History Lessons: The View From Out There

According to Canadian texts (six are cited), the United States planned to conquer and annex Canada during the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War and at various points in between. During the Cold War, the United States repeatedly bullied Canada into supporting its aggressive military policies. Canadian officials hoped that NATO would evolve into a North Atlantic community that would act as a counterweight to U.S. influence in Canada, but in vain: Canadian governments had to toe the U.S. line or suffer humiliation. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, concerned that Kennedy’s belligerence might lead to a nuclear war, waited three days before announcing that Canadian forces had gone on the alert. In the next election, the Americans used their influence to topple the truculent prime minister. Diefenbaker’s successor, Lester Pearson, aligned Canada more closely with the United States, but in 1965 he annoyed Lyndon Johnson by calling for a bombing pause and a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam War. In a meeting after the speech, Johnson grabbed Pearson by the lapels and shouted, “You pissed on my rug.”

Thus have Canadian texts immortalized the Johnson vernacular.

In few countries are the texts so consistently critical of the United States as they are in Canada, but in a couple of cases the rhetoric is alarming.

History Lessons: The View From Out There (The Washington Post (registration; will expire))

This article, a review of How Textbooks from Around the World Portray U.S. History by Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward, explains some of the knee-jerk anti-American attitude I often encountered while I was studying at the University of Toronto. I wasn’t the only American student, several of my Canadian friends mentioned their dual citizenship, and some of the English faculty were transplanted Americans.

But a staff member for the graduate student union hung up on me when I told her I was American, and a few students seemed miffed that I qualified for housing in an apartment complex for international students. These were little, petty things, from people who didn’t know me and didn’t care. In general, the anti-Bush tone of the Kerry campaign reminds me of the anti-American tone of Canadian patriotism. There have got to be better arguments for Kerry or for Canada, but they don’t speak as powerfully to the emotions (and they’re not as easily lampooned, either).

I don’t think this conditioned anti-American response (which, for some Canadians, serves as a substitute for patriotism) affected my relationship with any of the students or instructors that I got to know on a personal level. In a larger sense, I appreciated being asked to explain American texts to an audience of my fellow grad students that included many who, if they weren’t actually overtly hostile to the U.S., didn’t share the same value assumptions. As a kid, I grew up watching The Six Million Dollar Man, where the communists were always the bad guys; I was a bit shocked to see that the University of Toronto had posters for the “U of T Communist Club”. College is a good place to challenge the assumptions that are built into us at an earlier age.