The Country The World Forgot – Again

by Kevin Myers

UNTIL the deaths last week of four Canadian soldiers accidentally killed by a US warplane in Afghanistan, probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops were deployed in the region. And as always, Canada will now bury its dead, just as the rest of the world as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does.

It seems that Canada’s historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored. Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again.

 

That is the price which Canada pays for sharing the North American Continent with the US, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts. For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: it seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10 per cent of Canada’s entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle.

Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, its unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular memory as somehow or other the work of the “British”. The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone. Canada finished the war with the third largest navy and the fourth largest air force in the world.

 

The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the previous time. Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign which the US had clearly not participated – a touching scrupulousness which, of course, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity.

So it is a general rule that actors and film-makers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality – unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer British. It is as if in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakeably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

 

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves – and are unheard by anyone else – that 1 per cent of the world’s population has provided 10 per cent of the world’s peace-keeping forces. Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peace-keepers on earth – in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peace-keeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.

Yet the only foreign engagement which has entered the popular non-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia, in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace – a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit.

 

So who today in the US knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan? Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun. It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost.

This weekend four shrouds, red with blood and maple leaf, head homewards; and four more grieving Canadian families know that cost all too tragically well.

 

Menzoid Essay: decorative bathroom ‘stuff’!

Truth be told, The Menzoid isn’t one for family functions. Talk about Snore-a-palooza, after all. But like the super trooper he is, The Menzoid always attends such soirees, typically hosted by his mother-in-law, Maureen the African Scream. You see, she just can’t stop hosting get-togethers ever since she started subscribing to Martha Stewart Living a few years ago.

So it is that at Maureen’s abode the napkins are folded just so and there are fancy dessert plates and wrought iron holders for stuff that should really just be laying flat on the table, but hey, it’s all about the presentation these days, right?

In any event, the other evening, when nature called, The Menzoid ventured into the bathroom. The scent of potpourri, candles, and Lysol wafted in the air. When it came time to wash his hands, The Menzoid reached for what had to be the most beautiful and ornate bar of soap ever produced. It was lavender-hued and embossed into it were various exotic African animals such as lions and elephants and giraffes.

Since The Menzoid is big on hygiene, he scrubbed his hands thoroughly, even though that meant a few of the animal figures on the soap were no longer looking so vibrant any more. Oh well. The Menzoid is a clean machine.

The next step entailed drying off. The Menzoid gazed upon a multicoloured towel that was intricately folded so that it formed the shape of a pyramid. The Menzoid grabbed the towel and discovered that the fabric could very well have been the softest cotton he had ever touched. It was so soft, indeed, that The Menzoid briefly contemplated blowing his nose into it or cleaning his armpits, but at the last second, successfully resisted the urge to do so. The Menzoid didn’t bother folding it up again, not having the time nor inclination nor skill-set. Besides, it’s just a towel.

Just as The Menzoid was chomping down on when he heard someone bellowing from afar: “Oh my God! What’s this!?”

The next thing The Menzoid knew Maureen was standing in the dining room, her nostrils flaring like some incensed water buffalo. In her hands were that fancy bar of soap and the dainty cotton towel.

“Who used these?! Who?! Who?!” Maureen bellowed.

The table fell silent as Maureen started to blame the small fry contingent, each kid vociferously denying involvement. Then, all eyes descended upon The Menzoid, who was kicking himself given that he had stupidly announced his bathroom break, retro ‘70s style, when he informed everyone at the table “I gotta go to the can, man!”

“OK, OK, I used that soap and towel. So what?” said the Menzoid.

Maureen angrily explained that what The Menzoid had used the “fancy soap” and the “fancy towel” and that there was a bottle of regular liquid soap and there was a regular towel that was supposed to be used and that only an idiot couldn’t figure that one out and that she had spent about 10 minutes folding the fancy towel into a pyramid just so and that the soap with the African animals which was a thing of beauty 15 minutes ago now looked like death on the Serengeti.

The Menzoid pleaded his case: How was The Menzoid supposed to know that certain soaps and towels could not be used? But it was too no avail – Maureen was so upset that her showroom bathroom was now just a run-of-the-mill crapper.

The Menzoid still doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Soap is for hand-washing;  towels are for drying.

But he does now wish Martha Stewart had never been born. And he really regrets that he didn’t blow his nose into that beautiful soft towel when he had the chance.

You’re welcome.

 

Menzoid Essay: Pigeons!

What exactly is our “deal” with the pigeons?

Is it just The Menzoid or are the pigeons getting increasingly emboldened when it comes to vehicles on city streets?

Granted, we’re all likely resigned to the fact that pigeons apparently like to play chicken with motorized vehicles for no apparent reason. You know the drill: even though these birds are indeed capable of flight, they prefer to slowly walk out of the way – at the very last nanosecond – before being rendered into feathered pancakes under onslaught of rolling Goodyear or Bridgestone rubber.

Surely this is a form of psychological torture these flying rats like to inflict upon commuters, the vast majority of whom have absolutely no desire to render unnecessary suffering upon any members of the animal kingdom (including these particular dirty birds.) And unlike squirrels – which are clearly brain-dead rodents incapable of properly crossing a street without inexplicably doubling back right into harm’s way – pigeons clearly know what they’re doing.

In fact, our “deal with the pigeons” was established in that classic Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza notes that “we” (motoring homo sapiens) have an unspoken agreement with these birds. Namely, we aren’t supposed to swerve or brake to avoid crushing them as pigeons will always take the initiative to avoid becoming roadkill. And it’s true: despite the prohibitive odds, I’ve never seen a pigeon in any major city buy the farm thanks to getting crushed. Which is why George was left mesmerized when he ended up killing some pigeons that did NOT get out of the way in time:

Which brings The Menzoid to an incident that occurred recently which definitely suggests the pigeons are indeed clearly taking advantage of our “deal.”

Your correspondent hopped into his Ford Adrenaline truck only to notice that a pair of pigeons were perched atop the pickup bed’s tonneau covering as though they were a couple of reverse hood ornaments.

The Menzoid cranks the ignition expecting them to take flight thanks to the rumble of the V8. Nope. The Menzoid pulls out of the parking space. They are still there! Geez, does The Menzoid’s truck have a Conklin Midway logo on it?

The Menzoid merges onto Adelaide Street. They’re still there. Twenty, 30, 40, 50-kilometres-per-hour… it’s enough to literally ruffle their filthy feathers. But those birds aren’t budging. Are they hitching a ride? Are they truly that lazy? Really? Damn, The Menzoid had been driving James Bond’s truck, there would surely be some way to electrify the hull…)

Finally, upon hitting the ramp for the Don Valley Parkway and just before accelerating to highway speed, the unwanted passengers departed, and in a display of grotesque ingratitude, they left behind their calling cards (justifying yet again that the Petro-Canada Car Wash Season Pass makes for a superb investment.)

Bottom line: whatever the fine-print is re: our “deal” with the pigeons, surely it does not cover this particular act of egregious avian hitchhiking chutzpah. So, seriously, if we killed off the pigeons, would anyone miss them? Put another way, The Menzoid would probably cry if the panda bear became extinct. But pigeons? Where’s the downside?

Seriously. What good are they –especially when they don’t abide by the terms and conditions of our deal?

You’re welcome.