Canada An American Nation

World Affairs and North American Attitudes

No discussion of Canadian-American relations would be complete without at least some reference to a development which is still below the horizon but of which there are signs visible to those who do not flinch from facing facts. This is the possibility of the emergence of a common isolationist attitude on the part of the North American nations against the outside world—North America contra mundum, not in an aggressive but in a defensive sense. The statesman and the student of affairs who do not realize that {123} conditions are developing which might make this plan of possible escape from the terrors and dangers of a mad world attractive to North American minds must be keeping their eyes partly shut. Jesting talk is not always idle and I attach not a little significance to the remark which is not uncommon in gatherings, social and otherwise, where Americans and Canadians meet: the remark that since it is apparent that there is throughout the world a trend toward prewar conditions tending to certain war, the North American nations should come to an understanding to withdraw from world affairs, letting the rest of the world go to perdition at whatever rate of speed and by whatever methods seemed good to it. If the League of Nations disappears, if the collective system of keeping peace breaks down, if older nations begin to align themselves into groups keeping a precarious peace and arming themselves for inevitable war, there will be an instinctive urge on the part of the North American peoples to retire behind their ramparts and look on.

Of the natural disposition of the North American peoples to take attitudes toward outside issues, between which there are resemblances and sympathies, there have been some striking manifestations. This was first noted by me in Paris during the Peace Conference when the Covenant of the League was in the making. Upon the Commission which drafted the Covenant Canada was not represented, Lord Robert {124} Cecil (now Viscount Cecil) and General Smuts being in attendance on behalf of all the British Nations. But as the successive drafts of the Covenant came into the Canadian offices its provisions were subjected to critical analysis. Sir Robert Borden, the Canadian Prime Minister, prepared a memorandum in which the proposed Covenant was submitted to searching but constructive criticism designed to bring about modifications which would make it more acceptable to Canadian—and therefore to North American—opinion. The dangerous implications to Canada of Article Ten and of the articles providing for sanctions were expounded to me, as to others, by C. J. Doherty, Minister of Justice for Canada, and a member of the Canadian delegation, with a wealth of knowledge and a clarity of vision that, to my way of thinking, far out-ranged the somewhat similar criticisms preferred months later against the Covenant in the Senate of the United States. The Canadian delegation was alert to note and to offer resistance to suggestions that the League should have powers of control over domestic questions, such as regulation of immigration and the distribution of raw materials. At that stage the representatives of the United States at the Peace Conference were enthusiasts in their support of the provisions of the Covenant; but, as the sequel showed, the doubting, somewhat hesitant, attitude of Canada was more truly representative of North American opinion. Canada entered the League while the United States {125} stayed out; and in the League has sought to modify the provisions about which North American opinion has been critical. Thus after some years of effort Canada succeeded in lessening the obligations imposed by Article Ten; while reluctance to give a governing body in Geneva large powers in the application of sanctions was revealed in the attitude of Canada toward the Treaty of Mutual Assistance and the Geneva Protocol.

Canada’s attitude of opposition to the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty at the Imperial Conference in 1921 was equally significant in its revelation of North Americanism in Canadian foreign policy. The facts are not fully known; the episode is shrouded in obscurity. But certain statements about it can safely be made. The British government desired the treaty renewed and assumed that this would be agreed to without question by all the British nations at the Conference. When a proposal to this effect was made at the Conference it was warmly supported by Australia and New Zealand. When the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Meighen, declared that the treaty should not be renewed the British government was surprised and pained; and the government of Australia, through its Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes, was vociferous in its demand that Mr. Meighen’s objection should be disregarded. The British government thought of the matter in the light of supposed advantage to the Empire with its varied interests all over {126} the world. The words that Mr. Meighen used are not on record; but the burden of his case was that the preservation of good relations between the United States and the British nations was the first interest of the Empire and that these good relations would be placed in jeopardy if the treaty were renewed. Undoubtedly he suggested that there was between the United States and Canada on this question a considerable community of opinion. In the end he brought the British government to his way of thinking. The opportune discovery was made that the treaty did not expire for another year; and within that year the Washington Conference was held and treaties entered into which made it possible for the Anglo-Japanese Treaty to be dropped without too much laceration of Japanese susceptibilities. This is as yet the most striking illustration of North American policy, with Canada as agent, influencing world policies.

I have dealt with the possibility of the North American peoples, in the event of the collapse of the existing world structure, seeking to escape the ruinous consequences of this catastrophe by policies of withdrawal. That they could escape by these policies is highly doubtful. The world is now so small and so closely integrated that whether they like it or not the nations are members of one body. I should like to close these remarks on the note not of a foreshadowing of contingent common policies of isolation, but of policies of coöperation to the end that the catastrophe, {127} foreseen and feared, will not arrive. There is in Canada, at least on the part of a considerable section of the people, a searching of hearts as to whether we have not made a contribution to the causes which have brought the world to its present plight by a too great insistence upon our right, under all circumstances, to retain freedom of judgment and action. There are certainly some signs of a similar stirring of conscience in elements of the population of the United States. There is in Canada beyond question a growing hope that the collective system of maintaining peace—by upholding the Covenant of the League or by the enforcement, when necessary, of the engagements of the pact of Paris—will be made effective and enduring. The Canadians who hold this hope understand that it is idle unless the maintenance of peace by collective action—which involves the application of appropriate and effective pressures to breakers of the peace pacts—becomes a ruling principle of policy for North American nations. We—I speak as one of the Canadians who cherish these hopes—believe that as our peoples come to realize that in this dwindling world there must be peace in all continents or in none, Canada will be willing to go beyond a pious expression of faith that nations which have pledged their word to abstain from war will keep their pledge of readiness to coöperate with other nations of good intent for the purpose of seeing to it that these engagements are not treated as scraps of paper. We trust that, if Canada should {128} become of this mind, she will be the interpreter of the desires and intentions not alone of the northern half of the North American continent, but as well of her great kindred neighbor without whose coöperation Canada’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of all the English-speaking peoples and of all the nations which profess the democratic faith would be fruitless. Time, destiny, her geographical position, the genius and resourcefulness of her people, her immeasurable potentialities, have made the United States of America the decisive factor in this crisis of humanity. I trust that it will not be deemed out of place if, in saying the last word in this course of lectures which I have been privileged to deliver, I should in paying tribute to your power speak also, with all respect, of your responsibilities.