. They then co-exist as separate, conflicting truths, circulating freely amongst minds that argue, just as truth does when initiating its global path. Canada’s split histories simply satisfy a point recently made by Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg: “Historical writing should aspire to be democratic, by which I mea! n that it should be possible to check our statements from without, and that the reader be a party not only to the conclusions arrived at but also to the process that led to them.”
The dominant mentality in Washington D.C., voiced earlier this month by Wolfowitz on PBS’s Charlie Rose, is that only a limited few know the truth, and that only they should know the truth. As the attempt to hold Bush to his word and seek his impeachment founders against the two Republican dominated houses of Congress, whoever set the words “historical revisionism” on the president’s palette should have stressed Ginzburg’s own words that “We should, in principle, never have embarked upon a debate about truth in history in the first place. Instead, we should have had a debate on proof. On what basis can one argue, as an historian? What does it mean to say that something is historically proven? At what point can we say that an historical claim is refuted?”
The Bush administration has committed the greatest historical crime, which is to live out the source of guilt borne from a previous generation. That guilt is not one whose retribution is being sought for as against what one has suffered_except in the most twisted of delusions. The guilt is instead relative to actions committed by oneself, and excessively so: the financing of a brutal dictator, the destruction of his country, and the abandoning of the ethnic populations, Shiite and Kurd, who strove to match the conqueror’s call for revolt. As Norman Mailer recently put it, “So the Iraqi Shiites may look upon the graves that we congratulate ourselves for having liberated as sepulchral voices calling out from their tombs – asking us to take a share of the blame.” Here’s history calling again to legitimate, but not to justify.
Careful instruction given by a public administration regarding how history is to be read harbors the power to avail a population from blindly following the dictates of patriotism. Transposed to overlapping ‘multicultural’ histories, hardly any satisfaction is provided to those in Canada deriding its lack of national identity. Yet regarding nationhood, the fact is that, comparably, the historical American dream has turned into an American delirium regarding its place in history. If Americans were prevented from such reflection through incessant corporate media erosion of opposition politics and critical minds, Canadians nearly tore themselves apart in the weeks leading up to the Iraq invasion by defending what’s right ag! ainst what’s might.
This is not to deny that different voices in Canada have expressed conflicting opinions on the assault and occupation. On the political level, there are as many groups within Canada enamored of the U.S. as there are others remaining cautious or suspicious of its moves. After all, with or without NAFTA many Canadian professionals have become successful south of the border. An array of Canadi! an artists has embraced the American way of life. What’s more, a Canadian journalist turned presidential scriptwriter even boasts of coining the “axis of evil” catch phrase.
So there have always been those dreaming of nothing else than becoming American. Were they halted in that fancy, their obsession would then be to make their country as similar to the U.S. as possible. Given that Canada consists primarily of an immigrant population which was not given the luxury of entering into a homogeneously composed land, it is hardly surprising that many landed-immigrants and first generation Canadians looked longingly to the U.S. as a model of national unity. No one ever said that they themselves were ready to be slit along America’s ethnic divides. Then again, the Nation does tend to mend all ills.
The decision of Canada’s federal government to oppose the invasion even sparked protests in favor of the US in the provinces of Alberta and Ontario. Alberta is home to the rightwing Canadian Alliance party, a recently formed federal organization with undeniable regionalist leanings, and is now the official opposition to Chretien’s cabinet. On Monday, ! March 31, The Globe and Mail reported protesting Albertans pleading that the archetypical reason for supporting the US was reparation for always “wanting the shade from the tree [without being] willing to do anything to keep that tree strong.”
It would be unfair, though, to let such division rest merely on the doorsteps of immigrants. For decades, North America’s Indigenous peoples have been split between the nations and the Nation almost to the point of dissolving within the fault. Earlier this year, Canadian philosopher, Taiaiake Alfred, a member of the Mohawk nation and head of the Canadian Center for Indigenous Studies at University of Victoria, staged the tension in “Never Forget: The Real War on Terrorism Began Five Hundred Years Ago”.
A former U.S. Marine, Alfred’s piece speaks a language common to natives who chose the armed forces as a means of acquiring a technical education. He ferrets out the fissures of affiliation appearing as quickly as when his alter-ego “Jimmie” declaims “I do not consider the elders of long ago, the ones that signed the treaties with the Europeans as naive dupes. I see them as intelligent forerunners of modern thought.”
Who could not claim Iraqi leaders to be confronted with the pressure of similar treaty toting under today’s occupation and the threat of ever-increasing violence? Taiaiake’s rejoinder stresses that the commercial benefits Indigenous North Americans have reaped from joining the American military lie in sharp contrast to the destruction wrought on the ancestral nations by the same measures of violent subjugation and land grabbing. “When an indigenous person accepts an identity as a citizen of Canada or the United States, he forfeits his birthright and any access to treaties and rights [signed and granted by the British and the French]. To claim otherwise is trying to have it both ways, against all logic.”
Every Canadian, to say nothing of Americans, has all to learn from mixing national identities without complete identification with the Nation. The future well-being of our Nations may very well depend on such distancing. Canada’s current Prime Minister has run three terms of government on economic lines not dissimilar to the U.S., leading to unprecedented resemblance of political economies. And yet, Chretien’s mentor was Pierre Trudeau, a man of conviction and the shrewdest of statesmen. For his final term in office, Chretien had policies up his sleeve wh! ich were bound for posterity. They have coincided with a vast period of corruption and power abuse in the U.S. when the black of hole of security has come to excuse any infringement upon democracy and social justice. Chretien’s craft ultimately involves preparing to leave a country behind as healthy in its accounts as in its minds.
NORMAN MADARASZ is a Canadian philosopher and regular contributor to CounterPunch. From Rio de Janeiro, he writes on international relations and the arts. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.