Skip to content


Seventy. 70. That’s the sidetrack on to which an entire strategic debate – a debate which never happened in Canada – was shunted. Seventy dead Canadians – sixty-nine soldiers and one diplomat – have defined the first significant foreign policy issue to face Canada in the 21st century.

The problem is not the media. The media’s obsession with casualties is nothing new. A look at some faded newspaper clippings from early 1943 demonstrates that the media was, as now, obsessed by casualties. Intrusions into the grief of newly made widows and shocked parents were all part of a day’s work for journalists.
In 1943 there was a broad, but nowhere near complete, consensus about why Canada was at war and why casualties, sometimes dozens, later in 1943, ‘44 and ‘45 often hundreds, per day* were a fair price. Not all Canadians shared that view. There was, as there is now, a sizable minority that opposed sending Canadians to fight and die in some far away land. Then, as now, many Canadians could not understand or refused to understand that a great evil bent on global domination was loose in the world. They did not see Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini as threats to their country, to their way of life or to their peace and prosperity. They did not see any good reason to fight “someone else’s war.” After all, they reasoned, they are not attacking us. That the dissenters were narrowly correct is self evident. None of the tyrants had any reasonable plans to invade North America. Had the tyrants won their local victories by, say, late 1942 we would, eventually, have found ways to accommodate ourselves to them – we would have traded with them from our secure ‘Fortress America.’ That the dissenters were broadly wrong is equally self evident; one need only look at the records of the Rape of Nanking, the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and Germany’s depredations in Europe to understand that the Second World War was a necessary war of civilization against barbarism.

Nearly 65 years ago, in 1943 most, but not all, Canadians saw the ‘big picture.’ They understood that they were engaged in a morally just crusade. We used that word without flinching. Its meaning is clear: it signifies a concerted action for a just cause or against an abuse. It is an apt description of the Second World War, just as, Ruxted believes, it is an apt description of this war.

Sixty-five years later most Canadians do not see the ‘big picture.’ They have great difficulty in understanding that there is a world war going on because, like the long ‘cold war’ between liberal-capitalism and totalitarian-communism (1920 to 1990), there have been few large scale combat operations and none, so far, have touched us directly in Canada. There is a Clash of Civilizations ongoing nonetheless. Several nation-states and many sub-national ‘movements’ have embarked on a very loosely coordinated campaign of their own: their goal is to re-establish something akin to a caliphate or Islamic empire, a stated goal of al-Qaeda, of Tanzeem-e-Islami in Pakistan and, in Central Asia, Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Some have an immediate, local casus belli: Israel – which is, for many, many Muslims, a foreign invasion of their ummah, the homeland of their community of believers. Many Muslims see modern Israel as a creation of the secular, liberal West (through the Balfour declaration in 1917 and an Anglo-American dominated UN in 1947) and they believe that Israel’s continued existence is possible only because the West sustains it – as an ongoing affront to their faith. The division and colonization of the Middle East and West Asia after the fall of the Ottoman Empire (1918) is another wound which remains raw. So is the 500+ year rise of the secular, liberal West – which occurred as the Muslim world stagnated and failed to ‘advance’ in any meaningful way†. At various times from 650 to 1650 Muslim empires stretched from the Atlantic to the South Pacific. Some Muslim leaders want to restore that imperial position and then use it as a base for the propagation of their version of Islam to the world.

Many Canadians see nothing wrong with Muslim theocrats’ imperial ambitions. They are convinced, as some of their grandparents were in the early ‘40s, that nothing can touch us here in North America. They are sadly and dangerously wrong.

Admittedly, the ‘enemy’ appears to be pretty laughable: a ragtag collection of borderline maniacs leading failed states and certifiable lunatics hiding in mountain caves in places most Canadians cannot find on a map. That would have been a good description of Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler in 1928 – just 15 years before the bleak headlines and lengthy casualty lists of 1943. In 1928 Canadians (and most Americans and British, too) were too preoccupied with our own domestic affairs to worry about some strutting fanatic in a far away land. Even in 1937, when some of the men whose names would be on those 1943 casualty lists were just starting to make their ways in the world, Winston Churchill was almost alone in urging the West to arm itself against the Nazi-Fascist axis.

The threats posed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden’s followers and fellow travellers should be taken just as seriously, in 2007, as we wish, with hindsight, we had taken the threats posed by Mussolini and Hitler in 1927 – they are just as real.

It is important to understand that this new war is not between nation states or even traditional, ‘national’ sub-national groups. Since their inception the mujahideen have been pan-Islamic in nature - Osama bin Laden is a Saudi who led an Afghan-based rebel army and hides in Pakistan (we think). His top aides were or are Egyptians, Iraqis, and Jordanians. The moral and religious power of Islam, rather than any one Islamic nation, has been harnessed for evil ends. Young Muslims in Cairo and Calgary hear the call – and it rings loud and clear for young men from Tehran to Toronto: Jihad!, Holy War! This new, long war is being waged with guns and bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq, as it is with words in mosques in Marseilles and Montreal and in the salons of political and media heavyweights in Georgetown, and with money in Geneva. The prize, the new caliphate, is not meant to be a rebirth of, say, the Ottoman Empire. Rather, the enemy plans a super-national Muslim world – one firmly rooted in 12th century Arab culture.

This is neither the time nor the place to recite the moral and civil failures of the people who want to rule us, but those failures are many and on a par with those of Tojo and Hitler. What matters is that they have identified their own goals and they are, gradually at first but steadily now, increasing their power and prestige throughout the Muslim world – including throughout the Muslim diaspora in North America and Europe.

So: seventy. Seventy casualties have focused out attention on one minor campaign in what is destined to be a long, global war. Seventy casualties have blinded us to the ‘big picture’ and have prevented a debate about the best strategy to resist the militant, imperialistic Islamist threat. Seventy years separate us from the last time we ignored a real threat and we paid a high price for doing so.

It is time for Canadians to stop worrying about seventy casualties or even one hundred and seventy. We need to face the reality of militant Islam and decide how we are going to join with our allies to contain and defeat this newest aggression.

* World War II lasted over 2,000 days. Nearly 40,000 Canadians were killed in action – that’s nearly 20 per day, every day, day-after-day, year-after-year.

† Lewis, Bernard - What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, New York, 2003


No Trackbacks


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

No comments

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.

Form options

Submitted comments will be subject to moderation before being displayed.