Honours For Canada


Salute to a brave and modest nation
Kevin Myers
National Post

Friday, April 26, 2002

As our country honours the last of its four dead soldiers, we reprint a remarkable tribute to Canada's record of
quiet valour in wartime that appeared in the Telegraph, one of Britain's largest circulation newspapers.

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LONDON-Until the deaths last week of four Canadian soldiers accidentally killed by a U.S. warplane in Afghanistan, probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops were deployed in the region. And as always, Canada will now bury its dead, just as the rest of the world as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does.

It seems that Canada's  historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of  its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored.  Canada  is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again. That is the price Canada pays for sharing the North American continent with the United States, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts. For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: It seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10% of Canada's entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during
the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle.

Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, its unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular memory as somehow or other the work of the "British." The Second World War provided a
re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack.  More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone. Canada finished the war with the third-largest navy and the fourth-largest air force in the world.  The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the
previous time. Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign in which the United States had clearly not participated-a touching scrupulousness which, of course, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity.

So it is a general rule that actors and filmmakers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality-unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer, British. It is as if, in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.  Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves-and are unheard by anyone else-that 1% of the world's population has provided 10% of the world's peacekeeping forces. Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peacekeepers on Earth- in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peacekeeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.

Yet the only foreign engagement that has entered the popular non-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia, in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace-a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit. So who today in the United States knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan?

Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun.

It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost.  This week, four more grieving Canadian families knew that cost all too tragically well.


Canada, Empire of the Good?

Monday, April 29, 2002 - Globe & Mail Print Edition, Page A11

We have been in thrall to a phrase for more than a decade. In George Bush the First's period in the White House, as the Soviet empire crumbled and the bipolar world that had bounded his political space slid away, he put into circulation a phrase that has hung about ever since. He talked of "a New World Order" beginning to appear. It has been beginning to appear ever since.

At the beginning of the 20th century, much of the world seemed gloriously, securely, imperial. France, Belgium, Portugal and above all others, Great Britain, filled vast spaces on the maps with their imperial colours. Those countries without empires, such as Germany and later Italy, saw their lack as a legitimate spur to war. The liberal politician Joseph Chamberlain made a speech in his native Birmingham in 1904 to the effect that "the day of small nations has long passed away. The day of empires has come."

Three-and-a-half decades later, his son, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, referred to Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland -- among the most important preludes to the Second World War -- as "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing."

That war ended this arrogant blend of imperial isolationism. After the antifascist coalition between democracy and communism fell apart, the paradigm that gripped our postwar world was the Cold War. Its four decades saw billions poured into the construction of weapons that could wipe out the world (they are with us still); it permitted the great totalitarianism that was the Soviet Union to discipline its peoples and its fraternal allies; and it legitimated the overthrow of governments and the approval of dictatorships on both sides of the divide.

If we might sometimes be nostalgic for its stability, we cannot forget the mixture of frozen hopes and aborted development that it demanded.

It fell apart at the end of the 1980s, prompting George Bush the elder, in a burst of genuine idealism, to see a New World Order in which human rights would take pride of place over the dismal realpolitik that had been his own necessary stock-in-trade.

Since then, we have seen only glimpses of what the phrase might mean: No order has appeared. The end of the crude dichotomy that forced the superpowers to categorize everyone as friend or foe has been succeeded by the revelation that the world is full of states and regions that belong to different epochs.

The digitalized and connected world in which we North American and European citizens live is a space where we think democracy and the market are securely in place and where war with other rich and democratic states is unthinkable outside of the sports grounds. Yet we live cheek by jowl with states still likely to fall through the economic floor, like Argentina, and those that barely exist as states, such as Rwanda or Tajikistan.

Any order we create is now stuck with operating in one world, and the rich and competent nations are stuck with finding institutions for it.

One of these institutions came into formal being earlier this month: the International Criminal Court, whose creation has now been ratified by more than the 60 countries required to vote it into existence. This court will try crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity -- horrors with which the Second World War made us familiar, and which have continued since the Cold War in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, northern Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo -- not to mention such pitiless insurgencies as those in Chechnya and Sri Lanka.

We cannot turn to Neville Chamberlain for our response: It is politically impossible to say now that we "know nothing," because the media insist we can know a great deal. And so our leaders' consciences are unquiet. They know they have done too little to stop the killing.

Earlier this month a Dutch government report blamed its own politicians, diplomats and military for failing to prevent the slaughter of 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995, when the town was under the "protection" of Dutch peacekeepers. Wim Kok, the Dutch Prime Minister then and now, reportedly read the report with tears in his eyes. He called the episode "the blackest chapter in my political career."

This is a long way from Mr. Chamberlain. We are being prodded along a road of responsibility for the miseries of people about whom we still know near to nothing, but for whom our leaders and elites feel responsible.

Among those doing the prodding, Canada has been to the fore. Canadians fret about the indistinct and fuzzy image Canada has in the world. But if it cannot match the superpowerdom of its southern neighbour or the faded splendours of the old European powers, it has goodness as its international coin.

It was Canadian officials and politicians who crafted the international land-mines treaty. It has been the Canadian military that has been disproportionately represented among the ranks of peacekeepers in the past few decades. And it was Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and then-foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy who sponsored a recently published report to the UN -- A Responsibility to Protect -- that is the most far-reaching of all the international efforts to define when a state loses its right to the protection of sovereignty.

It does so, says the report, when the state reneges on its responsibility to protect its citizens, or worse, when it makes war on some of them. The report says that there has been "a remarkable, even historic, change" in the past decade or two: "No one is prepared to defend the claim that states can do what they wish to their own people and hide behind the principle of sovereignty in doing so."

Canadians do not see themselves as revolutionaries, but this is the stuff of a revolution in world affairs. It gives diplomatic force to the biblical injunction that we are our brothers' keepers. Canada's experience of active multiculturalism within its borders and its promotion of reconciliation and active, engaged peacekeeping abroad makes it distinctive among the rich nations. This is becoming its trademark. When it hosts, this summer, the Group of Eight countries whose first focus will be on how to aid Africa, it will confirm its position as the leader of the legions of the good.

But goodness has a price. Canada has done more than most to promote what an adviser to U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair recently called "postmodern imperialism." He refers to a deliberate strategy on the part of the rich and powerful to bring peace where there is war, to build institutions where there are lawless non-states, and to promote development where there is the rule of the Mafia or clan boss.

But these great, humanitarian aims would commit the officials and the soldiers of the advanced countries to intervention without end in countries whose miseries and problems seem to be without end. If we lucky people are to take upon ourselves the "responsibility to protect," then we are in for a long, expensive, sometimes bloody haul.

This is what active goodness brings. This is what making ideals into reality will do. It should be done. But is Canada -- are any of us -- ready to see a 21st-century kind of imperialism?
John Lloyd, a former editor of The New Statesman, is a London-based journalist.

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