A giant hissing sound from north of the border
TORONTO — Last week it was determined that the pilots involved in the friendly-fire deaths of four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan would not be court-martialed.
The news was greeted the way most things involving our relationship with the United States are here: with hyperbole and paranoia. There were the predictable "they got away with murder" comments. Murder? Manslaughter, maybe. There were even those who suggested the big, bad US was punishing Canada for our lack of support for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Did I mention paranoia?
Canadians have a "bland" rep. We are bland ... but also whiny, particularly when the cool kids ignore us. When George Bush gave his speech to Congress after Sept. 11, and neglected to specifically thank Canada for its support, the "snub" made headlines. It did not seem to occur to us that a country under attack might have other concerns.
The decision not to court martial, looked at realistically and not through hysteria-colored glasses, is sensible. It is highly unlikely the US pilots, if court-martialed, would be found guilty. A not guilty verdict would allow them a future of promotions and flying. Convicting a pilot in wartime of manslaughter is tantamount to convicting a driver at LeMans of speeding. The general who made the choice against courts-martial said the pilots would face punishments decided "administratively." In Canadian newspapers, this has been portrayed as a slap on the wrist. But it is a slap likely to keep both pilots from flying again.
Canadian reaction to this event has been a drop in the bucket compared with the fury that followed the actual deaths of the soldiers. Coverage of their funerals was undignified (at least by Canadian standards of hype). Their remains were dragged across TV screens as every politician who could, managed a sound bite. The deaths of four young men doing their job - a job where death is a real risk - were used as political fodder for anti-American ax wielders.
A prominent Canadian politician expressed her "rage" at how we are "taken for granted" by the US. One could suggest that we take America for granted, as we will have to depend on the US for help should we be threatened.
More than 100 Canadian soldiers have died in peacekeeping operations in the past 50 years, some from enemy fire. No over-the-top funeral coverage for them, no politicians, little media. But those 100 did not die at the hands of Americans. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, commenting on the decision not to prosecute the pilots said: "I'm not in a position to comment on systems of justice in another nation."
Rare shyness from a man, who, only a month ago, criticized the deficits posted by the "right wing" Bush administration. "I'm a Canadian Liberal; he [Bush] is a Southern conservative," said Mr. Chrétien, going on to enumerate differences of opinion between the two men.
But, our generous leader added, "that has nothing to do with him personally." Chrétien granted that Bush was one of the few world leaders with whom he could talk baseball.
The message was clear. And it is a reflection of what your average Canadian will tell you. We are pretty smart and sophisticated, while you are nothing but a bunch of redneck, gun-toting warmongers. In the past year, a Canadian member of parliament and an aide to our prime minister have, respectively, called Americans "bastards" and Bush "a moron."
This smug attitude has been magnified on "Talking to Americans," a segment of a popular Canadian comedy show in which a "reporter" goes to the US to show the stupidity of Americans by asking them questions such as who our prime minister is, or what our national bird is. The silliest answers would be broadcast - like that of the man at Harvard sandbagged by the question of whether the seal slaughter in Saskatchewan should be stopped. His compassionate answer: "Yes." It was funny, of course, as would be something called "Talking to Mexicans," but we wouldn't mock Mexicans.
In fact, a 2001 poll by Canada's Dominion Institute revealed that Americans knew their own history and civics far better than did Canadians. But we don't dwell on that up here.
An American friend of mine - living in Canada - says that in the US, greed is acceptable but envy is a sin. In Canada it is just the opposite. I would suggest that envy is our national sport. And no one inspires more envy in us than our southern neighbor. It is a shame, because any legitimate gripes we may have about America get lost in a sea of childish wolf-crying.
• Rondi Adamson is a frequent commentator in Canadian newspapers.