The hardy perennial of Canadian anti-Americanism is back-in full flower
THOSE DAMN YANKEES
The hardy perennial of Canadian anti-Americanism is back-in full flower
Sunera Thobani is just the latest in a long line of America-bashers. The University of British Columbia professor told an Ottawa womens conference on Oct. 1 that while she sympathized with those who died on Sept. 11, “the path of U.S. foreign policy is soaked in blood” and the United States “is the most dangerous and most powerful global force unleashing horrific levels of violence.” They got what they deserved, Thobani implied, to great cheers from her audience of500. Professors, students, antiglobalization activists and media commentators have joined in the chorus. To them, the United States is being justly punished for its actions abroad.
Why does rabid anti-Americanism stir some Canadians so deeply? What is it about our neighbours that strikes such a chord, even when more than 5,400 innocent Americans died in the terrorist attacks?
The answers lie in an often bitter history. There was a time when the Americans posed a military threat—in 1775 they almost captured Quebec, and in the War of 1812 their armies came very close to gaining control over Upper and Lower Canada. The fear of further invasion—by Irish-American Fenians intent on striking Britain’s possessions wherever they could—helped drive the project for Confederation in 1867. The United Empire Loyalists, descendants of those who resisted the American Revolution, shaped the Canadian future. Fear of attack and an instinctive disdain for U.S. institutions became entwined with economic and cultural concerns. The huge American economy was a magnet pulling Canada and Canadian emigrants towards it; to keep jobs at home, politicians made repeated efforts to gain freer access to the U.S. market. American culture, vibrant and powerful, flooded across the border and, many feared, stifled Canadian creativity.
Canadians could effortlessly view their neighbours with a baleful gaze. They were rich and crass, but also immoral and violent. “We are free from many of the social cancers which are empoisoning the national life of our neighbours,” wrote the Canadian Methodist Magazine in 1880. “We have no polygamous Mormondom; no Ku Klux terrorism ... no cruel Indian massacres.” Wilfrid Laurier, prime minister at the turn of the century, professed the greatest admiration for the United States, but he went on to note Americas furious rate of murders and divorce, and thanked heaven “that we are living in a country where the young children of the land are taught Christian morals and Christian dogmas.”
The United States entered the 20th century’s two world wars long after Canada had already been engaged. “We won the wars,” the Americans claimed, not without justice, but the braggadocio did not sit well in Canada. In the years after 1945, as the Cold War developed with the Soviet Union, Canada found itself caught up by the American agenda in a global struggle between superpowers, dragged behind the American war machine.
Or so critics claimed. In fact, Canada was as threatened by global instability and communism as the United States, and Canadian governments willingly signed on to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the North American Air Defence Agreement, and spent billions to help defend Canada, North America and the free world.
But there were always strains in the Canadian-American alliance, and they became glaringly apparent during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. A U.S. envoy showed Prime Minister John Diefenbaker the evidence of Soviet missiles secretly deployed in Cuba, but the Chief refused to accept it. Diefenbaker hated President John F. Kennedy (“that callow young man”), and he quickly suggested that the United Nations should investigate, a response that infuriated the Americans. Already reneging on his government’s commitment to take nuclear weapons, Diefenbaker delayed putting Canada’s forces in NORAD on alert, and he and many in his cabinet let their anti-Americanism run wild.
Canada “would not be forced” to follow the Americans, Diefenbaker told his defence minister. In the greatest crisis of the
time, Canada was found wanting—except that the armed forces went on alert in defiance of the orders of their government.
The Vietnam War that ensnared the United States fed anti-Americanism, even though opinion polls showed that most Canadians supported presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Up to 100,000 U.S. draft dodgers and deserters sought refuge here, and universities held teach-ins to denounce Washington’s policy and the Canadian corporations getting rich on arms sales to the United States. Kennedy had been murdered, and then his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King. There was racial unrest everywhere and Nixon’s Watergate. America was an evil empire.
Historians J. L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer are the authors of For Better or for Worse: Canada and the United States to the 1990s.
Morally superior Canadian intellectuals piled on, hatching books with provocative titles like Silent Surrender and Close the 49th Parallel. Donald Creighton, the country’s leading historian, admitted that “I have an incredible dislike and hatred of the United States. I never met one [American] I liked.” His colleague W L. Morton wrote of “messianic” neighbours with an insidious and mediocre mass culture and actually believed that Canada was “so irradiated by the American presence that it sickens and threatens to dissolve in cancerous slime.”
Economic nationalism, targeting American branch plants and U.S. investment in Canada, had political appeal during the governments of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau regularly pulled tail feathers from the American eagle, and fearing that President Ronald Reagan might provoke a nuclear war, launched a global peace mission shordy before he left office in 1984. “A leftist high on pot,” sniffed a senior state department official.
Everything changed, or so it seemed, when Brian Mulroney came to power in 1984. His Conservative government sought close relations with Washington, won its free-trade election in 1988, and supported U.S. President George Bush enthusiastically in the Gulf War of 1991. Anti-Americanism seemed to all but disappear, as defunct as the New Democratic Party, especially after Jean Chretien’s Liberals continued Mulroney’s trade policies.
But today the hardy perennial of Canadian anti-Americanism is back, returning in full flower even as the Americans grieve their losses. At its best, anti-Americanism is a defence mechanism for Canadians who want to remain independent in an integrated North America. At its worst, it is bias and prejudice, fuelled by envy, hatred and a naïve view of the world.
Yet most Canadians live contentedly as a part of North America even as they struggle to remain distinctive. They appreciate the difference between irrational bile and legitimate differences on policy. They mourn the dead of Sept. 11 and, the polls demonstrate, support the United States in the war on terrorism. So they should, because it is Western values of pluralism, secularism and democracy that are under attack.
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