growing up in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Michigan, I had many occasions to debate U.S.-Canada relations with a variety of fine American visitors who would traverse the Detroit River and come to Windsor to drink underage, gamble, and go to strip clubs (in Windsor, the law permitted dancers to show the naughty parts below the waist; Michigan was a ta-ta's only state).
We'd talk pop culture and politics and the environment. I'd marvel at the great American writers I was just starting to love--Hemingway, Faulkner, O'Connor. They'd compliment me on how well I spoke English.
But the liveliest of our debates was the one that began like this: If it ever came down to it, who would win a war between Canada and the United States?
Such a question! There aren't enough phone-in radio shows to answer it in a year's worth of programming. You might as well be asking what the sound of one hand clapping is. I mean, there isn't really an answer, now, is there?
Oh yes there is.
Now, no one is suggesting that to find out, our two countries should go to war just to satisfy two barstool debaters. But barstool tactics are the means by which the question will be resolved.
Assume Canada and the U.S. were to go to war tomorrow. The television commentators would work themselves into a frenzy trying to predict the outcome:
"The U.S. has bombers. Canada doesn't!"
"Yeah, but Canada just bought those leaky used subs from England!"
"The U.S. has tanks. Canada doesn't!"
"Canada's peacekeepers have been deployed around the world!"
"The U.S. has missiles. Canada doesn't!"
"The fact that Canada's troops don't have proper desert camouflage uniforms won't hurt them now!"
But opinions don't count for much in battle--statistics do.
In the 20th century, Canada has been in four wars and come out on top each time--a perfect 4-0 record (I refer to WWI, WWII, Korea, and the Persian Gulf War). The United States has an impressive record, too, but with losses at the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam (plus humiliation in Somalia), the record falls to 7-3. A ball team playing .700 is nothing to sniff at. But it's not perfection, now is it, especially when you consider that a full half of Canada's victories came against one of the greatest military powers of all time, while the U.S. has padded its record by scheduling lightweights like Grenada.
Now let's drill down. As any Pyrrhic will tell you, a war won with massive casualties is no victory at all.
In WWI, WWII, and Korea, America lost a combined total of 558,431 lives, or a total of 186,143.6 lives per war (LPW). Canada lost 60,916 in the same three wars for an LPW of just 20,305.3. Which is to say that Canada's victories came much more efficiently than those of the U.S.
Lives are one thing. Money is another. Once again, Canada comes out on top. In 1997, the U.S. spent $276 billion, or $1,030 per citizen on defending its borders (and attacking others). The Canadian government spent $7.8 billion, or $257 per person.
Fewer lives lost. Less money spent. Better winning percentage.
But wars are as often won with a good defense, rather than offence. Once again, on track record, Canada sports a superior record. No one has dared invade, despite the fact that Canada spends less per kilometer of shoreline to defend itself than any nation on earth. No Pearl Harbor. No September 11th. Even Canadian embassies abroad have proven immune to terrorist attack.
Here's another thing: home-field advantage. Should the U.S. decide to invade Canada, it would be like Napoleon and Hitler in Russia all over again. The mighty winters would stop the U.S. in its tracks. Is it any coincidence that, while the U.S. has walked over enemies in temperate climates like Panama and Iraq, it was unable to defeat the wintry Soviet Union, whose weapons of mass destruction were somewhat more, well, real?
Sure, in war, like baseball, anything can happen. Just as Jose Lima could defeat Pedro Martinez, the U.S. could have a lucky day and beat Canada in a war. But the statistics speak for themselves and, as a betting man, it's hard for me to go against them.