Editorial

Our north: a necessary possession; our nationalism: a necessary evil

September 13 1958
Editorial

Our north: a necessary possession; our nationalism: a necessary evil

September 13 1958

Our north: a necessary possession; our nationalism: a necessary evil

Editorial

MOST CANADIANS will be interested in the personal assurance of Premier John Diefenbaker that Canadian sovereignty has been restored in the Canadian north, including the Dewline sites occupied and operated by the United States.

At the same time it must be a matter of general dismay that as recently as the middle of last month the Canadian minister of northern affairs was under the impression that neither he nor any other Canadian could visit parts of the Canadian north without permission from Washington. Alvin Hamilton’s hasty and honorable correction of his Commons statement to that effect ("I goofed”) does very little to alter the salient condition that led him to make it in the first place. A large strip of the roof of Canada is little more than a banana republic. So long as its military installations are owned and controlled by the United States, Canada will exercise its political and legal rights there mainly on sufferance, and even high officials of our government won’t be exactly sure where those rights begin and end. With U. S. submarines cruising under the polar ice-cap and signs abundant of coming disputes over ownership of the whole Arctic archipelago, there is good reason to believe that this kind of confusion will grow greater before it grows less.

What is the best long-term policy for this country in the light of the facts as they are? Should we admit the Canadian north is too big and forbidding for Canada to develop or defend and step aside for a richer, stronger nation? Or should we try to enforce the same broad policy that has been traditional in the southern parts of Canada: namely, encourage settlement and investment from outside in every reasonable way, but keep military and political control over our own territory in our own hands?

If we should return to the latter course we can be sure of one unpleasant consequence. We will be accused of nationalism of the narrowest sort — of giving new strength and encouragement to a movement that is giving the world at large some of its largest headaches. Without question it will be pointed out to us that we are being parochial and shortsighted to think in terms of old-fashioned political boundaries and shapes of earth and water. Without question those who point this out will be right. Without question nationalism is deplorable.

But — and this is a simple fact often forgotten — nationalism is inevitable in the kind of society we’re actually living in. Not only inevitable but, for small nations, almost mandatory.

The ideal world, we think most of the present world’s inhabitants might at least pretend to agree, would be one world. No borders, no barriers, no submerged peoples, no elites, no master states, no satellites. But until man reaches the high moral state required to make one world workable, the less generous, less sensible ethic of nationalism will continue as a major force in world affairs. It will remain, paradoxically, the sceptre of the strong and the shield of the weak. Those who lecture most sternly and persuasively on its evils will remain, paradoxically, those who have risen to power through its most successful application. It is the Russias that lecture the Yugoslavias on nationalism, never the other way around; it is the Frances that lecture the Tunisias, the Englands that lecture the Egypts, the U.S.A.s (only occasionally and, we admit, most temperately) that lecture the Canadas.

For our personal part, we don’t mind being lectured to about our nationalism now and then. We recognize it as a most regrettable condition which, in better and less regrettable times, we may be able to correct. But for the time being we’re through apologizing for it. We hope Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Diefenbaker will continue in their similar attitude and if, in so doing, they can really get us back our north we don’t think they'll need apologizing for either.