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 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 it's 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
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
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, Mike Weir 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
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
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.
Lest we forget.