“Contrary to popular opinion, Americans are well aware of the valor our Canadian and other allies during WWI, WWII, Korea, and other conflicts. When I was a young first lieutenant in Somalia, I had the great good fortune to meet some Canadian Soldiers briefly and it was a very pleasant experience. I’ve also been to the campus of the Royal Military College at Kingston, and had one of their cadets stay in my room during an exchange visit from RMC to West Point. I am also very aware of Canada’s fine contribution in Afghanistan. When I was Chief of Mobilization Branch for the U.S. Army National Guard, I even had a Canadian officer serving as an exchange officer at a US headquarters call me and ask how he could get assigned to serve in Iraq (my answer – ‘beats me!’).
“Unfortunately, there are a number of things that can easily overshadow the Canadian contribution as an ally in previous wars in the minds of patriotic Americans. Not the least of these is Canada’s lengthy record of sheltering American deserters during war time — a tradition at least some Canadians would seem to be very proud of, as exemplified by the move to erect a monument to such in British Columbia (Admittedly an old article. Did this thing ever get built?) It would be both tempting and comforting to dismiss this as an aberration of the tragic Vietnam War period — but not so. There are a few (admittedly only a few) deserters from the current Iraq war in Canada now (happily, at least one was denied asylum ). And then there is the US Civil War, when Canada sheltered, and refused to return, 15,000 U.S. Army deserters and draft dodgers (see Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies, page 36), despite the well-known and deep-seated antipathy of Canadians and other subjects of the British Empire toward slavery.
“Regrettably, contrary to American popular opinion, Canada and the United States really haven’t been allies all that long, or particularly close allies even then. And anti-Americanism is a very old and well-established tradition in Canada, our sharing of the world’s longest unfortified border notwithstanding. Canada and the US have been, at best, ambivalent allies, to borrow a phrase from the book cited above.
“And anti-Americanism isn’t just a matter for politicians. The Carnegie Endowment for Peace once commissioned a huge study of Canadian attitudes toward the US (the printed report runs to 451 pages). As an example of what this study termed a ‘typical letter,’ one Canadian described his idea of ‘American’ — ‘…bumptiousness, cocksureness, self-praise, blowing up one’s own possessions, people, and ideas; also a rather materialistic attitude that seeks possessions and judges people by them, a flaunting of luxury and extravagance …’
“The study described the writer of this letter as among ‘the most highly educated’ of the contributors to one subordinate study. Interestingly, this same letter writer candidly admitted the following: ‘…I have built up an idea of Americans and Americanism which I don’t like; yet when I meet them as individuals I usually have found that I like them.’ These themes are common throughout those highlighted in the study: A perception of Americans as bombastic, vulgar, violent, and grasping.
“One might be tempted to attribute the attitudes above to the social disruptions of American society since the 60s. Those on the left will be quick to attribute them to the arrogant actions of George W. Bush. While I hate to disappoint these last (OK, actually I don’t hate to disappoint them) the fact is that if Bush caused any of these attitudes, then he must have a time machine stashed in the West Wing — because the study I just quoted was published by Ryerson University in 1938! I’m pretty sure that was before Dubya was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye (the study itself: Canada and Her Great Neighbor: Sociological Surveys of Opinions and Attitudes in Canada Concerning the United States, edited by H. F. Angus, Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1938).
“To be sure, Americans are woefully ignorant of the affairs of our largest trading partner and closest geographic and cultural neighbor (in fairness to my countrymen, I must also say understandably so, given the different situations in which the two countries find themselves). One American scholar observed, correctly I think, that ‘the Canadian experience of federation is virtually invisible to the American academy … (see ‘Canadian Lessons for Iraq’ by John McGarry, in The Future of Kurdistan in Iraq, Brendan O’Leary, John McGarry, and Khaled Salih, editors).
“It would be wonderful if Americans were better informed on matters in Canada, and if we had the same consciousness of Canadian contributions during the World Wars and after that we have of Britain’s contributions. Regrettably, however, the ambivalent — even antagonistic — attitudes of Canadians toward the United States only make such a development less likely. Patriotic Americans are simply turned off by the moralistic hectoring to which the Canadian media continually subjects the United States. Given this constant drumbeat, even those Americans who have been fortunate enough to have had access to Canadian media at some point in their lives (as I have had) will just tune out.
“My first duty station as a lieutenant was Fort Drum NY. I visited Kinston ON several times, dated a Toronto woman once (met her in Somalia), made really quick, brief excursions to Ottawa and Quebec (in the latter I was stunned by the profusion of the Fluer-de-lis and almost total absence of the Maple Leaf). I really enjoy Canada and I really like Canadians. But Canadian culture has one very unattractive feature: A very unappealing obsession with pointing out all the endless ways that Canada is (purportedly) superior to the United States. It is as if Anglophone Canada defines itself entirely as a foil to the US.
“Let me end on a more positive note. I started out by referencing the recurrent Canadian policy of sheltering American deserters. There is, of course, another side to that coin. If a lot of American deserters hid out in Canada during the Civil War, a lot of Canadians took the place of those deserters in the ranks of the Union Army. No one knows how many served. I have an old history of Michigan (printed in 1915) that claims 9,000 Canadians served in Michigan regiments alone. I have no idea if that number has any basis in fact — but clearly some served. Likewise Vietnam — one source says as many as 12,000 Canadians served in Southeast Asia with US forces. So we lost some thousands of shirkers and cowards to Canada, while gaining in return some thousands of enterprising, energetic Canadian young men willing to serve in our ranks. That’s a trade I’ll make any day.
Dennis P. Chapman, LTC NG”