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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