Convicted felon Conrad Black has a new book outHistorians in the News
tags: Conrad Black
All too often Americans have taken Canada for granted — “Our Giant Neighbor to the North” has been voted the magazine headline most likely to make them turn the page — while Britons sometimes also dismiss Canadians as “our colonial cousins” with barely any more respect. Now here comes a book that proves that, for centuries, Canada has been subtly playing the Americans and the British off against each other, and in doing so has created one of the best countries in the world in which to live. It hasn’t been its sheer size that has saved Canada from the domination of its neighbour or of what it used to call its “Mother Country” (Britain), or even of France, but instead centuries of immensely impressive statesmanship.
“In order even to be conceived,” argues the author, Conrad Black, “Canada had to be, first, French so as not to be easily assimilated by the American colonists and revolutionaries, and then British, to have a protector to avoid being subsumed later into the great American project.” After that, it needed to wrest autonomy from Britain while continuing to be protected from the United States, which it managed by 1867, yet all the while “it had to be resistant, but not offensive, to the inexorably rising power of America.”
An enormous, underpopulated and thus militarily weak country, Canada needed great diplomacy, especially as one-third of its people were ethnically French and thus culturally alienated from the British Crown. “It has been a protracted and intricate, unheroic, but often almost artistic survival process,” says Black. “Canada was never threatened with a tragic or pitiable fate but has faced a constant threat to its will to nationality for more than two centuries.”
The Canadian-born Black, who has been a businessman in America and is a British peer of the realm, argues that Canada might well have suffered a tragic fate if she had lost the War of 1812, or if the British had made the cardinal error of entering the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy, after which nothing could have saved Canada from being captured by the victorious, million-man veteran Union army. Black covers the outbreak of the first of these conflicts with admirable fair-mindedness. “The War of 1812 was a response by the Americans to Britain’s high-handed exercise of her control over the world’s oceans,” he writes. “The unsubtle British and Canadian assistance to [the Indian chief] Tecumseh and his coalition in 1811 had naturally rankled with the Americans, and there were incidences of Indian raids from Canada into the United States that the Americans could hardly have been expected to tolerate in silence.” It was in response to the Union victory in 1865 that, two years later, Canada formed itself into the world’s first transcontinental, bilingual parliamentary confederation.
Starting this history as far back as the Vikings is a slight conceit — over 700 years are covered in 16 pages — and the book really begins with Samuel de Champlain’s extraordinary voyages of exploration and conquest in the early 17th century, but Black is robustly politically incorrect when dealing with the issue of the native Canadians in the late 15th century. When the Europeans came to settle Canada, he states, there were probably about 200,000 native Indians living there, mostly nomadic. Their tribes tortured one another, including women, in endless wars that make pre-European Canada sound like a Hobbesian nightmare. ...
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