Canada - Defense
( Originally Published 1915 )
HAVING spent a hundred years working out a system of government almost perfect in its democracy, and having spent fifty more years working out a system of trade and transportation that gives Canada sixth rank in the gross foreign trade of the world nations—one would think the Dominion entitled to lie back resting on her laurels reaping the reward that is undoubtedly hers.
But nations can no more rest in their development than men. To stop means to go back. To rest means to rust, and Canada today must face one of the most serious problems in her national history. What is worth having is worth holding, and what is worth holding must always be defended. The strong man does not go out challenging a fight. The very fact that he is strong prevents other men challenging him to a fight, and Canada must face the need of national defense.
So remote did the need of national defense seem to Canada that as late as May of 1913 the Senate rejected Premier Borden's plan for Canada to contribute her quota in cost to the British navy. The Laurier government had proposed building a small navy for the Dominion. This was hooted by the French Nationalists, and when the Borden government came into power, the policy was modified from building a small navy to bearing a quota of the cost of a navy built and equipped by Imperial power. In the rejection of this policy, the composition of the Senate and Commons should be observed. The Commons were Conservative, or supporters of Premier Borden, and the Government Navy Bill passed the Commons by one hundred and one to sixty-eight. The Nationalists voted with the opposition or the Liberals. The Nationalists are the small French party pledged against Canada's intervention in European affairs. Laurier having been in power for almost two decades, the Sen-ate was, of course, tinged with the Liberal policy. They could not completely reject a naval policy with-out repudiating Laurier's former policy ; so they rejected the Borden Naval Bill on the ground that it ought to have been submitted to the electorate. The vote in the Senate was fifty one to twenty seven. In the Senate were fifty-four Liberals—or supporters of Laurier--and thirty-two Conservatives, or supporters of Borden. In other words, so remote did the possible need of defense seem that both parties played politics with it.
For a hundred years Canada had been at peace.
The Rebellion of 1887 can hardly be called a war. In 1870 the Indian unrest known as the First Riel Rebellion had occurred, but this amounted to little more than a joy jaunt for the troops under Lord Wolseley to Red River. The Riel Uprising of 1885 was more serious ; but every Canadian who gave the matter any thought at all knew there had been genuine cause for grievance among the half-breeds ; and fewer lives were lost in this rebellion than in many a train or mine accident. Canada sent to the South African War troops who distinguished themselves to such an extent as to give a feeling of almost false security to the Dominion. On every frontier are men born to the rifle and the saddle—ready-made troopers ; but as the frontier shrinks, this class deteriorates and softens.
For a hundred years Canada has been at peace with the outside world. For three thousand miles along her southern border dwells a neighbor who has often been a rival in trade and with whom Canada has had many a dispute as to fisheries and boundaries and tariff, but along this borderland of three thousand miles exists not a single fort, points not a single gun, watches not a single soldier. It is a question if another such example of international friendship without international pact exists in the history of the world. Where international boundaries in Europe bristle with forts and cannon, international boundaries in America are a shuttle of traffic back and forth of great migrations of population, of great waves of friendship and good feeling which all the trade rivalries and hostile tariffs of a half century have failed to stem. The pot shot of some fishery patrol across the nets of a poacher on the wrong side of the international line fails to excite anybody. Even if some flag lunatic full of whisky climbs a flagstaff and tears down the other country's national emblem—the boundary does not go on fire. The authorities cool such alcoholic patriotism with a water hose, or ten days in the lock-up. The papers run a half column, and that is all there is about it.
So why should Canada become excited over national defense? On the south is a boundary without a fort, without a gun, guarded by a powerful nation with a Monroe Doctrine challenging the world neither to seize nor colonize in the Western Hemisphere. On the east for three thousand miles washes the Atlantic, on the west for five thousand miles the Pacific—what has Canada to fear? "Why," asked the Conservatives, "should we support the Laurier policy of building a tin-pot navy?" "Why," retorted the Liberals when Laurier went out and Borden went in, "should we sup-port the Borden Navy Bill to contribute good Canadian cash to a British navy?"
Besides, in the back of Canada's collective head—as it were—in a sort of unspoken consciousness was the almost religious conviction that the Dominion had contributed her share toward Imperial defense in her transportation system. Had she not granted fifty five million acres of land for the different transcontinentals and spent far over a billion in loans and subsidies and guarantees? Value that land at ten dollars an acre. That was tantamount to an expenditure of two hundred dollars per capita for a transportation system of use to the empire in Imperial defense. Seventy train-loads of Hindu troops were rushed across Canada in cars with drawn blinds and transported to Europe before the enemy knew such a movement was contemplated. Should Turkey ever cut off Suez, Canada and Panama would be England's route to India. In addition, Canada considers herself the granary of the em-pire. Should Suez ever cut off the path to India and Australia, what colony could feed England but Canada?
You will note that Canada's thought concerned the empire, not herself. The reason for the navy bills proposed by both parties has been Imperial defense. That Canada might some day be compelled to fight for her own existence—and fight to the death for it never dawned on her legislators ; and their unconsciousness of national peril is the profoundest testimony to the pacific intentions of the United States that could be given. It seems almost treason at this era of world war to call Canada's attention to the fact that the greatest danger is not to Imperial defense. It is to Canada's national defense. Uncle Sam has been Canada's big brother, but what if when the danger came, his arms were tied in a conflict of his own? Whatever comes to menace the United States will menace the safety of Canada ; and with swift cruisers, Europe and Asia are nearer Canada to-day than Halifax is near Vancouver. Either city could be attacked by foreign powers before military aid could be transported across the width of Canada. We are nearer Europe to-day than the North was near the South in the Civil War. It takes a shorter time to transport troops across Atlantic or Pacific than it formerly took to send a Minnesota regiment to Maryland, Including Quebec, Montreal, old Port Royal, Annapolis, Louisburg and the forts on Hudson Bay, Canada's chief strongholds of defense have been taken and retaken seven times by European enemies in one hundred and sixty years --between 1629 and 1789. Day was when Quebec fortifications cost so much that the King of France wanted to know if they were laid in gold. Before the fall of Quebec in 1759, Louisburg a forgotten fortress of Cape Breton was considered one of France's strongholds. Have Canadians forgotten the frightful wreck of the British fleet in the St. Lawrence in 1711 under Sir Havender Walker ; or the defeat of the admiralty ships manned by the Hudson's Bay fur-traders up off Port Nelson in 1697 by Lemoyne d' Iberville? Before La Pérouse reduced Churchill it was regarded as a second Gibraltar. Yet Churchill and Nelson and Quebec and Louisburg all fell before a foreign foe, and Europe is nearer to-day than she was in those eras of terrible defeat. What additional fortifications or defenses has Canada to be so cocksure that history can never repeat itself? She is not resting under the Monroe Doctrine. It is a safe wager that many Canadians have never heard of the Mon-roe Doctrine. Besides, the minute Canada voluntarily enters a European war, does she forfeit American "protection" under that Monroe Doctrine? The idea of being "protected" by any power but her own—and Britain's—right arm Canada would scout to derision. Yet what are her own national defenses?
Her regular forces ordinarily consist of less than three thousand men; her volunteer forces of forty-five to sixty thousand. By law it is provided that the Do-minion militia consist of all male inhabitants of the age of eighteen and under sixty, divided into four classes : from eighteen to thirty years of age unmarried or widowers ; from thirty to forty-five unmarried or widowers; from eighteen to forty-five married or widowers ; men of all classes between forty-five and sixty. In emergency, those liable to service would be called in this order. The period of service is three years. Up to the present service has been voluntary, and the period of drill lasts sixteen days. Except for fishing patrols and insignificant cruisers, Canada has no marine force, absolutely none, though she can requisition the big merchant liners which she subsidizes. Canada has an excellent military school in Kingston and a course of instruction at Quebec, but the majority of graduates from these centers go into service in the British army simply because there is no scope for them in their own land. At Esquimalt off Victoria, British Columbia, and at Halifax, Nova Scotia, before the outbreak of the present war, were Imperial naval stations ; but these were being reduced to a minimum. Perhaps to these defenders should be added some thirty thousand juvenile cadets trained in the public schools, but if one is to set down facts not fictions, much of the training of the volunteers resolves itself into a yearly picnic. One wonders on what Canada is pinning her faith in security from attack in case disaster should come to the British navy, 'Whether Canada is conscious of it or not, her greatest defense is in the virility of her manhood. Her men are neither professorial nor an office type. They are big outdoor men who shoot well because they have shot fromboyhood and lived a life in the open. All this, however, is not national defense. It is unused but splendid material for national defense.
Up to the outbreak of the present war Canada has not spent ten million a year on national defense. That is—for the security of peace for a century, she has spent less than one, dollar and fifty cents per head a year. A year ago naval bills were rejected. Today there are few people in Canada who would not ac-knowledge that Canada is spending too little on defense. Stirred profoundly but, as is the British way, saying little, the Dominion is setting herself in ear-nest to the big new problem. To the European War, Canada has sent sixty thousand men; and she has promised one hundred thousand more. A nation that can unpreparedly deliver on such promises to the drop of the hat can take care of her defense, and that may be Canada's next national job.
Would any power have an object in crippling Canada? The question is answered best by another. If Suez were cut off and Canada were cut off, where would England look for her food supply? And if it were to the advantage of a hostile power to cripple Canada, could she be conquered? Any one familiar with Canada will answer without a, moment's hesitation. She could be attacked. Her coastal cities could be laid waste as the cities of Belgium. To reach the interior of Canada, an enemy must do one of three things, all next to impossible ; penetrate the St. Law-. retie---a treacherous current—for a thousand miles exposed to submarine and mine and attack from each side; cross the United States and so violate American sovereignty ; cross the Rockies to reach inland. Any one of these feats is as impossible as the conquest of Switzerland or the Scottish Highlands. Canada could be attacked and laid waste; she could be financially ruined by attack and set back fifty years in her progress; but she could no more be conquered than Napoleon conquered Russia. The conquest would be at a cost to destroy the conqueror, and the conqueror could no more stay than Napoleon stayed in Moscow. Canada has a vast, an illimitable back country—the area all Russia; and to the lakes and wild rivers and mountain passes of that country her people are born and bred. To her climate her people are born and bred. The climate would take care of the rest. You can't exactly despatch motors and motor guns down swamps for a hundred miles and over cataracts and through mountain passes on the perpendicular. Canada's back country is her perpetual city of refuge. Nevertheless, the day of dependence on false security is past. National status implies national defense, and at time of writing the indications are that the whole military system of the Dominion will be put on a new basis, training to patriotism and defense and service from the public school up through the university.
"Then what becomes of your coeds and woman movement?" a militarist asked.
The question can be answered in the words of a great doctor—more men die on the field of battle from lack of women nurses than ever die from the bullet of the enemy. The time seems to have come for woman's place on the firing line. That womanhood which gives of life to create life now claims the right to go out on the field of danger to conserve and protect life; and in the embodiment of military training in public education that, too, may be part of Canada's new national defense.
When an admiral's fleet is sunk within ten days' sail of Victoria and Vancouver, Laurier's naval policy to build war vessels, and Borden's to contribute to their purchase for service in the British Navy take on different aspect to Canada ; and the Dominion enters a new era in her development, as one of the dominant powers in the North Atlantic and the North Pacific. That is—she must prepare to enter ; or sit back the helpless Korea of America. A country with a billion dollars of commerce a year to defend cuts economy down to the danger line when she spends not one per cent. of the value of her foreign commerce to protect it. Like the United States, Canada has been inclined to sit back detached from world entanglements and perplexities. That day has passed for Canada. She must take her place and defend her place or lose her identity as a nation. The awakening has gone over Canada in a wave. One awaits to see what will come of it.
Much, of course, depends upon the outcome of the great war. If Britain and her allies triumph and particularly if peace brings partial disarmament the urgency of preparation on Canada's part will be lessened. But should Germany win or the duel be a draw, then may Canada well gird up her loins and look to her safety.