The War of 1812 Has A Question for Canada

Taptoo: an operetta about the discordant time of shifting borders and allegiances from 1780 to the cusp of the War of 1812 when Simcoe shaped early Toronto. I’m not going to comment on the operetta itself -- put on by the Toronto Operetta Theatre company -- other than to say that like a fine wine, it needs maturing and better acting transitions during the musical transitions. Rather, I want to talk about its ending question. It has grabbed me by my collar, churned up my thoughts.

Is it worth it?

The singers ask if it’s worth the expense of building a navy? Do they need to build one? Is it worth defending not-yet-sovereign Canada?

Britain hadn’t thought it worth the expense to build a navy that could ply the Great Lakes of Ontario and Erie; the colonies hadn’t thought it necessary to build their own maritime defence. They relied on Mother England. And so it was a bit of a shock to see the US marching north to invade and to find themselves “suddenly” defenceless.

Today, we face the same question: is it worth the expense? Is it worth the financial and psychological leap to build a nuclear submarine that can patrol under our ice shield up north? Is it worth the money to build a Coast Guard and Search and Rescue ships and teams that can cover all three coasts?

Today, many think we don’t need them. Who’s going to invade Canada, snort? The Loyalists fled north into Canada and once there, thought themselves safe too. But President Madison and the US Army had designs on Canada. Manifest Destiny. In 1812, the Loyalists all of a sudden went from comfortable and complacent to very much not safe. The colonists thought Mother Britain would defend them. Mother Britain was busy fighting Napoleon and then had its own concerns. It became less and less interested in defending the Canadian colonies.

Today we face the same situation: why would the US defend us when it, along with Russia, Denmark, India, China, wants our Northwest Passage? We have NATO, but ultimately if our interests do not flow with the US’s, why would they defend us as we would defend ourselves? Are we not a sovereign nation with responsibility to feed ourselves, to supply our own energy to ourselves, to defend ourselves?

Like the colonists pre-1812, we think ourselves safe. We’re nice Canada. Who wants to hurt this nonentity? But we modern Canadians can no more predict the future than the colonists could. Worse than them, we have shaped our political and social system to think and work in the short term. We can see the long term only as being exactly like today. Maybe that's why we don't officially honour the ones who fought and died.

But the future is entropy.

The future takes off in strange directions ferociously and unpredictably. It’s easy to predict the Berlin Wall being built and then torn down when you’re ahead of those events. Not so easy for those living before they happened. Our arrogance is we think we can, that we’re smarter than our forefathers. But we’re not.

And ultimately, the question is: is Canada worth enough to us to defend it ourselves?