…and who would that be? Well, the US has a special relationship with Britain (we’re usually there for each other). We have a special relationship with Israel too (we bail them out when they need it, and they send spies to seal our secrets and sell to the Russians for money… oh wait… but let’s face it, they’re the folks in the Middle East who don’t hate us). And our best ally is probably Australia — no one else has been with us in all the major wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, so far. But our nearest ally, quite literally, is Canada. Today is Canada Day, on which our neighbors and allies celebrate the grant of Dominion status that produced modern political Canada.
For many years our border with our neighbors to the north was the world’s longest open border. It isn’t any more (and it’s a shame how our border people treat both Canadians and returning Americans), but the cultural ties between the two nations are very great.
So are the military ties. One part of the lineage of both American and Canadian special operations units is shared, with the WWII 1st Special Service Force counting as an ancestor of our Special Forces and the now-defunct Canadian 2nd Special Service Force (whose honors and lineage flowed in 1995 to a mechanized brigade as one of the endless rounds of Canadian defense cuts took place). Canada disbanded the 2nd SSF because their defense establishment thought general purpose forces were all they needed — or could afford. The new century has changed that, and Canada again has a robust special operations capability — that interoperates seamlessly, on NATO or other combined missions, with US and other forces.
Canada is an amazing nation, at once a very small country and a very large one — in population and in area, respectively. It has radically different politics and political institutions from its continental neighbor, stemming in part from its loyalty at the time of the American War of Independence, in part from being the destination of displaced Loyalist refugees from the States, in part from its long adherence to the Crown and its ties to British institutions, and in part from its own unique cultural inheritance. To be Canadian is, I fear, to be born to a love-hate relationship with the States. Most Canadians live near the US border and are in the beaten zone of the US media culture. We are so close, and so many, and so loud, that it’s got to be a bit like being the kid with the notorious big brother on the first day of school.
Canada might be small compared to the US, but it’s an economic powerhouse, tightly integrated in the US economy. Once, Canada had a large, first-world military to match. It seems impossible, but there are living men who flew jets from the decks of Canadian aircraft carriers. Canada once built its own jets, and even designed some of its own small arms (sometime I’ll do a post about the remarkable Ross rifles). Over time, Canadians have valued social programs more than defense, and their leaders chose to spend money on quality people over quantity or people or hardware. In this, they showed a natural instinct for the Special Operations Truths, particularly the most important: Humans are more important than hardware.
So Canadian forces may be few, but they are first-class professionals. (It’s not like human-wave attacks have ever been a key to Canadian military culture). The Canadian Forces have gradually modernized their small arms from weapons of generally 1950s British pattern, to weapons of generally modern US pattern. In Afghanistan they’ve deployed these weapons with skill and élan.
Of course, to do this they need weapons men of their own, and a retired Canadian weapons man has a website where you can learn about the Canadian weapons and the experts who maintain and repair them. His site includes a great poster of the major and many minor small arms used by Canadian Forces. And if it’s more official content you are looking for, the Canadian equivalent of our Ordnance Branch has a website here. There’s an interesting branch magazine — last updated over a year ago, maybe more of those Canadian austerities — and other material there.
So, today’s a good day — Canada Day — for Canadians and their admirers worldwide to run up the Maple Leaf (or a Red Ensign, if you’re a traditionalist) and drink a toast to a unique country and the men that keep it and its citizens safe.