Sheltered under the Eagle's mighty wings (National Post, February 18, 2004)

When you love a friend, however imperfect she is, it’s a shock to overhear, “She’s a loser. Almost everyone hates her.” You’re angry on her behalf, but you only say, with staunch fidelity, “Well, I think she’s wonderful.”

It’s something like that with countries. A recent Macleans poll indicates that since George W. Bush was elected president, Canadians’ antipathy to him and his America has deepened dramatically. Well, I think America is wonderful.

My mother was from Michigan, and we absorbed her unconditional love for America by osmosis. On our frequent visits to the U.S., we cheered when we spotted the crossed Canadian and American flags mid-tunnel between Windsor and Detroit. America was like Canada but …different, exciting and, once past the crossed flags, we felt anticipation quicken.

Age and the loss of political innocence have not eroded that commitment. Taken all in all – successes and mistakes - no other nation in history with invincible power has ever acted with nobler ideals, or greater honour and restraint in the use of that power. Sheltered under the protection of the Eagle’s mighty outstretched wings, Canada drifts with the prevailing current in her dreamy, self-admiring course. America remains the custodian of Democracy’s flame. But instead of feeling grateful for that strength, Canadians “mock the uniforms that guard them while they sleep”. Why?

Canadians used to grumble about America’s disproportionate influence, but that was yesterday’s Canada, when America was still a friend. Since Bush’s election, irritation has mutated into the hostility normally reserved for an enemy.

On 9/11 I called a Detroit cousin to commiserate. She was embarrassingly grateful; she felt hated for being American, and my call was a comfort. I had never before imagined that Americans could feel vulnerable or insecure about what other countries thought of them. I assured her all Canadians were horrified by this depraved act of terrorism.

I was soon proved a liar. Before the twin towers’ dust had settled, Canadian academic Sunera Thobani said the 9/11 attack showed that U.S. foreign policy was “soaked in blood”, and left wing pundit Naomi Klein chimed in with predictably similar accusations. Other intellectuals here and in England and Europe followed suit with their twisted values, pent-up resentment and reflexive sympathy for the Islamic “oppressed”. Even Jean Chretien joined in the ‘blame the U.S.’ blowback, and his minions publicly insulted President Bush with insouciance. Before you could say ‘root causes’ the sluice gates opened wide: Anti-Americanism became the hate that dared to shout its name in the West.

Just how acceptable it is nowadays to gratuitously bash America was brought home a few weeks ago when I attended a panel discussion on Canada’s foreign policy. Three of the four participants argued for the effectiveness of soft power when dealing with anti-democratic regimes: multilateralism, cooperation with the UN, behind-the-scenes diplomacy – all the strategies, in fact, that have been largely unsuccessful up to now. One of them, a York U professor of Political Science, spoke about the problems in general that Canada would face, were we to attach human rights conditions to trade deals with undemocratic nations. He said we might then be unable to trade with “China…. or, for that matter, even the United States…”

At this irrational, wildly inappropriate conflation of human rights in the U.S. with those in China, I heard someone gasp and utter a very audible “Whoa!” The professor faltered, flicked a glance my way - I happened to be sitting in the front row – and I realized it was my own involuntary reaction that had startled him. He coughed, hastily adding, “Of course that’s not my personal opinion…”

If that’s so, then why did a political scientist, who of all people knows better, voice it? Because (shame on us) it’s considered performance-enhancingly cool to take cheap shots at America here, that’s why, even – especially - amongst educated people.

We flew an American flag outside our house when the Iraq war began. A neighbour called it “offensive”. That was all my husband needed to hear. He put out the British and Australian flags too. My husband is even more of an Americaphile than I – with better reason. He was born in Tientsin, China and lived in Japan-occupied Shanghai during WWII. His Russo-Canadian father spent two years in an internment camp, just as the Japanese Canadians did here. The first American my husband ever saw was the proverbial friendly G.I. in a Jeep, who gave him a pack of gum, and scooped him up for a ride.

In homage to his liberators, my husband only buys Jeeps. The Jeep is a square, inelegant and noisy machine. On rough terrain it makes for a bumpy ride. Yet it is the vehicle of choice and a beautiful sight in the hellholes of the world, in every quarter where truly oppressed people pray for deliverance from evil.

© National Post 2004