THE PRESIDENTS AND THE PRIME MINISTERS: WASHINGTON AND OTTAWA FACE TO FACE; THE MYTH OF BILATERAL BLISS 1867-1982
Volume 11 Number 1.
The idea for the approach is obvious: examine the history of Canadian-American relations through the relationships between the leaders of the respective countries. That this approach has not been attempted previously is somewhat surprising, considering the success with which a relatively untried author brings it off in this new book from Doubleday. Perhaps this is because of the potential academic limitations of such an approach; it will inevitably lack the obligatory "heavy research" into dusty archives that wins the respect of trained historians but inevitably deadens the topic for the average reader. And Martin clearly identifies this reader as his target in his introduction where he admits to a storytelling style and declares his purpose as "bringing some flesh and blood to a subject which can be intimidatingly dry."
In this his stated aim, Martin achieves an unqualified success. What is more, his scholarship is highly respectable. The result is a major contribution to the understanding of Canadian-American relations in a book that must find its way onto the shelves of thousands of libraries, both public and private. Since this work has been published by Doubleday in New York as well, it is to be hoped that significant numbers of Americans will also benefit from its insights.
The author rivets our attention at the outset with a detailed account of the infamous incident of 1965 wherein President Lyndon Johnson literally lifted Prime Minister Lester Pearson by his shirt collar and pinned him against a wall, ranting that "You pissed on my rug!" Johnson was livid over Pearson's public criticism in Philadelphia of the presidential decision to bomb North Vietnam. After relating several other fairly recent incidents of a highly interesting and controversial nature, the author then begins a chronological survey of the relationship between the presidents and prime ministers beginning with the Confederation era.
What proves to be a major theme of the book is stated on page 7: "Beyond the facade of the world's greatest country to country relationship, are preoccupied presidents who don't know about Canada, who don't have the time or inclination to care about Canada, and who presume that Canada is on the leash forever." This idea is frequently illustrated, as in the revelation of the staggering ignorance of Canada displayed by some highly regarded presidents. For example, both Truman and Kennedy had difficulty pronouncing the names of their Canadian counterparts. President Eisenhower once introduced John Diefenbaker at a White House reception as the Prime Minister of "the Great Republic of Canada." Lyndon Johnson welcomed Lester Pearson to his Texas home by referring to him more than once as "Mr. Wilson."
The author claims that personal ties between the prime ministers and presidents have been a major determinant in Canadian-American relations. "They set the guiding tone, the leading temperament. If there is genuine warmth and harmony between them, there is usually the same between the countries." The evidence is convincing. The strained relations of the late nineteenth century stem partly from the harboured desires of several presidents to annex Canada. John Kennedy and John Diefenbaker were openly contemptuous of one another, and their bitter personal friction contributed to a marked deterioration in Canadian-American relations, a trend that was just as sharply reversed when Kennedy hit it off with Lester Pearson "like two peas in a pod." Martin suggests that the achievement of a peak in Canadian-American harmony between 1935 and 1945 was due in no small way to the personal accord between Mackenzie King and Franklin Roosevelt and the latter's deep affection for Canada.
In an intriguing conclusion, Martin leaves the reader with the opportunity to complete the manuscript. Given the sharp contrasts in intellect, experience and personality between the current president and prime minister, what direction are Canadian-American relations likely to take in the near future?
Allan S. Evans, Emery C. I., Western, ON.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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