Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Canadians can’t get excited about the War of 1812

Writers who use history to promote Canadian nationalism are worried about the lack of interest in Canada in the approaching bicentennial of the War of 1812.
Jeremy Diamond and Davida Aronovitch, in "The War of 1812: Stupid but important" (Globe and Mail, Feb. 20), ask why “Americans place greater importance on teaching and commemorating” the war than Canadians do. They wonder whether we’re just too darn civilized.
A short, brutal letter to The Globe and Mail, by Henry Srebrnik, political science department, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, provides the answer:
“Is it because it was a war between the United States – a sovereign country making its own decisions – and the British Empire?
“Canada – it didn’t even have that name yet – was merely part of the battleground, a territory inhabited by indigenous nations and British and French settlers (the last themselves a recently conquered people)."
It was a foolish, unnecessary war. However, blood was shed on soil that is now in Canada and that changes the way people think. The anti-Americanism generated by the War of 1812 made it bearable and, for most settlers, honorable to carry on as loyal colonists of the British Empire for another century.
Events and political actors eventually came along to form an independent Canadian federation. The heroics of the War of 1812, however, had nothing to do with the snail-like development of Canadian nationhood.
Canadians, in the thousands in their four colonies, did not decide to make war to become a separate nation. So, it is unseemly to hunch over maps today arguing over which battlefield “made Canada.” Or insist that we must respect their sacrifices between 1812 and 1815 in deciding how we live as North Americans now.
Canadian independence was negotiated, over decades, in consideration of past deeds by Canadians and in consideration of Britain’s wider interests. There was no one defiant, glorious day we willed ourselves into existence.
This is not a terrible thing. It frees Canadians of those oppressive myths about God’s will and consecrated battlefields that American nationalists and nationalists everywhere try use to poison rational discussion about the future.
Canadians are as free to think about their options in North America as they are free to think.  

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