“A date which will live in infamy” is what United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously declared of December 7, 1941. That, as I am sure you are all aware, was the day that Imperial Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. What you may not be aware is that even while FDR was expressing his outrage in the only words he ever spoke in which his rhetoric approached the eloquence of that of Sir Winston Churchill – the creepy, grinning, invalid never came remotely close to approaching the class of the scion of Marlborough – inwardly, he was rejoicing. He had spent the good part of a year trying to manoeuvre Japan into attacking the United States so that he could use war with Japan as a backdoor to enter the war with Germany. He believed it was his destiny to lead his country into a war that sweep away not only the fascist regimes in Germany and Italy, but the reactionary empires of Britain and France as well, paving the way for a new world that would be led by the progressive, young, forward-looking countries, namely his own and the Soviet Union. Knowing that his own people objected to the idea of becoming involved in yet another European war he settled upon this devious method to attain his ambitions. In doing so he achieved a whole new level of chicanery, albeit one that he would shortly surpass when he promised the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, having secured his agreement not to make this known before the next Presidential election (he did not want to alienate Polish voters), that the USSR could keep the country, for whose freedom Britain and France had gone to war with Germany, after the war was over. (1)
Today there is much celebration going on in Canada over the fiftieth anniversary of a date which truly deserves to live in infamy. February 15, 1965 was the day that the present Maple Leaf flag replaced the Canadian Red Ensign as the official flag of Canada through the actions of a politician who was no less of a scoundrel than FDR, our Prime Minister at the time, Lester Bowles (“Mike”) Pearson.
This change was completely unnecessary. As a true Canadian patriot, the man who led the opposition to the change in Parliament when it occurred, former Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader John G. Diefenbaker explained:
Canada had a flag. It flew over the Headquarters of the Canadian Corps in France in 1918. A meeting of the Mackenzie King Cabinet on 27 October 1943 decided that our army should fly the Canadian red ensign wherever Canadian forces were serving with the forces of other nations. It was officially recognized as Canada’s flag by Order-in-Council in 1945. On 12 November 1951 Mr. St. Laurent in reply to the question: “What steps are being taken by the government with respect to the adopting of a distinctive national flag?” answered: “See Order-in-Council P.C. 5888 of September 5, 1945.” Canada had a flag, a flag ennobled by heroes’ blood. (2)
The flag Diefenbaker was talking about was a solid red flag that contained a Union Jack in the canton and the Canadian Shield of Arms in the fly. The Shield is divided into five parts, the top left containing the three golden lions of England, the top right containing the red lion of Scotland, beneath these are the harp of Ireland on the left and the fleur-de-lis on the right, with the fifth section at the bottom containing three maple leaves branching off from a single stem. The leaves were initially green with black veins but this was later changed to red with gold veins. The province of Ontario and my own province of Manitoba have similar flags with the provincial shields substituted for the national one. When talk of changing the flag began proposals included variations on the Red Ensign theme in which the shield would be replaced by a large gold maple leaf or a large fleur-de-lis. The latter was put forward by Diefenbaker. None of these proposals was acceptable to Pearson, however, who wanted the Union Jack eliminated from the flag altogether.
Pearson, you see, although he claimed to be motivated by patriotism and nationalism – we are our own country and should have our own flag that does not borrow from those of other countries – showed that he had no real respect for the country he was governing, its traditions, heritage, and institutions. The rebellion of the thirteen American colonies in the eighteenth century eventually produced two countries because it divided English speaking North America between those who wished to cut off ties to the mother country through violent revolution and to build an entirely new country on a model they would draw up for themselves based upon liberal, republican, principles and those who wished to remain loyal to the mother country, not to participate in this revolution, and to build their own country in North America within the old tradition, adapting the British model to suit their own needs. The former built the federal republic of the United States of America. The latter built the Dominion of Canada. It too is a federation, albeit of provinces rather than states, with its own parliament under the monarch it shares with Britain. As Prime Minister Diefenbaker wonderfully put it in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 1960:
We were the first country which evolved, over a hundred years ago, by constitutional processes from colonial status to independence without severing the family connection. (3)
Pearson never really understood or respected this. He believed that for Canada to truly be its own nation it would have to throw off its Britishness and remake itself entirely on its own. This, of course, was very similar to the attitude of the Americans which had originally divided them from the Canadians. Ever since the Pearson Liberals – and the Trudeau Liberals after them – set out on this course of reshaping the country, Canadians have been trying to define what makes us different from Americans and many have opted for stupid and unworthy things. In the Cold War, which pitted the United States as the avatar of capitalism against the Soviet Union as the avatar of socialism, many latched on to socialism as the distinguishing characteristic, despite the fact that the Conservative and Liberal parties, the only two parties ever to have formed the federal government in Canada, were both firmly opposed to socialism until well into the 20th Century, that such socialist measures as progressive income taxation and the “New Deal” were both introduced in the United States before their equivalent was introduced in Canada, and that the Canadian government of R. B. Bennett was actively engaged in combating the Red Menace in the 1930s at a time when the American President was recognizing the Bolshevik government in Moscow and recalling ambassadors that did not portray Stalin and his show trials in a positive light in their reports. Before Pearson changed the flag, Canadians understood what made them Canadian rather than American and it was something positive – loyalty, being true to heritage, tradition, roots, and “the family connection” rather than engaging in ideological revolution, and an adapted version of common law and parliamentary monarchy – rather than something vile like socialism.
Pearson’s supposed patriotism and nationalism was, therefore, nothing of the sort. It was rather what John Farthing called “the pure Canada cult”. Farthing, writing a decade before Pearson changed the flag, described the emergence of this cult which sought to define Canada purely by geography rather than history and tradition, and to exclude from the new Canada traditions which had been imported from elsewhere. Inconsistently, however:
[A]ccording to the peculiar logic of the new pure Canada cult it is only British traditions which are in any sense un-Canadian, whereas a tradition coming to us from another part or parts of Europe is a tradition affirmed to be not only 100 per cent Canadian, but even to be the only tradition not distinctively un-Canadian. The one tradition that must be jettisoned, as something quite distinct from the country that gives us our existence, turns out to be the British tradition. (4)
Freedom, Farthing had pointed out, does not come from geography, it does not grow on trees, it arise out of traditions. In Canada’s case, our freedom is grounded in the tradition we received from Britain, and both Farthing and Diefenbaker foresaw that the consequence of the attack on British traditions and institutions in Canada that the Liberal Party waged in the name of the pure Canada cult in the premierships of Pearson and Trudeau would undermine our freedom. This was prescient for it is out of that era that the stifling atmosphere of bureaucratic arrogance, over-regulation, and above all political correctness that has been poisoning the Canadian spirit for decades has its origin.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the Canadian Red Ensign. It was Canada’s flag. Note the date of the Order-in-Council that made that official. September 5, 1945. That was three days after the Second World War ended. This was the first war Canada had entered by her own Declaration of War. Since the Statute of Westminster of 1931, we were no longer automatically at war whenever Britain was. Unlike the United States, however, we entered the war from the beginning and did not have to be deceived by our leaders into doing so. Our parliament declared war on Germany on the tenth of September, one week after Great Britain did. The week’s delay was to show our independence, the declaration to show our loyalty. It was a war in which forty-five and a half thousand Canadians had died, fighting bravely under the Red Ensign. Diefenbaker had been right to say it had been ennobled by the blood of heroes. Nothing could have been more appropriate than the Order-in-Council making the Red Ensign’s status as our national flag official. Nothing could have been more disrespectful to the Canadian heroes who fought in the war, both the thousands who died and the thousands who came home as veterans, then Pearson’s deceitful and self-aggrandizing campaign to replace that flag.
For Canada, therefore, today is the day that ought to live in infamy forever.
(1) For evidence of these claims see Robert B. Stinnett, Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, (New York: Touchstone, 2001) and Thomas Fleming, The New Dealers’ War: FDR and the War Within World War II, (New York: Basic Books, 2001).
(2) John G. Diefenbaker, One Canada, Memoirs of the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, Volume III, The Tumultuous Years 1962-1967 (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1977), p. 223
(3) John G. Diefenbaker, Those Things We Treasure, (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1972), p. 124.
(4) John Farthing, Freedom Wears a Crown (Toronto: Kingswood House, 1957), p. 32.
A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak, at the same time a monarchist, indeed a royal absolutist, and a minarchist.
You can e-mail me at gerrytneal(at)hotmail(dot)ca