In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

The Canadian personality

The Canadian identity is one of a split personality. I’m not sure why we are this way, but at least part of the answer is living next door to the United States. John Cruickshank, current publisher of CBC news and former publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, said:

We Canadians live in a blind spot about our identity. We have very strong feelings about who we aren’t, but only weak ones about who we are. We’re passionate about what we don’t want to become, but oddly passive about what we should be.

I don’t understand why our proximity to the United States would have this effect. Are we so unsure about ourselves that it’s easier to define ourselves by our differences when compared to the Americans? I’d like this not to be true, but I find myself hard-pressed to come up with any other explanation.

The aspect of this split personality I find most annoying is in regards to the military. Many Canadians claim to love peace and scoff at the need for serious military spending. While they may not come out and say it, they’re looking squarely at the Americans when they talk of military spending. While this seems fair on the face of it, the only reason Canada can afford to let its military atrophy is because the Americans live right next door. No one’s going to make trouble with us, not because of us, but because of the Americans.

This reminds me of a trendy environmentalist I used to work with. He was fiercely proud of not having a car, as if the act of simply owning a car killed the environment. Of course it’s the driving of the car that does most of the damage. Sure he didn’t own a car, but he borrowed one often enough that I questioned whether the environment was the real reason he didn’t have a car of his own. He’d say subdivisions and new construction were evil, but guess who bought a single-family house? No it wasn’t in a subdivision, but land has to be cleared for a house in the city every bit as much as a house in a subdivision. The only difference is when the clearing occurred.

Enjoy the advantages while you criticize the means by which you derive them. The attitudes toward the car, the house, and the military are all the result of the same selective blindness.

The other aspect of our split personality is the great pride we feel toward the forces we send around the word for peace-keeping duties. Those who care not one whit for the military seem to forget that you cannot deploy a force in a hostile land with only good intentions and a change of clothes. Fail to fund the military and peace-keeping suffers as well, because the military and peace-keeping aren’t two separate things. The former is the means by which the latter is accomplished.

This was again brought to mind after reading one of Kim’s Monday morning posts. He wrote the campaign speech he’d deliver if he were in the running for the Republican candidacy. This part painted a picture I am in full agreement with:

When a tsunami strikes southeast Asia, the most welcome sight is not a United Nations fact-finding mission, it is a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter. When one tribe is busy slaughtering another in some forgotten part of the world, the tribesmen would prefer to see American soldiers, rather than Bob Geldof.

Those same people who turn up their noses at the armed forces would be the first to complain if natural disaster struck and the military infrastructure were not up to the task of rescuing them. Of course the military’s primary role isn’t bailing out civilians, but because operations in hostile environments requires far more self-sufficiency than civilian organizations typically have, the military gets the call when the shit really hits the fan.

I’m all for peace, but many advocates of peace would leave us to depend on others for what we could, and should, do for ourselves. When will we stand up for ourselves and pay our own way in the world?


Churchill about Canada


Mean mom


  1. Steve

    I noticed that the phrase ‘Alien Shore’ shows up in the title of your blog post, and the subheading is, “building bridges on the ocean floor”. You must be a Rush fan, because ‘Alien Shore’ is the title of one of the songs from their ‘Counterparts’ album, and “building bridges on the ocean floor” is one of the lines in that song.

    But I digress.

    One thing that militates against (no pun intended) Canada ever being able to totally defend itself is the huge size of the country and its relatively tiny population. If you attempted to render Canada totally immune from attack, you would need to spend truly massive sums of money on equipment and manpower, and you would probably need an army of at least one million men, too. By comparison, the US Army currently has something like only 660,000 regulars, and look at huge the US military budget is.

    Canada may be a fairly wealthy country, but it simply doesn’t have that kind of money. On the other hand, I agree that Canada needs to do a lot more to defend its sovereignty. Simply relying on the Americans to do it for us, is not good enough. To take that road is to guarantee a permanent loss of Canadian sovereignty.

    General Lewis MacKenzie once suggested that Canada’s armed forces should have a strength of about 180,000. In his view, that would give Canada’s military enough manpower to be able to give any attacker serious pause for thought. Since the Canadian Forces already numbers about 60,000, a military of 180,000 would require a budget two or three times as large, an amount that is well within Canada’s means.

  2. Allan

    Thoughtful assessment of the personality of your locale, thank you for writing it and so long ago 🙂

    However I suggest the ‘one-eyed’ situation you describe, ie: we ‘despise the military except when we need them to save us from disaster’ would be a global assessment of the level of general human intelligence.

    Sole “sentients” of the planet is the humble claim, but that grand self-assessment is yet to be challenged. ‘Paying one’s way,’ you say and with what… serving the global intelligentsia’s hypothesis that bucks are real which indicates that the unique Canadian personality, if any, is also global.

    If I take anything from your assessment, Canada’s like any other country, agree with who you’re with and also whatever curious perspective they present on any subject unless you want an argument. Every issue has several povs so hypocrisy is unnecessary. I mean if they talk left, go left, or to the right, go right and you can’t go wrong.

    Racism, which you haven’t mentioned and it’s an unavoidable annoyance if you happen to be somewhere that doesn’t like your colour. Not mentioning race means there’s a high probability that you’re white and probably male, but then I’m not reprimanding you, I’m also white and male. We tend to overlook that which does not immediately trouble us and I’m not called for my colour so I tend to overlook poor souls who are tormented. Nor gays, tut, tut, atlhough I’m not gay either. Last and not least local Indians… native Canadians..? I don’t know the PC in Canada speak for its granted-by-the-Gods, official owners.

    You’ve pointed out that Canada is drastically similar to the rest of the world’s one-eyed plebeian nature.

    Safe yet sad definition, but there you go, eh.

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