General Articles


Canada has no more chance of staying out of a possible U.S.-Russian war than North Dakota, declares this writer

A.R.M. LOWER December 15 1947
General Articles


Canada has no more chance of staying out of a possible U.S.-Russian war than North Dakota, declares this writer

A.R.M. LOWER December 15 1947


Canada has no more chance of staying out of a possible U.S.-Russian war than North Dakota, declares this writer


EACH TIME Mr. Vishinsky and Mr. Marshall indulge in a slanging match, someone somewhere exclaims that another war is at hand, and someone in Canada proclaims that in a third world war this country would be another Belgium, with the antagonists getting at each other across the North Pole. These assumptions need to be looked straight in the eye.

Are we really in for another world war?

History speaks pretty plainly in some matters. It tells us that great powers, driven by an inner necessity, keep on contending with each other until equilibrium is reached. Today, after generations of “play-downs,” it is easy to assume that we have got to the finals. All the gladiators, except two, either have had enough or are out of the arena. These two are much bigger than any of the others. Is it inevitable that they measure their strength against each other? Does the ring have to be cleared for the last grand heavyweight bout?

Upon the answer to this question the fate of all of us depends.

Does history give any other light? Well, surely it tells us that nothing is more certain than that the future is uncertain. It is the unexpected which always happens. Just 3Ü years ago “the Japs,” in the estimation of practically every Canadian, were heroes and “on our side.” Things change quickly in

"Pie-crust" theatre of a Canada might stay neutral

push-button war. but would she?

international politics. The giants who frigiden us so much today may prove to be only masses of cloud that look like giants.

More concretely, one condition now making for war may in the future make for peace. When Germany and Japan were conquered the huilers between Russia and I he West wore destroyed. Now that the hope of order in China is receding, we may be quite sure that cool heads in Washington are thinking of an alternative friendly base in the Orient. From a position well out on the conventional limb, the prediction is here hazarded that within a few years the United States will be balancing Russian power in the Pacific by the cautious support of a restored Japan.

In Europe Germany may recover, perhaps with the help of the United States and become the chastened ally of t he U.S. This, in fact, forms hazardous prediction number two. A Germany which was once again strong would again act as a buffer between East and West. The feelings of East and West toward each other would depend on the behavior of such a restored Germany: if it allied itself to either East or West it would embitter them still further, if insane again if would drive them together as before. A moderate degree of belligerent insanity on the part of Germany might be a fair guarantee of the equilibrium which helps to preserve peace.

So perhaps our conjectured war will not take place. At any rate, it is important for us not to get into the habit of regarding a third war as inevitable, for nothing is as likely to bring it: on as for masses of men to regard its occurrence as inevitable.

However, let’s for a moment assume that there will be a third world war, fought between Russia and the United States. We can blueprint a possible war and at the same time fervently hope that it won’t ever be necessary, but Canadians must look the unpleasant prospect full in the face.

Let’s examine this war in the light of politics and science. For politics, read experience of the past—• history; plus international bargaining-—diplomacy. For science, read geography plus technical invention and equipment.

We have a certain

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Canada—Next Belgium?

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amount of experience on the shape that a war between East and West would take. The West (Great Britain and France) fought the East in the Crimean War (1854-56). The two came within an ace of fighting again in 1876, and again in 1885, and again in 1904. What happened in each case? The West tried to find somewhere to get at the East—the Crimea, the Dardanelles, Central Asia, the Gulf of Pekin. Only in the first of these cases did war occur. The Crimean War was a strictly limited affair. The reason was plain: the West and the Blast were so far apart that a war between them was difficult to wage.

The reader will immediately say, “Oh, but things are different now: today, the airplane can go anywhere.” Still it is fair to guess that if a war between Russia and the United States were to break out in the near future it would not begin as an all-out affair, complete with atom bombs and “push buttons.” ; It would begin as a limited war for limited objectives. In B.urope these objectives would be those of tradition—Leep the Russians away from the Dardanelles and the Rhine. In Asia keep them away from the Persian Gulf, the Himalayan passes and the China Seas. It is to these ends that the weight of British and American diplomacy is constantly devoted and war is an extension of diplomacy.

Neither diplomacy nor war are primarily concerned with “ideologies.” In the great decisions, ideology, it would seem, has seldom been the foremost factor. Catholic France and Catholic Spain could never unite to crush Protestant Elizabethan England. Catholic B"ranee won the Thirty Year’s War for Protestant Germany against Catholic Germany. Republican America allied itself with absolutist France against parliamentary England. Capitalist America allied itself with communist Russia. The shape of the future might not be altered greatly if the Russians were all as capitalistic as Henry Förd. It is considerations of power rather than of “ideology,” which are the major causes of war.

The shape of the future always continues the shape of the past, modified by new technical accomplishments. So, in trying to divine the future, we have to give our best thought to science as it bears on war, that is, to technical development and to geography.

War Theatre

As long as Russia does not have the atomic bomb, and other such horrors, there will be no war. If she obtains them, well, let’s keep our fingers crossed. Assuming she does get these weapons, it might well be that if a war were to take place 10 or 15 years in the future it would become an air war waged over world distances, or still more dreadful, the push-button war of the pseudoscientific thrillers. It is this kind of war that might make Canada a modified Belgium, an air corridor along which the planes and missiles would pass.

Take a globe (if you want to understand air warfare an ordinary map won’t do) and draw a line on it from New York to Chicago—in round numbers, 800 miles. Around this line, a little north or a little south, lie nearly all the great American cities and centres of industry — Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Pittsburg, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and many others. Toronto is close to it, Montreal not far away.

Knock out that 800-mile strip and you knock out the United States. The

only other concentration is on the Pacific coast and it is both secondary and more scattered. The New YorkChicago area is the bombing target of the future.

Now, draw the two ends of the line to the capital presumed to be hostile, Moscow. The result is a “piece of pie,” with a “crust” about 800 miles wide and each side about 5,000 miles long. This “piece of pie” covers southern Canada from Sault Ste. Marie to Gaspé, includes the tip of Greenland, most of Iceland, a portion of central Norway and Sweden, a bit of B'inland, with its capital, Helsinki, and the 500-mile strip of Russia between Leningrad and Moscow. Spitzbergen Islands lie several hundred miles off to the north, the British Isles quite a long way to the south. Iceland is about halfway between Moscow and New York.

Here is the theatre of the third world war.

The North Pole would be remote from such a conflict. No one is going to waste air fleets in round-about routes: it will be main-line traffic. That means that not a square foot of the Canadian Arctic will come into such a war. Cape Farewell in Greenland is right on the main line, but Churchill is away off from it, toward the northwest.

For the lightning, sudden-death war the Pacific may almost be left out of consideration. The stroke would be at the heart, not the legs.

In order to get as short a flight distance as possible, each contestant would probably seek to advance his bases as far as he could along this “main-line track.” The Russians would seize Trondheim on the west coast of Norway. The Americans already have Greenland and they virtually have Iceland, which would become their main jumping-off point. Iceland, alas for the Icelanders, would probably become the focal point of an AmericanRussian air war. Behind it lie Cape B'arewell and Goose Bay, Labrador.

If Canada were in such a war, the first productive targets for the bomber that got by Iceland would be Sault Ste. Marie (for the canal), Toronto and Montreal. If Canada were neutral, (he bomber which got through would go on to the big American cities. Whelher Canada were in (he war or not, the shining targets would not be her cities but those to the south. If the Soo canals could be knocked out, the American steel industry, on which American warmaking power depends, would be paralyzed—unless countermeasures, such as canals inland from the St. Mary’s river, had been completed by that time. After the iron-ore route would come the major objectives, the great industrial centres of the United States. Western Canada would not get hurt.

All this would depend on whether American air fleets could prevent hostile bombers getting through. They might conceivably be so powerful as to form an almost perfect screen. Bombers that did get through might miss their marks.

Britain A Neutral?

Our Canadian position would be heavily influenced by two conditions: (a) Would Great Britain be in such a war? (b) Would Canada be in it? However obvious the answers to these questions seem at the moment, no one can be sure of what they might be in the future.

In the case of Great Britain we cannot be too sure that within 15 or 20 years the answer would still be “yes.” Just now it looks as if Great Britain were tied hand and foot to the United States. If the world continues to be split into two ideological camps,

and Great Britain continues to be included in the western, then she could not be neutral. If world wars reflect rivalries of power rather than of belief, then the situation may be different.

Groat. Britain, well to the south of the bomber track and no longer burdened with greatness of the first magnitude but still a powerful state, might not feel that a third world war was primarily her business. The historic effort of all but the mightiest powers has usually been to keep neutral in these wars of the giants. Under modern conditions, neutrality is frightfully difficult to maintain, but it makes a good deal of difference whether you are right in the track or not—compare Holland and Turkey in this last war.

Those who read lhe British journals know that there is already a strong body of anti-American sentiment in Great Britain and that there are a number of able people who advocate this very thing—neutrality in the face of current American-Kussian rivalry. Such people claim that England would gain more by acting as a makeweight than by associating herself with either side. The more extreme left wing may take this view out of sympathy with Russian Communism, but there are others in Britain who ask themselves “Just why should we get into a quarrel that seems mainly someone else’s? All that we would get out of it would be the privilege of acting as an American advanced base—an island where the Russians could dump their first loads of atom bombs without taking the trouble to fly across the Atlantic.”

If such an attitude should ever become dominant the nature of a third world war would be changed. Great Britain would not be its focus. As a neutral country, powerful enough to deter either comba hint from bringing her in against him. she would be left to one side, and the New York-ChicagoMoscow “piece of pie” would become the t heat re of war.

We in the western world would do well to give some attention to this— whether the British may not sooner or later decide to try for neutrality, as an alternative to destruction. It takes little imagination to appreciate what would happen to Great Britain'-if atomic bombs ever began to descend on her cities. The British an» political realists of an intensity not understood in Canada and they are not going t-o make their decision on sentimental grounds. Blood may be thicker than water hut it won't stop an atomic bomb. Consequently, when their present tight position is relieved a bit,

I lie Brit ish will begin tí» think over their American relations carefully.

Canada On a Spot

Nom' of them, Labor or Tory, will want, to exist merely to serve Uncle Sam's convenience, and every additional loan will make the sense of dependence rankle the more. The British are a proud people to whom [»laying second fiddle comes hard. When it bas come home to them that the shortest bomber ' route between Washington and Moscow lies some 800 miles north of London, it would not be surprising if they tried bard for neutrality. They might even serve the world more usefully than if their alignment were hard and fast with the Americans. As intermediaries they would get a little less Russian abuse and far more American, but if they pull out of their economic troubles abuse might be thought a very good swaj» for atomic bombs.

No one can predict what Great Britain would do, but if she were to try for neutrality we Canadians would certainly find ourselves in an awkward

fix. That brings up the second point at once: if there were a Russo-American war would Canada be in it?

If Great Britain were not neutral, there would be only one answer, whatever our national interests: we would be in. But British neutrality would make things difficult for us.

All our history and unconscious sentiments would impel us to follow the British lead. But practical circumstances would bend us to American actions. If we decided to stay neutral we would have to be prepared for many hard words and harder acts from the United States.

During the last war, the Swiss, in order to preserve their neutrality, had a larger proportion of their men under arms than did the Germans themselves! They were prepared to blow up the Alpine tunnels and devastate their country in the face of any invader—not merely the Germans. Would we be prepared to blow up the Welland canal and burn every farm house between Niagara and Montreal?

It probably would not be necessary, for we would soon be comfortably occupied by Ameriam armies.

What Could We Do?

Most people say that we would be right in the path anyway and would get what Belgium got. Just what would we get? An air war would not involve seizure of territory and Russia would not bomb our cities just for fun, for her aim would be to keep us neutral, thereby avoiding adding our power to that of her enemy. If a push-button war were to occur, it would be fought mainly in the zone indicated, between Iceland and Norway, and the Russian bomber who got through and did not fall into the Atlantic or the bush, would go on to New York. If he were intercepted he might drop his bombs short: neutral Toronto (can anyone in any war imagine a neutral Toronto?) or Montreal might get hit. If the pushbutton technique were far enough advanced for some kind of manless rocket war, the chances of intermediate neutral countries getting the shorts would be so much the greater. Even so, most of them would fall into khe wilderness of Ungava.

If the Americans got the worst of it and were forced out of Iceland and Greenland, hack to North America, then there would be more bombers and more shorts. It is impossible to imagine that by that time Canada would still be neutral and so we would share the fate of the United States, whatever it was.

If Great Britain remained neutral whatever course we Canadians followed would be one of anguish. All the traditional elements in our Englishspeaking society would automatically wish to do what Britain did, but at the same time they would find it extraordinarily difficult to restrain their fighting instincts, especially when Communist Russia was the enemy. French Canada, normally opposed to participation in European wars, might possibly reverse its attitude. But the Ix’ft wing everywhere would be for the British connection and neutrality. Communists would sing “God Save the King” in a loud voice.

When one takes a second glance at the above paragraphs, they seem to constitute a typical Canadian exposition of possibilities, and in this way— that they hinge everything on what other states do and not on our own interests. It is practically impossible to get Canadians to think ot foreign policy in terms of national interests, though these are its essence. Canadians in the mass seem to approach foreign affairs in a spirit of romantic

nnocence and the innocent nation in the international lion’s den is liable to find certain unpleasant things happening to it.

What would Canada’s national interests be in this hypothetical RussianAmerican war?

If we regard Communism as a great encroaching alien religion, shortly about to engulf us, then we shall stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States. If we regard the present Russian-American rivalry as one more among a long succession of power contests, then we may well pause and ask ourselves if it is worth while getting smashed up on somebody else’s quarrel, particularly in view of the two facts (a) that the great power concerned would get whatever there was to be got out of victory and (b) that in another such conflict there would be nothing to be got anyway, except ruin and death all round.

Canada, by taking a firm stand on her own interests and refusing to allow herself to be emotionally bowled over, could at the moment, along with other genuine neutrals, be a mediator of some consequence between Russia and the United States. Unfortunately she has lost this opportunity, for it is easy to see where our views, sympathies and alignments already lie. That is why possible British actions are no longer of much concern.

Canadians, whether they know it or not, have made their decision, and it is for going with the United States. Nine Canadians out of 10, or more, believe that we are helpless alone and that we have no other course than to fall in line with the Americans. And that is what, during the last two years, we have been doing.

There is*no suggestion in this country of a desire for an independent foreign policy, which means independence of action in foreign affairs. An independent foreign policy would mean standing on our own feet, one of the most painful positions in life and one which few Canadians are ready even to think of assuming

There’s No Debate

It means making up our own minds and there is nothing less likely to happen than that Canadians should make up their own minds when they can get. them made up by the British or t he Americans.

We Canadians are destined by our own psychology to tag along in the t racks of one of the senior partners, for we have not the will to make a path of our own. Consequently talk of a Canadian foreign policy just does not make sense.

If, therefore, it be asked whether Canada is a satellite of the United States there can be only one answer. Of course she is. Canadians being what, they are, Canada has to be a

satellite of someone, and it is by long odds the easiest thing to be a satellite of the United States.

Whether, in the long run, in this quarrel of the giants, it is best to be a satellite would seem debatable, and if there were a Canadian national spirit of any depth it would be debated. But it is not debated and virtually no one thinks in terms of neutrality, so we may as well forget about it. If there is another war we are for it, whatever the consequences.

In the meantime our position seems a shade less than glorious. Our representatives at Washington and Lake Success do a good deal of shadowboxing, but in reality we have no more freedom of choice than has the state of North Dakota. For example, only the very innocent can fail to perceive the meaning of the joint CanadianAmerican construction of weather stations in the Arctic. Passing into the American system of defense, we are becoming much like other states in the Union.

Satellite? Of course. Occupied power? Hardly.

We have to do what Washington decides, it is true, but decisions are not forced upon us—not openly. If, as one Canadian editor put it, “American troops belong here,” it is probably because the line between Americans and Canadians has worn very thin. It may be we could ask no better fate than membership in the strongest firm in the world—and the most congenial. If we become Americans there will at least be no more tariffs and we shall get. the benefits of a continental economy.

It is hard, though, for those of us who dreamed a dream. Those who, with malice toward none, envisioned a new nation arising with its own way of life, its own cultural accomplishments and its own contribut ions lo I he world’s civilizat ion. Those who wished to be neither Americans nor British, but. just, themselves just Canadians.

Is this dream begun in 1867 so soon to be over and done with? Is our little span of independent, life ending? Is the old provincialism, which cursed us down to yesterday, to return again? If we abandon our right of political and military decision we soon abandon everything—we become just another American section, just a provincial region behind the great American metropolitan centres, just a hinterland. It. seems too bad after the little glimpse we have just had of independent national life.

“Well,” said a Nova Scotia member in a recent parliamentary debate, “don’t be silly: of course we couldn’t defend ourselves; of course we have to rely on the Americans.”

He didn’t realize that he might just as well have said, “Of course we have to become Americans.”

Does anyone ob ject? if