Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Salute to a Brave and Modest Nation

Until the deaths of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan , probably
almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian
troops are deployed in the region. And as always Canada will 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

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, it's
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, Alex Trebek, Art Linkletter
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....

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements
of it's 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 on-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 past year more grieving Canadian
families knew that cost all too tragically well.

The above was e-mailed to me over the weekend and while I tried to confirm it as an actual newspaper article (as I was led to believe), I couldn't find any existance of it's authenticity. If the author wishes it removed or have it recognized as their body of work, just email me. It is a nice piece of work.

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