Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada by Robert Bothwell is a captivating look at North American history. Bothwell completed his BA at the University of Toronto and his PhD at Harvard University He is currently Director of the University of Toronto’s International Relations program at Trinity College, where he is a fellow and a professor of Canadian political and diplomatic history.
I was born and raised about fifty miles from Canada and I was well into adulthood and far removed from Ohio before I ever visited the country. I went to Sudan before I ever made it to Canada, and I can easily name more Mexican presidents than Canadian prime ministers. What do most Americans know about Canada? Burning the White House and maybe “48′ 40″ or Fight.” I could add peacekeeping, Trudeau (but, mostly Margret), and the phase array radar off the top of my head, but the answer is very little, even for someone with a history degree.
Bothwell looks a the history of the United States and Canada on a single connected timeline. This actually shows how much the two countries are really connected by events and proximity. The connections run deep and throughout both countries histories. Early on, it was Britain controlling the interests of both countries and later it would play the role of the outsider competing for attention. Interesting facts and are brought up throughout the book. The American Revolution (more realistically called a civil war) was devastating for Britain. Britain’s American holdings went from controlling essentially the entire east coast of the northern hemisphere down to the Caribbean to holding a population of less than 250,000 of mostly French speaking people. Inviting the tories from the formerly colonies north to farm did little to grow the population. Growing a population would remain a problem for Canada for some time.
Canada also suffered from being in the shadows. First, it was the shadow of Britain and later the United States. Woodrow Wilson propped up Canada’s prestige early on by supporting Canada’s representation as a nation at Versailles, rather than part of the British Empire. After World War II, Canada was an individual nation on the world stage as a member of NATO. Although not known for its militarism, Canada gave much in people and supplies in both world wars and the beginning of the Cold War. When expressed as a percent of population Canada contributed more soldiers in World War II than most countries and did so without having a draft until November of 1944. Canada later took to peacekeeping and reducing its military budget.
Recent American presidents varied in opinions of Canada. Reagan accused Canada of being light on defense. LBJ “had no feeling for Canada, disliked its prime minister (Pearson), and visited it as little as possible.” Carter and Trudeau got along very well. There were earlier presidents who were just waiting to include Canada into the United States. Peaceful relations between the countries didn’t always mean good relations. Trade had always been a sticking point — First with Britain and presently with Mexico.
Bothwell presents a history of Canada and the United States that is greater than the history of the individual countries. Although our two countries are separate, they are closely related, and the actions of one have a consequence on the other. Canada is fully out of the shadows and makes its own decisions. A recent example is Canada’s willingness to join the United States in Afghanistan after 9/11, but its refusal to participate in the Second Gulf War. Your Country, My Country is an excellent work of history. For the American reader, there is plenty of new information along with, and more importantly, explanations for American historical events that are more clearly explained in their complete context. A very educational and well-documented read.