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The curious case of the disappearing nation

By Jackson Murphy
web posted May 26, 2003

If a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear? If a once almost-semi-important nation drops off the face of the planet will anyone notice? This is the question last week's Canadian edition of Time tackled.

Time MagazineThe article in question sums up every problem of Canada's defense and foreign policy. From the shrinking military to a lack of new ideas Time provokes the question: "Would anyone notice if Canada disappeared?"

In short the article suggests that, "Canada's influence these days is more like a phantom limb: it feels to Canadians as though it's still there, but to many observers the reality is different. The nation's ability to extend power and influence has been hacked back to a shadow of its former self."

Having recently seen The Matrix Reloaded you might get the sense that the whole country has been plugged into the Matrix since about 1960. Put another way it is similar to Plato's idea of the cave. We've been trained to believe how great Canadian efforts only to one day realize that they are but an illusion. It's not unusual to inflate ones self-importance, just take a look at the French. Unfortunately Canada's place in a changing world has been undermined by exclusively remembering the good old days rather than facing up to new challenges.

It is amusing to me that this is actually a new argument. Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online opened up for international audiences the idea of our nation as a population of ‘wimps' late last year. (Which I detailed for ESR here) Canada's non-role in Iraq, SARS, and now Mad Cow, oh and SARS again, are progressively reinforcing the negative about this nation. President Bush cancelled his last trip to Canada and according to news reports isn't talking to our prime minister.

Andrew Cohen, also writing in Time, romances the past. In the past Canada's goal was, "a commitment to keep peace where possible and make war where necessary, to create a new international architecture, to mediate between the big powers, to help the world's poor."

But by these broad goals Canada must be labeled as a colossal failure. Sure we've made some differences in the world by pulling an Al Gore and "inventing" peacekeeping. Again, that may be about as useful as talking about how great Annika Sorenstam did during her crack at the PGA last week. And I mean no disrespect to her. By its very nature peacekeeping is a reactionary mechanism that reveals both a failure of the system and a reality of the international order. What has been revealed in the past decade or so is that for peace to be kept there must be an end to fighting-and there has been no shortage to fighting, genocide, and other atrocities.

In the 1990's Canada gambled all our future foreign policy chips on a heavily globalized world. Except that Canada wasn't quite clear on the rules of this new world and the dealer has taken our few chips faster than William Bennett loses at the slot machines.

It was counter intuitive since an overly globalized world brought the western world into more direct contact with nations and people that were dramatically different-different enough to smash planes into our greatest buildings to start with. Getting the whole world onto a free market and democratic path should have seen an increase in defense spending and foreign engagement. Instead we saw endless talking points about multilateralism, anti-Americanism, and

As Cohen continues: "With arms, alms and ideas, Canada counted in the world, it paid its way and punched above its weight. As soldier, diplomat and social worker, it was more interested in making a difference than in making a point."

A National Post editorial tries to come to Canada's defense and comes up with things that may balance out the truly horrific transformation of Canada as a power. "True, the inflammatory cover is hyperbolic -- especially when Canadian scientists are leading the fight for a SARS cure, a Canadian filmmaker is the toast of Cannes, the Loonie is surging and our economy is the best in the G-7. But who can dispute the fact that a crumbling military and declining diplomatic prestige have made Canada a fringe player on the global scene?"

But isn't that always the way with Canada. Why worry about what is embarrassingly wrong with our country's policies when we can talk about sweet Avril Lavigne or whatever other celebrity of the moment we claim to have discovered. It is not too late to stop Canada from becoming the modern day equivalent of the lost city of Atlantis. Damaged yes, but gone not yet.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Jonah Goldberg versus the wimps by Jackson Murphy (November 18, 2002)
    Canadian Jackson Murphy responds to Jonah Goldberg's National Review cover story calling Canadians wimps
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