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America Rattles Machine Guns At Canada!

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Canadians are scared and unhappy about American Coast Guard patrols now routinely shooting thousands of rounds of lead ammunition in zones the American forces have designated for anti-terrorist drills. The new patrols, which are heavily armed and using the Lakes for target practice, were not seen as a great danger until they announced the formation of 34 zones of fire and a continuing program on the Lakes.

Environmentalists and lake-shore residents are unhappy about the perceived danger to pleasure boaters and the danger of so much lead being wantonly deposited in a body of water where environmentalists have worked for years to remove lead contamination. There are 40 million persons who take their drinking water from the Lakes.

Canadians are also astounded that the American military is flexing its might along what has been called "the longest, undefended border…" Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, wrote to the Prime Minister in complaint, saying “The longest undefended border in the world is gone. It's passé. And this is an example of it.”

The mayor of Toronto, David Miller, who works with a coalition to protect the Great Lakes, wrote to the Canadian Prime Minister requesting assistance. He said, in part, "At a time… when there is interest in restoring the integrity of the lakes, it is most disturbing that the U.S. is contemplating exercises that will militarize the lakes, cause pollution and environmental degradation, restrict shipping and recreation, and change the peaceful border between Canada and the U.S.”

Far more people are killed on Toronto streets by illegal U.S. guns crossing the border than bloody-minded terrorists from Canada crossing south. The idea that terrorists are flooding across the Great Lakes is utter nonsense.

The Coast Guard proclaimed that machine guns on its patrol boats do not break the treaty that was signed after the War of 1812, which has helped guarantee almost 200 years of peace between the two countries.

Even the most paranoid Americans hiding under their collective bed from the onslaught of terrorist hordes are probably not really afraid that disaffected Canadians are going to storm the northern frontier to take over America. Canadian dollars may not quite equal US dollars in value (so far) but the idea of hordes of Canadians coming to America to take jobs and change the foundation of our culture seems, perhaps, a little far-fetched.

The fear of terrorist cadres from increasingly sophisticated, well-supported terrorist operatives will use the long border to sneak into America is possible. But the thought ignores a whole lifetime of movies about the Mounties, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Didn't anyone tell those Bushists that the Mounties always get their man? They are true-blue (albeit redcoats), resourceful and perservering. We all know that. Sometimes they sing — which I hate — and sound a lot like Nelson Eddy. They put the Boy Scouts to shame. Who are we to doubt they are better protection on the Canadian side of the border than the fumble-fingered, frontier fighters of the Border Patrol are on our own?

How many countries can we alienate? How many societies can we insult? How many lakes can we shoot at without looking just a little silly?

It should be noted that the USCG has attempted to calm the situation. Chief Petty Officer Rober Lanier tried to answer concerns with the statement, "I don't know what it is, but I know I want to be prepared for it when it happens. We need to conduct these live-fire exercises so we are prepared for whatever it may be. If we are not prepared for it, there are going to be questions about why we weren't prepared for it."

To date the Coast Guard has run its live-fire practice maneuvers without injury or obvious damage to passing pleasure craft. They promised to make marine radio broadcasts beginning hours before their firing commences and will have another craft patrolling the area around the zone of fire.

This promise has not quieted opposition leaders who know that many small boats do not have marine radios, don't use them or will just wander into the firing ranges which, wet as are the Lakes, will not be marked. Others are concerned about the results of introducing thousands of rounds of lead bullets into the ecological system. During the past few years there has been a campaign to further reduce lead levels in the Lakes. Environmentalists had been trying to get fishermen to replace their lead sinkers and efforts to ban lead paint.

I found some pertinent information using the wonderful Canadian website that presents a huge number of Canada-US treaties. (The site "is the result of the cooperation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, [Government of Canada] the Library of International Relations [Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology], and the LexUM (Centre de recherche en droit public, Faculté de droit, Université de Montréal".) In it I found this exchange regarding the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817, which took place in 1940,

    In a confidential letter addressed to the Secretary of State on January 31, 1939, Admiral Leahy, the Acting Secretary of the Navy, raised certain questions regarding the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817. Among other things, Admiral Leahy requested the views of Mr. Hull concerning the mounting of two 4-inch guns on each of the American naval vessels on the Great Lakes, to be used in firing target practice in connection with the training of naval reserves. He inquired, if this was considered improper, concerning the possibility of modifying the Rush-Bagot Agreement to permit this practice. After careful consideration of the problem, Mr. Hull is inclined to the opinion that a modification of the Rush-Bagot Agreement would be undesirable at this time… From a naval standpoint, its provisions have long been out of date, but in spite of numerous vicissitudes the Agreement itself has survived unchanged for more than one hundred and twenty years and, with the passage of time, has assumed a symbolic importance in the eyes of our own and Canadian citizens.

The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson did explain that Canada and the U.S. had signed a written agreement three years ago that allows light machine guns to be used on the lake without abrogating the treaty. They said that the treaty had been made to forbid heavy armament on the lakes such as cannon ("weapons of war") on sailing ships.

The Coast Guard spokesman, CPO Lanier, replied with, I sincerely hope, some degree of humour, “We don't have any cannons or rocket launchers or anything like that.”

Whether or not the Bush Administration is acting in such a way as to alienate most of the world — even our neighbor and ally, Canada — does not affect the fact of self-less bravery in peace and war on the part of the US Coast Guard. Bad decisions are made at different levels of the military and the government. So be it. The Coast Guard continues its duties of rescue and patrol. Just watch The Perfect Storm again to be reminded of their constant heroism.


Photograph ©Beringer-Dratch of a USCG patrol in Miami harbor, Florida. 


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About hfdratch

  • STM

    As the author says, those buggers from the coastguard must have seen a few mounties in the distance.

    “Holeee smoke, Cletus, now lookee there: Redcoats! Let them dammned limeys have it!”


    Aah, yes, but I digress … a bit of history: America might have forgotten the War of 1812-14 (see book, above) but the victors didn’t! Yes, those naughty British considered themselves the victors because they lost no territory in the face of US expansionist aggression and in the course of the fighting gave the Americans, apart from a couple of defeats still celebrated in America, a bloody nose.

    I believe one of the reasons this is a forgotten war in the minds of the American public is simple: it is down to the fact that it was an exercise in expansionism initiated by the US and the US in reality lost, despite some US historians still claiming it as a “draw”. In effect, it remains a shameful episode in American history, the US having launched a war against its peace-loving British cousins on the flimsiest of excuses (one of which was the press-ganging of its sailors at sea).

    As the author of the book concludes, the fighting didn’t go well for the US – which started the war, having realised that the Canadian colonies were only lightly defended. They thought the populace would rise up in rebellion and greet the Americans as liberators.

    They didn’t.

    Of course, the involvement of the French cannot be discounted (don’t say we never warned you about the buggers), as they inveigled their way into the good graces of the US Government by aligning themselves with the hawks (yes, even then). At the time, Britain had been involved in long, bloody and ongoing wars with France (which also lost, and thoroughly deserved to do so).

    In the course of the war of 1812-14, American troops attempting to capture Montreal were soundly defeated and sent packing, the British captured and burned Washington (DC), and the US Navy inflicted a number of defeats on the Royal Navy, which at that time was the most powerful in the world.

    However, while the USN celebrates the battle between the frigates USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, which was outgunned and virtually reduced to a floating wreck, on the other side of the Atlantic, the one-sided battle between the frigates USS Chesapeake and HMS Shannon at sea off Boston Harbour is celebrated as a great victory to the RN, with the Chesapeake being outmanoeuvred by Shannon and literally blown to bits after being taunted to come out and fight.

    Interestingly, in a US television production recently detailing naval battles of the War of 1812-14, there was no mention of the Shannon/Chesapeake showdown, although it is part of Royal Navy folklore (I’d imagine all mention of it has been crossed off the books at Annapolis).

    As the British didn’t start the war, and didn’t want to go to war, and got the better of the fighting, and gave up no territory, it can reasonably be argued they won. The British, who had already outlawed slavery, also freed many American slaves who went on to fight for the King and were not returned to the US as slaves when the fighting finished (many ended up in the West Indies, free).

    In the last weeks of the fighting before the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, however, Andrew Jackson had repulsed a British attack on New Orleans, while soon after, the British defeated the defenders of Mobile Bay and were on the verge of capturing Mobile itself when news of the ceasefire reached the combatants.

    The result of all this was to further increase enmity between the US and Britain, while France, which in reality was, still is, and always has been, the real enemy of all English-speaking people, managed to tie up British forces that should have been fighting Napolean in his bid to take over the whole of Europe and parts of North Africa.

    (In Paris, they had been rubbing their hands with glee but it didn’t stop them from being defeated).

    The one really good thing to come out of a pointless war for America was the writing of one of the world’s best national anthems.

    That the US and Britain remained largely on good terms after the ceasefire, and that they became the best of friends less than 100 years later, is testament to the fact that blood is thicker than French onion soup.

    Here endeth the slightly revised version of a forgotten and shameful piece of US history, slanted here to more accurately represent the truth.


  • Howard Dratch

    STM: I may not agree with all you wrote, but I did appreciate all the information (and time you spent) in your comment. I realized how little I really know of the War of 1812 — a little reading in college and the usual public school gloss. More reading is called for.

    We Americans sometimes forget that our northern neighbor has a very different history and outlook. As much as I do admire the USCG, we should, during these rather perilous times for the US, not be antagonizing our allies.

    I was once listening to CBC on short-wave from Mexico and a program on some battle memorial was fascinating. It took me a while to realize the enemy Canada was defending itself from was — us. We are not the same country but we do rely on our so-far open border and mutual protection against the barbarians. Our government should remember that.

  • Jet In Columbus

    Very good reporting Howard! A compelling read for sure I’m ashamed I wasn’t aware of this!

    Fellow writer

  • S.T.M

    Thanks Howard … I was being a little tongue in cheek, as we are all friends now – common values will do that to you.

    But what I say is quite true, and often the history taught in the US has a quite different slant to that taught elsewhere.

    Some US historians still describe this war as a “draw”, which must make it more palatable. In Britain, Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth, it is always taught that the war was a victory to the British.

    Having realised the war was going very badly, and with New England about to become part of Canada almost at the behest of its own citizens, the US eventually sued for peace in a war they had themselves started.

    Interestingly, the British behaved very magnanimously and granted most peace concessions requested by the US, which might possibly have been the foundation for the eventual enduring friendship between the US, Canada and Britain.

    Even during the fighting in Washington, the British were ordered not to destroy the homes of the local citizenry and only public and government buildings were torched.

    At the time this all happened, the French had been defeated – temporarily – in Europe, and thus Britain was finally able to focus its not inconsiderable resources on the the American war.

    So the writing was certainly on the wall for the US. As I say, winning a few battles doesn’t really constitute a “draw”, as the ledger was very much in the favour of Britain, and thus Canada, whose militia (fighting for their own homeland against invaders) had consistently outfought their US counterparts – many of whom did not want to fight beyond the borders of the US, understanding that they were the now aggressors. (even US history books back this view)

    None of this means one side is better. It’s just what happened, the same as there’s no denying the British lost the War of Independence.

    However, like I say: it did result in the US getting possibly the world’s best national anthem.

    And hello Jet, old boy: how are you?? You continue to do good work, mate.

  • Deano

    If I may be so bold as to offer some additional reading – check out Pierre Burton’s excellent history on the War of 1812: Book I – The Invasion of Canada and Book II – Flames Across the Border.