- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

Columnist Jack Kelly recently said Canadians are in shock because 17 apprehended Islamic terrorists (mostly Canadian citizens) were actually planning terrorist acts against Canada. Canadian politicians and journalists think it must be a clerical error. How on Earth could the Canadians — who love and tolerate everyone, including Muslim extremists — be targeted along with warmongering Americans who obviously deserve everything they get?

The great humorist Will Rogers always said, “I just read the newspapers,” (meaning that real events always beat invented material). Certainly, the Canadians’ “kinder and gentler” attitude toward terrorism would have cracked him up. Ditto, a Jan. 26 letter to the Times by David Smith, a resident of Waterloo, Ontario. Among other remarkable comments, Mr. Smith wrote:

Canadians realize there are better things on which to spend our tax dollars than a missile-defense program created solely for the glorification of the American military.

Mr. Smith was right about Canadian defense nonspending. The 2006 U.S. defense budget (including homeland security) was $451 billion. For a population of 270 million, this works out to $1,670 per capita. But in Canada (where they have better uses for tax dollars), the defense budget is only $9.2 billion. For a population of 32 million, this is $288 per capita. [But Canada’s new Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who visited President Bush in Washington last week, has indicated our northern neighbor will be beefing up its military capabilities significantly.]

Canadians could spend so little as they did before without fear because Americans spend 6 times as much per person. We, the (hated) southern barbarians, pick up the tab for defending Canada, leaving Canadians free to mock us for not being as smart and socially conscious as they.

Mr. Smith speaks of Canadians’ “rampant dislike” of Americans. Another writer, L. W. Naylor of Ontario, said they have “hated” Americans since 1776. Why this is so (if it is) outstrips my analytical abilities. Is it envy? Or do these writers see everything through their own peculiar lens — like the madcap play-director in the film “The Goodbye Girl” who thought everyone in history (including William Shakespeare) was homosexual. But where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. Mr. Smith and Mr. Naylor can’t be totally out in left field (so to speak) about this.

Personally, I like Canadians. My Canadian college classmates always seemed like solid folks — friendly, likeable, intelligent. But that was the early 1960s — just 20 years after we were all fighting for England, home and beauty.

On northern vacations, we found Canadians amiable and disarmingly ironic about their country’s foibles. In 1990, Western Canadians scoffed at the Quebec separatist movement — then very hot. They waved it off as political posturing (sound familiar?) and correctly predicted nothing would come of it. (I never dreamed they were still upset about the Revolutionary War. Talk about holding a grudge.)

There was something faintly unreal about Canada, but I couldn’t quite identify it. Later, I saw that it was like hanging out with Quakers — people I learned to know in Maryland. The Quakers are earnest humanitarians who do much good in the world. They mean no one any harm, and they go about their work in all kinds of difficult conditions.

But the Quakers are pacifists. They don’t fight evil. If a national emergency requires war, they won’t take up arms — even if the enemy is coming down the chimney. Rodney King (a famous non-Quaker) articulated the Quaker philosophy perfectly: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

The great thing about being a Quaker is you know someone else will do the dirty work so you can occupy the high ground. Given world realities, Americans couldn’t all be Quakers. And if we all tried to be, the Quakers — who are also very pragmatic — would probably limit admission. (Even they understand someone has to do the fighting.)

While Saddam Hussein held power, Quakers visited him on a humanitarian mission. Saddam made a great show of receiving them as a fellow humanitarian. Of course, the Quakers had no fear, knowing the might of the United States was behind them. They knew there would be hell (or the Quaker equivalent) to pay if Saddam touched a hair of their heads. He knew it, too.

Both Quakers and Canadians have had much sport deploring the “warmonger” George Bush and the “imperialist” United States since September 11, 2001. Their homes or lands haven’t been threatened, so they believe their “peacefulness” has protected them, while our bellicosity incites fear and violence. We are causing terrorism. If we would just quit fighting, everyone could sit down together and sew quilts. But now the 17 terrorists — who evidently planned to bomb a public building fire on a crowd — have turned Canada’s delusional world of tolerance on its ear.

It’s too soon to tell if Canadian attitudes will change. I expect an official declaration that the “17” were an anomaly. And Canada will return to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Nothing can really be done about it.

Canada is like a lazy relative. You can’t make him do anything, but he knows he’ll always have the family’s protection, no matter how much he insults it.

My mother always said, “you can’t choose your family — you’ve got what you’ve got.” We had a relative who spent his whole life looking for the “big score.” He was a charming and witty man but a moocher all his life. It was tragic.

“One of these days,” a lot of exasperated parents have said to lazy children, “you’ll have to buckle down and get to work.” Usually they’re right. But for Canada, the good times have just kept rolling, while we paid the bills. Maybe “one of those days” will come round, and Canada will have to grow up. But maybe not. We’ll see.

Canada is our North American “family.” It is what it is. For a long time its people have chosen the way of the goldbrick. They know we’ll protect them. Nobody said life was fair.


Author of a weekly column, “At Large,” in the Atlantic Highlands Herald, an Internet newspaper.

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