We stand on guard for thee?

Behind the symbolism of everything Canadians have done for Americans since the attacks, there is a Canadian sentiment that smacks of nothing less than smug arrogance.

The Americans deserved it, we say in closed quarters and away from our American friends. They brought this upon themselves, we say, while others nod in agreement.

And while the mourning period has barely ended, Canadians watch from afar as the U.S. military machine prepares for war. Canadians face a new question: Would we be willing to die in a war against terrorism? Would Canadians be willing to take casualties, military or civilian, fighting a war that may or may not belong to us?

For a great majority of us, the answer is no.

Canada has the luxurious position of being twice removed from our Southern brethren. For many of us, the World Trade Center collapse was a television image–an image of a building we’ve never seen with our own eyes or stood on with our own feet. Few of us have ever been to New York, let alone set foot on the open-air observation deck on the 110th floor. After the attack most Canadians took precautions, but we’ve got to be kidding ourselves if we think that terrorists will attack here. The attacks, above all, were symbolic. There is no such symbolism in Canada.

In effect, Canadians take no responsibility for the attacks while simultaneously criticizing from afar–and rather smugly, at that. Don’t go to war, we meekly say. This war is an American war, we proclaim. It is not something Canadians have asked for or are lining up to volunteer for. Even if we participated in any war anywhere, our miniscule military forces would hardly have a role, as years of reduced spending mean that we cannot act in any meaningful way. But we don’t regret that decision, even now.

We are also tremendously fortunate to be free of loss in the most graphic sense as none of us–save for a very select few–lost siblings, friends or spouses in the attacks. Polls show that while the majority of Americans want to go to war, Canadians are less willing. It is simplistic to believe such sentiments originate from a militant mindset, or a military-oriented culture. An educated guess would indicate that the anger and violation felt from the attack prompts an equally angry and proportional response–a violation that Canadians can shrug off all too easily.

Even Jean Chrétien’s actions demonstrate that he understands these sentiments. By not visiting New York (something Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac did immediately) and not arriving in Washington, D.C. until Sept. 24, nearly two weeks after the fact, nor making any outward symbolic or grand gestures of Canadian support for the war, he speaks volumes about how Canadians feel about a war against terrorism.

The reality is that Canadians will not stand shoulder to shoulder with Americans, nor do they want to despite gestures to the contrary. Canadians are simply unready and unwilling to give their lives in a war against terrorism.

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