Sorry About That

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When it comes
to Canadian military matters, most non-Canadians are surprised to
learn that Canada even has a military. Yet our military history
is a long and honorable one, even if most of us are unaware of it.

For example,
more than 150 years before the Tet Offensive, Canada handed the
United States its first significant military defeat in the War of
1812 (1812–1815), the brazen attempt to militarily annex Canada.

The Americans
believed that, since Canada was only lightly defended, its fall
would be swift. (Sound familiar?)

In 1813, for
instance, Americans attacked and burned York, a town with fewer
than 2,000 residents. The Americans, who outnumbered the defenders
by 3:1, suffered more than twice as many casualties as the Canadians
and British. The American dead included the American Commander,
Gen. Zebulon Pike, who was killed by flying debris when the retreating
British blew up their magazines.

The Americans
left four days after the battle was over, in a harbinger of the
advice the late Sen. George Aiken would later give to Presidents
Johnson and Nixon regarding Vietnam: "Declare victory and go
home."

The arson and
looting committed by the Americans at York provoked the Burning
of Washington in 1814, when British and Canadian troops captured
the capital and razed nearly every government building to the ground.
Private residences were left largely untouched.

Today, "Muddy
York" is the City of Toronto, a bustling city with a metropolitan
population of 5.3 million. And the White House is occupied by George
W. Bush.

Clearly, we
got the better part of that deal.

Nearly two
hundred years later, it may shock some American readers to learn
that since 2001 Canada has sent approximately 15,000 soldiers to
the Land of the Khyber Pass. Today, about 2,300 Canadian troops
remain in Afghanistan. Most of these are stationed near Kandahar,
the city considered to be the Taliban’s primary stronghold, itself
in the region that was most supportive of the Taliban’s enlightened
rule. Canada’s military is almost solely responsible for maintaining
what little stability there is in all of southern Afghanistan.

This past week
our Foreign Affairs Minister begged NATO for some help, but if recent
history is anything to go by, our pleas will be ignored.

It’s been nearly
five years since Canada decided to sign up for a repeat of a war
that the Soviet Union, with the largest army in the world and unhampered
by concerns of the rules of warfare and with a troop commitment
far in excess of our own, failed to win between 1979–1990.

As of today,
Canada’s casualty total is second among all nations involved in
this unwinnable exercise. Forty-four Canadians have died in Afghanistan.

The most disturbing
statistic coming out of this war? For roughly every eight Canadians
killed in battle or blown up by some self-immolating zealot, the
United States has killed one of our soldiers.

The worst of
these "friendly fire" incidents occurred in April 2002,
when a U.S. Air Force pilot ignored a direct order to "standby"
and dropped a bomb on a group of Canadian soldiers, killing four
and wounding eight. The pilot, Harry Schmidt, whose flight name
was "Psycho" (no, I’m not making this up) was initially
charged with four counts of negligent manslaughter and eight counts
of aggravated assault. "Psycho" eventually agreed to a
lesser charge of dereliction of duty. He was docked $5,700 in pay
and reprimanded. He’s still in the Illinois Air National Guard.
In fact, this past April Harry "Psycho" Schmidt filed
a lawsuit against the Air Force, complaining that the Air Force
violated the Privacy Act when it released documents regarding the
attack on the Canadians.

That’s one
way of keeping our boys on their toes, I suppose.

Imagine if,
in the Iraq quagmire, a little more than 10% of the nearly 3,000
American deaths had been caused by "friendly fire" by
the British or the indigenous, embryonic Iraqi Army. Any guess what
the reaction would be? The American media would be filled with (even
more) stories about its allies’ incompetence.

But how has
the Canadian government responded to the deadly incompetence of
the Western world’s most ignorant army?

Canada has:

May
2006

Extended
the length of time Canadians will stay in Afghanistan by
two years, until sometime in 2008.

September
2006

Committed
a squadron of thirty-year-old Leopard tanks, because nothing
makes an impossible job easier than the provision of obsolete
equipment.

September
2006

Announced
plans to increase the number of soldiers on the ground by
200–500, placing more young Canadians in what is arguably
the most dangerous part of an already-dangerous, fourth-world
country.

If
you want to see a Leopard tank, by the way, one of the best places
to find one is outside the main gate of Canadian Forces Base Borden,
about sixty miles north of Toronto. There it rests in its ideal
environment, gutted and on permanent display. For since 1990,
the Leopard 1 — Canada’s primary offensive fighting vehicle —
has been phased-out by every other army in the world.

Fighting an
unwinnable war is hard enough with obsolete equipment. Having our
erstwhile ally shoot us in the back every now and then must surely
be playing havoc with our troops’ morale.

In 2003, British
Prime Minister Tony Blair issued an apology for the torching of
Washington. Speaking before Congress, he mentioned that Senator
Bill Frist had shown him the fireplace where the British had burned
the entire Library of Congress. "I know this is, kind of, late,"
he said, "but sorry."

I want to echo
Prime Minister Blair’s apology. Clearly the destruction of the Library
of Congress, the White House, and damn-near every other government
building in D.C. was a terrible thing. (Although the Libertarian
in me really wants to shout out, "Hey, at least we tried!")

There’s a joke
that says that one of the ways to tell where someone’s from is to
stomp on his toes. If he apologizes, he’s a Canadian.

So we’re sorry.
Really we are. For the White House. For the Library of Congress.
And we’re really, really sorry for inventing the whole ludicrous
concept of "peacekeeping" in the first place.

We’re sorry.

There. Now
will you please stop shooting at us? And can we please go home now?

October
23, 2006

George
Graham [send him mail]
is a freelance writer and former Director of Development with several
Canadian public policy research institutes. He lives east of Toronto,
Ontario.

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