This week marks the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, when US-led troops entered the city of Baghdad with the goal of toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime and destroying the country’s weapons of mass destruction. The invasion was relatively brief: Baghdad fell weeks later, and on May 1 then-U.S. president George W. Bush declared that the mission was accomplished. The weapons of mass destruction were not found, but the goal of the invasion shifted to stabilizing Iraq and solidifying it as a Western ally. The invasion and occupation claimed the lives of 4,487 U.S. combat troops, 179 UK servicemen and women, between 97,461 and 106,348 Iraqi civilians and displaced an estimated 1.6 million Iraqis. The invasion cost the U.S. between from $802 billion to $3 trillion (figures from the BBC).
On September 13, 1811, Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost arrived at Quebec to take up the duties of Captain General and Governor-in-Chief of British North America. Prevost, an officer with considerable military and colonial experience, was appointed the task of readying British North America for a war with the United States.
The Prince Regent and the government gave Prevost specific guidance that limited his military and diplomatic authority. He could not undertake offensive action into the United States or declare war on his own. Most importantly, as Britain was pre-occupied with the war against Bonaparte, he could not expect any large-scale reinforcements.
With 2012 comes the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the US presidential election, and a question mark about the Canadian economy. This week’s Canada Soup touches on all of these as well as an intriguing story about John Diefenbaker’s possible paternity, the influence of the King James Bible on the English language, and survey results that are both good news and not-so-good-news about Canadians’ knowledge of their own history. Ready or not, here we come, 2012!
In December 2001, U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft announced plans to deploy military personnel to patrol the Canada-U.S. border. After September 11, Ashcroft criticized Canada’s “porous” border, though there was no evidence that any of the terrorists, all holding legal U.S. visas, came through Canada. It was not the first time that the longest undefended, and perhaps indefensible, border in the world was contentious.
With the 1783 Treaty of Paris diplomats attempted to settle the many disputes over the boundary, but they had little knowledge of the geography or history of the lands under discussion. The document they produced was vague and unrealistic, with an airy reference to a latitudinal connection between Lake of the Woods and the Mighty Mississippi. They determined the boundary as a line from the upper corner of Lake of the Woods due west to the Mississippi River. You don’t have to be a geographer to realize that a person could get lost seeking that connection.
A new poll by the social media site Badoo.com just voted America the coolest country in the world. 30,000 people across 15 countries voted and unsurprisingly, Uncle Sam came up on top, followed by Brazil, Spain, Italy, and France.
How did Canada fare? Not so well. We’re not the most uncool (that unfortunate honour goes to Belgium). We’re the fourth least cool, straddled between Germany and Turkey. What does this mean? Picture this: at the international high school prom, Canada is the friendly, ruddy-faced kid tapping people on the shoulder to announce, “Hi, I’m here!” We’re so well-meaning but we have no rhythm and we dance with our fingers pointing. We laugh too loudly and blush in the presence of the hunky quarterback, America, all the while resenting his charm and dreaming up revenge fantasies. We’re Michael Cera with a guitar. That’s us.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama thanked Canadians for their support in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
“It is often said that the United States and Canada are great neighbours, trading partners and the best of friends…In one of the darkest moments in our history, Canada stood by our side and showed itself to be a true friend.” (The Toronto Star)
On September 11, 2001, my husband and I were living in Wichita, Kansas, relocated there by his career in aerospace. On that day, I was convalescing from a serious illness that had hospitalized me for a month. I was idly channel surfing when there was a newsbreak—an airplane, a Boeing 767-200, had crashed into the North Tower of New York’s World Trade Center. I immediately called my husband at work; anything to do with airplanes is of crucial concern. Switching to CNN, I thought about the people on the plane and in the building. What a horrible accident, I thought.
September 11, 2001 was the day of my mother-in-law’s funeral. Mary passed away at the age of ninety-eight. She had known the cruelty and suffering of war first hand. The youngest in her family, she was barely a teenager when two of her brothers died in France in the First World War. Her favourite brother, the one closest to her in age, was one of the million or so soldiers and civilians who was wounded by an enemy gas. Although Hal survived the attack, his health was seriously compromised for the rest of his life. Mary still had the postcards her brothers sent her from France when she died.