John Le Carre, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974)
…all I or anyone at the Circus knew when I flew to Delhi was that a man calling himself Gerstmann had been setting up a radio link between Rudnev, head of illegal networks at Moscow Centre, and a Centre-run apparatus in California that was lying fallow for want of a means of communication. That’s all. Gerstmann had smuggled a transistor across the Canadian border and lain up for three weeks in San Francisco breaking in the new operator. (p. 176)
Ah yes, smuggling across the border from Canada into the U.S.
This idea of Canada will certainly be familiar to anyone who lived through the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., when American politicians suddenly began portraying our country as a haven for terrorists drawn here by our complete lack of border security, which supposedly made Canada an ideal staging ground for anyone wanting to attack the U.S.
(In a historical irony, the U.S. was actually used by William Lyon Mackenzie as a staging ground for attacks on Canada during and after the Upper Canada Rebellion.)
It’s hard to say how widespread this view of Canada is; certainly Canadians seem to have a slightly shameful sense that we’re not as warlike a nation as we might be. For better or worse, Canada has been forged more in compromise than in blood; when the most famous revolutionary battles in a country’s history are known by homely names like “The Battle of Mrs. Sharpe’s Garden” and “The Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern,” you know you’re not exactly dealing with a nation of Agamemnons and Hectors.
Our “undefended border” with the U.S. used to be referred to with pride. That’s how I remember it being presented when I was in grade school in the decade or so after Le Carre’s novel was written: we’re such good neighbours, we don’t need to surround ourselves with the paraphernalia of violence.
Now the U.S. point of view seems to be that we’d be better neighbours if only we were a little more aggressive. Do we, at some level, agree? Do we feel we would be a more impressive and respected nation if our borders bristled with guns, barbed wire, observation towers and searchlights slicing relentlessly through the dark?
Le Carre put his finger on this anxiety of insecurity before Canadians became aware of it, but since the book was published we seem to have gradually absorbed his point of view, and pride in our undefended border has turned to shame.
And so progress marches on.