Canada’s place in the world is always something we are feeling out and trying to discover. As a middle power with no colonies we were in a good place during the post war era. We are the nation of peace keeping and fighting the good wars early and hard — we entered WWI when the Brits declared war and earned control of our foreign policy afterwards as a reward for fierce and determined fighting and entered WWII far before the Americans did. One less known bit of our history is our role in warming relations with certain communist powers and our decision to step back from the fear, foreign interference and hatred of government that drove much foreign policy during the cold war.
Trudeau’s father had strong relations with Cuba while the Americans were trying to blow up Castro and imposing horrifying regimes in Latin America. P.E. Trudeau was an outspoken leader who saw beyond McCarthyism and fear. Castro was not perfect but he was the leader of a nearby country. Instead of trying to kill him and impose a new leader we accepted him. The embargo has caused as much or more suffering in Cuba as has communism.
Canada also opened the gates for relations with China. We met with China before the Americans did and opened the way to quotes about mice and the world order that we currently enjoy.
The Americans spent so much of the last century terrified of an idea and meddling in the affairs of others. Very little good has come of that. It is one of the reasons that the Americans have Trump instead of a Scandinavian social democracy. Instead of vilifying and fighting everything communism stood for they could have built a society where government was viewed as beneficial and providing basic services. Americans hate and fear government. They just voted for a guy who wants to shut down the EPA, privatize parks and gut Obamacare — even that is a sad excuse for healthcare in the “greatest nation on earth.”
Ideas and the way we respond to them have power. The Communist Manifesto doesn’t include any concrete plans of how a government should look. It is a list of all the problems with capitalism and how to respond to them. Social democracy easily addresses these challenges. The Wealth of Nations also lists a variety of problems with capitalism and how to address them through government programs. There are lots of countries in the world with government owned land including the Netherlands, Greenland and London. In these places private ownership of land is not the norm and they function just fine. It seems a lot less radical when you think that the Dutch, who are some of the most ardent capitalists in the world, also have strong communal values and a tradition of public land ownership.
Imagine a world where the iron curtain had not fallen and instead individual countries had been able to work out for themselves how the government was supposed to work. Iran would probably be a democracy — the Americans overthrew a populist government that was anti-American making the mess we enjoy today. Argentina would have been spared Pinochet. The war in Vietnam would not have happened. Americans might just have public healthcare. Life would be a lot better.
No communism was not perfect. Dictatorship is dark and ugly. Mao and Stalin killed millions of people both intentionally and through bad ideology. Still the cold war fight against them didn’t achieve a whole lot either. It just added to the toll and suffering.
While conservatives in Canada and the world freak out because Trudeau lamented the death of a close friend of his father’s and an important world leader let us think more about how much damage what Americans did in the name of fighting communism did. Canada’s role during the cold war should be celebrated and remembered not demonized for a quick political score.