Some refer to George W. Bush as another Hitler. This is a gross exaggeration. He has constructed no death camps and only one concentration camp — at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
While it does seem, in Nuremberg terms, that Bush could be called a war criminal (invading other countries on the flimsiest of pretexts), he has not engaged in genocide. Nor, unlike Volkswagen supporter Hitler, does he promote the production of small, cheap cars.
True, both came to power constitutionally (although under dubious circumstances and with the support of only a minority of voters). True, both masterfully used traumatic events at home (the 1933 Reichstag fire for Hitler; 9/11 for Bush) to make a frightened and resentful populace accept restrictions on civil liberties.
True, also, that the U.S. leader shares Hitler's taste for military costumes — although to be fair to the German dictator, he did serve on active duty in wartime.
But overall, the comparison is far from exact, lending credence to Karl Marx's famous comment that when history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy, the second, farce.
Still, for Canada and novice Prime Minister Paul Martin — currently trying to engage Bush in Monterrey, Mexico — there are certain similarities. Like central European nations of the 1930s, Canada finds itself next door to a powerful nation led by an unusually aggressive and perhaps slightly unhinged man. What to do?
It's generally forgotten now, but in the mid-'30s Hitler was not universally condemned as evil personified. Indeed, he had many admirers in Europe and North America — people who lauded his "leadership," who lionized his moral certainty (no namby-pamby moral relativism there) and who either forgave, or actively applauded, what was then called anti-Semitism and today would be labeled racial profiling.
World leaders were wary and respectful. Canada's then-prime minister, Mackenzie King, confided in his diary after meeting Hitler in 1937 that the dictator was "one who truly loves his fellow men and his country and would make any sacrifice for their good ... a man of deep sincerity and a genuine patriot ... a teetotaller."
Yet even King, an ocean away from Germany, recognized that Hitler's ambitions could cause trouble. Consider the difficulties of Germany's small neighbors. Should they stay resolutely neutral and hope for the best (Belgium, Switzerland), sign onto Hitler's security agenda (Austria, Hungary, Romania) or rely on agreements with other nations (Poland, Czechoslovakia)?
These are the choices Canada faces with Bush's America. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien attempted the Swiss solution — stay out of the aggressor's wars but continue to sell him whatever he needs. Hitler was comfortable with that level of tacit support. Bush appears to want more.
Martin seems to be veering to the Romanian model of more active support for Bush's military aims. I say "seems" because, as usual, Martin's actions to date have been rhetorical and procedural — setting up new committees, making vague promises.
Indeed, those far more familiar with Paul Martin's thinking than I whisper that, at heart, the new Prime Minister is no different from Chrétien here. If so, rhetoric will dominate — plus one or two substantive measures.
Like Chrétien, Martin will offer up the Canadian navy and special commando units to the U.S. (those interested in the level to which Canadian maritime forces are already under U.S. command should read Kelly Toughill's masterful piece in last Saturday's Star).
Like Chrétien, Martin will almost certainly sign onto Bush's missile defense scheme. Canada's hope, like that of Russia and Europe, is that missile defense will be harmless (it doesn't work), will provide juicy contracts for industry, and will focus Bush's attention away from invading small nations.
Will Martin go further? Leftish Liberals hope he will simply be a politer Chrétien: Don't join the aggressor's wars but don't call him a moron either.
Those on the right, including many of Martin's business supporters, want a version of the Austrian model: Anschluss (annexation) in everything but name. However, the U.S. has little interest in this so it's unlikely to happen.
Martin has vowed to keep the Canada-U.S. border open to commerce. This is an easy promise to keep since the Americans want that too. He said he would persuade the Americans to "respect" the Canadian passport. He won't get that. He may get an agreement on softwood lumber (which isn't up to Bush; even Hitler wasn't all-powerful). But Martin will get a lumber deal only if he gives the Americans everything they want.
My guess is that if Martin wants the U.S. president to like him, if he wants those coveted invitations to the ranch so useful for winning votes in Alberta, he will have to offer something more — that Canada will have to be a little more Romania and a little less Switzerland.
Switzerland, of course, survived World War II intact. Romania did not.
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