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Backin' the U.S., eh

by George Case Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2003 at 2:37 PM

"I have no problem with people protesting US government initiatives, resisting US junk culture, and doubting US claims to be nothing but a force for good and right everywhere;I have a big problem with people pretending to be untainted by US pluralism..

Backin’ the U.S., eh

By George Case

[This article was published in “The Vancouver Sun”, February 2003.]

In 1973 the veteran Canadian journalist and commentator Gordon Sinclair, fast slipping into terminal crustiness, caused a cross-border stir with a little essay he’d written called simply Americans.

“I’m one Canadian who is damned tired to hearing them kicked around,” he fumed. “They will come out of this thing [faltering economic performance relative to Germany and Japan] with their flag high. And when they do, they are entitled to thumb their nose at the lands that are now gloating over their present troubles.”

It was pretty cheesy then and is pretty cheesy today – it has enjoyed a bit of a retro comeback after 9/11/01 – but Sinclair’s openly pro-U.S. sentiments were and are distinctly counter to the prevailing attitudes on this side of the 49th parallel.

Consider the Canadian bestseller status of Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, Noam Chomsky’s 9-11, and Mel Hurtig’s The Vanishing Century, as well as the boffo box-office takes of Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine, well-attended anti-war marches and, as always, the widespread Canadian water-cooler disdain for all things Uncle Sam (I can hear someone saying “What a moron” even now.)

Well, far be it from me to assume the contrarian authority of the late, great Gordon Sinclair, but I, too, find myself damned tired of hearing Americans kicked around.

There is, first of all, a glaring inconsistency between our most vitriolic anti-American statements and our bravest anti-American actions.

The U.S. may indeed be a leading “terrorist state” (Chomsky) seeking to “bully” the rest of the world (Nelson Mandela), its foreign policies may be “soaked in blood” (UBC prof Sunera Thobani), Canadian military assistance of America’s campaign in Afghanistan may mean “we are all war criminals now” (reporter Robert Fisk), and its fundamental political makeup may be an unholy marriage of fascism and imperialism (half the people you or I know.)

But are demonstrations and sloganeering the toughest possible responses to such undeniable villainy? Surely, if Chomsky, Mandela, Thobani or Fisk were faced with a comparably totalitarian menace – say, Nazi Germany in 1942 – wouldn’t they kinda sorta maybe do more than make speeches and write articles?

I’d guess, then, that the really nasty condemnations of AmeriKKKa are just wildly overstated (Nelson Mandela didn’t seem to mind American investors and politicians bullying South Africa out of apartheid), and that underneath all the hostility is a quiet admission that the U.S. is merely another difficult, divisive democracy. Not as catchy as “soaked in blood”, perhaps, but a lot more reasonable.

On the international stage, Canadians are an especially unconvincing source of anti-American arguments. Belgians may harbor a lot of anti-French grievances and New Zealanders likely resent Australians for any number of reasons, but somehow one of those translates too well anywhere else.

Likewise, our complaints over tariffs and pollution and Homeland Security can be perfectly legitimate – I don’t need their war machines, I don’t need their ghetto scenes – but I’d bet a Cuban or an Iranian or a Vietnamese could wax far more ticked-off than a Vancouverite griping about long lineups at the customs shops or the lousy exchange rates in Vegas.

Canadians have had good social and political connections with Americans since before 1867, and everyone knows if; if we want to cry to the United Nations of some prolonged, painful victimization by the United States, we’d better be prepared to cede the floor or get laughed off.

Ultimately, America is to the world what Toronto is to Canada – we’re all eager to mock, scorn, and criticize “them” for their arrogance and power, but if either T.O. or the U.S. were wiped off the map tomorrow we’d miss their influence in a hurry.

There’s always a strange split personality that comes out whenever a Canadian launches into an anti-American diatribe: “There go the Americans again, pushing everyone else around – say, have you checked out this [American-designed and –facilitated] anti-war Web site?”

Or, “Only a nation of simpletons would elect a stupid cowboy like George W. Bush as their leader – yeah, [born and bred Americans] Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore really speak the truth.”

Or, “U.S.-led globalization threatens our independence and self-determination – wait, pull your Suzuki over to that Starbucks, I want to get a cappuccino to wash down my falafel.”

I have no problem with people protesting U.S. government initiatives, resisting U.S. junk culture, and doubting U.S. claims to be nothing but a force for good and right everywhere; I have a big problem with people pretending to be utterly untainted by U.S. pluralism and prosperity while spouting sanctimonious platitudes that only pluralism and prosperity can indulge.

I’m a proud Canadian. But when someone starts in on our neighbors to the south without knowing what they’re talking about or pausing to think what they’re saying, they’re gonna have me and Gordon Sinclair to answer to.

George Case is a Burnaby writer.

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