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Yankee Go Home?: Canadians and Anti-Americanism

by J.L. Granatstein

Retired York University history professor J.L. Granatstein begins Yankee Go Home? with a confession. He set out to write, he explains, a justification for the Yank-bashing that defines our quest for national identity. He would outline and endorse the common view: that anti-Americanism – from the United Empire Loyalists to the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting – was “a rational defence against the takeover of Canada by American money, ideas, and culture.”

It didn’t turn out that way. As the book developed, he found the most vehemently anti-American episodes of the Canadian past had more to do with wealthy elites defending their own interests than with any high-minded ideals. So Yankee Go Home? is full of surprising conclusions and feisty revisions of conventional wisdom.

The Loyalists, he writes, had little in common with the virtuous cartoon characters we all learned about in school. They were an incredibly diverse lot, and many of the people who welcomed them into British North America worried that they would bring a festering republicanism with them. Of course, that didn’t stop later generations of politicians from turning the Loyalists into Canadian heroes.

With clear, witty writing and sharp reasoning, Granatstein pokes holes in one overinflated myth after another. Granatstein deflates the common view that Mackenzie King got too cuddly with the U.S. during the war years. In truth, the little country at the top of North America hadn’t any choice. The British Empire was gone, and England had neither the money nor the will to keep Canada under her wing any longer. None of this, though, stopped historians and politicians from bemoaning the growing integration of the Canadian and U.S. economies.

This is how much of Yankee goes. Canada is forced, by circumstances beyond its control, to look south for protection or cash. Then Canadians bitch about it until the situation becomes the stuff of myth: someone or another was always “selling us out.” We just plain had no choice.

Granatstein goes after the whiners until he gets to the 1970s campaign to Canadianize university faculties. Suddenly, he changes gears, applauding the efforts of academic Yank-bashers like Robin Mathews. Likewise, when he writes about the flag-waving battles over arts funding, Granatstein’s sympathies are clearly with the nationalists.

Without a word of explanation, he drops his sharp, clever criticism and launches an eager defence of anti-Americanism. These claims aren’t without merit, but they feel badly out of place in a book that manages to shrug off American control of the Canadian economy.

The book’s conclusion, too, is unsatisfying. Granatstein simply offers up another helping of the worn-out clichés: we should look to hockey, Medicare, and the French-English duality to define ourselves in a new, positive way. For a book that starts out as promisingly as Yankee Go Home?, that’s a major disappointment.