September 12, 2011 | National Post

How the Tragedy Made Canada a Bolder, Prouder Nation

September 12, 2011 | National Post

How the Tragedy Made Canada a Bolder, Prouder Nation

How much has Canada changed in the last decade? Consider this: As the World Trade Center rubble was still smouldering, NDP Leader Alexa McDonough declared: “As responsible international citizens, it is important to reaffirm our commitment to pursuing peaceful solutions to the tensions and hostilities that breed such mindless violence.” A year later, in a CBC interview broadcast on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, then-prime minister Jean Chrétien suggested the 9/11 attacks might have been a reaction to Western greed and arrogance: “You cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others.”

Such remarks would be unthinkable now. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, Canada is a place where even most mainstream leftists recognize the need for military intervention as a means of disrupting terrorism and protecting local populations.

A decade ago, for instance, Canada’s involvement in the bombing of Gaddafi loyalists in Libya would have been a major political issue: Naomi Klein, Judy Rebick and Ms. McDonough would have locked arms and marched on Parliament Hill, demanding a “peaceful solution.” Yet in the 2011 federal election campaign, the word “Libya” was scarcely mentioned by any politician of note. Nor did anyone make much of Afghanistan, where 157 Canadian soldiers have died, and our 3,000-man combat mission is currently transitioning into a smaller, but still vital, training role.

In short, the last decade has fundamentally transformed Canada’s attitude to foreign policy, and the use of force more generally: After a quarter-century pacifist interregnum, we once again became comfortable with our proper historical role as active military ally to the United States and Britain. Canadians now stand up and salute their soldiers at NHL hockey games. A major part of Ontario’s Highway 401 — the road travelled by fallen soldiers from CFB Trenton to the coroner’s office in Toronto — has been renamed the Highway of Heroes. These are small, symbolic gestures, but they would have been unthinkable in the pre-9/11 era, when the military was rusting into irrelevance, and our Liberal leaders still entertained gauzy visions of a world without war.

Twenty-four Canadians perished in the 9/11 attacks. Yet it was not the attacks themselves that changed Canada. Nor was it our initial deployment to Afghanistan, which had many elements of traditional peacekeeping and nation-building. Rather, it was Paul Martin’s courageous decision to transfer the main Canadian contingent from the relative safety of Kabul to the Taliban heartland of Kandahar province. Though Canadian troops had faced live fire in the Balkans and other hot spots for decades, this was different: For the first time since Korea, our military was on the front line of a real, full-time war against a declared enemy of Western civilization.

In 2006, for instance, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry led the fighting in both Battles of Panjwaii, brutal encounters featuring close-range combat amid mud huts and trenches. Two whole generations of Canadians had never seen our soldiers fight this way before — except in black-and-white TV documentaries. And the sight of it, reported by our journalists, filled us with a pride that has manifested itself in a renaissance in Canadian patriotism (a fact much noted during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics). Even in Quebec, a province historically known for anti-war agitation, the response to the Afghan campaign was more muted than expected. (Indeed, many Quebecers were justly proud that the largely francophone Royal 22e Régiment — the “Vandoos” — distinguished itself in a variety of operations in Kandahar, often at great sacrifice.)

Canada seemed to find a sense of mission off the battlefield, as well. While the Liberals had taken pride in our status as an amoral “honest broker,” that no longer made sense in the Afghan War era: When your troops are shooting and killing an enemy, you have, by definition, chosen sides. Under Paul Martin, and then Stephen Harper, we became more assertive in defending our values and allies at the United Nations. We became the loudest critics of the Durban “anti-racism” sham, and an unabashed friend to Israel when it fought wars against Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2008. The anti-American inanities of Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish and her ilk became taboo.

Even in the purely domestic context, the after-effects of 9/11 have been remarkable. We give our police and security officials more leeway to interrogate and prosecute accused terrorists, ordinary criminals and even ordinary demonstrators (too much leeway, in some cases, as the G20 fracas shows). And we no longer let multicultural pieties get in the way of denouncing the barbaric misogyny of some unassimilated immigrants. “Honour killings” once were the stuff of back-page crime stories. Now, they are on the front page, for we recognize them as vestiges of the ideology that produced 9/11 and the Taliban.

The 9/11 attacks must be remembered first and foremost as an epic terrorist crime, and as a great tragedy for the victims and their families. Yet they also have had profound political and cultural ramifications that have transformed Canada into a more serious country, and one that plays a bolder and more helpful role on the world stage.

– Jonathan Kay is Managing Editor for Comment at the National Post, and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C..

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