Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Monday, 30 June 2008

A Salute to a Brave and Modest Nation

This "Dominion Day" we honour the 85 Canadian soldiers who quietly left us by the path of duty and self-sacrifice in Afghanistan

475_combat_deaths_080213THE STORY OF THE ABUNDANT DOMINION is prefaced in an old pioneer book I own with the statement that "Canada only needs to be known in order to be great". The author was lamenting back in 1901 that after four hundred years of civilized tradition, the "Great Dominion" was still not adequately appreciated abroad. Another century passes and nothing changes — it is Canada's burden to be universally neglected for the unspectacular and unassuming way in which it has cultivated the ties of tradition and allegiance and sentiment across the centuries, even though the maintenance and development of that loyalty is one of the miracles of its history. The Maple Crown Forever.

So it seems appropriate on this patriotic day, as the country honours its birth as a nation and the death of its sons in Afghanistan, that we reprint a remarkable tribute to Canada's record of quiet valour in wartime that appeared in the London Telegraph in 2002. It was this article that first attracted me to the Tory Irishman who wrote it - readers will note that he is one of our longtime "Gentlemen-At-Arms".

by Kevin Myers, The Sunday Telegraph, April 21, 2002

LONDON - Until the deaths last week of four Canadian soldiers accidentally killed by a U.S. warplane in Afghanistan, probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops were deployed in the region. And as always, Canada will now 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 again.

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, its 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 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, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its 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 non-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 week, four more grieving Canadian families knew that cost all too tragically well.


Bolingbroke said...

If the defunct "Dominion Day" is too old and too manly a reference for metrosexual modernity, I would suggest Confederation Day would be a better fit than Canada Day. British North America Day would be even better, but then British old me would say that wouldn't I.

F.E. Smith said...

A very touching tribute from an Irishman. As an Englishman and also outsider, there is a well of truth to the notion that Canada undeservingly garners little international media compared to its relative importance on the world stage, especially given its decisive contribution at critical moments in the past, which is alive and well in Afstan today.

If geopolitical significance was measured by the number of times a nation was mentioned in the world media, Israel would be a superpower and Canada would be a 90 pound weakling. In my opinion, of the 300 plus nations that reside on this planet, Canada would be in the top ten. It's a G8 country, its vast, it's natural resource rich, its old and settled, unlike us it values its political independence, it has a small but professionally capable armed forces, and its got oil in big supply. What is missing with this picture!

Anonymous said...

Sadly most Canadians are becoming just as unknowing about Canada's contributions to the world as non-Canadians are.

Tomorrow I will be flying the Red Ensign along the Maple Leaf at the Canada Day (too would prefer another name) celebrations that I'm attending here in Toronto, we'll see how many even know what the flag is.

Anonymous said...

excellent article, spot on.