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O Canada!

February 7, 2002

When President Bush spoke last week of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as “an axis of evil,” some of us reached the hasty conclusion that he was nuts. After all, Iran and Iraq are next-door neighbors and bitter enemies. Didn’t Bush know they’d recently fought a long and exhausting war, with more than a million deaths? Didn’t he know about their profound religious, cultural, and linguistic differences?

As for North Korea, it’s an isolated, lunatic Communist regime at the other end of the world’s largest continent. The idea that it’s on the same “axis” as either Iraq or Iran is daffy. It’s hardly in the same universe.

And what would an “axis of evil” be, anyway? Do wicked people say to each other: “Hey, why don’t us evil guys get together!”?

Evil is an evaluation, not a substance or a quality. In the language of Thomistic philosophy, evil is a “privation of good.” It has no positive existence.

And very few people, including mass murderers, think of themselves as evil. It’s always the other fellow’s fault. Check out Stalin and Trotsky, or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

[Breaker quote:  The real 
enemy]So why is Bush talking this way? Well, we now have the answer. And we should have known it wasn’t his idea.

Whenever a dimwitted — that is to say, Republican — president utters a striking phrase, it’s only a matter of hours before a speechwriter steps out from behind the curtain to take a bow. Why should the ventriloquist let the dummy get all the credit?

In this case the ventriloquist was one David Frum, a Canadian Zionist journalist for whom evil means enemy of Israel. The word axis was intended to equate the odd threesome of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea with the original Axis of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Never mind the minor distinction that the original Axis really was a working alliance, whereas the “axis of evil” trio aren’t even on speaking terms.

Frum’s wife, Danielle Crittenden, who is also a journalist, expressed her connubial pride at the phrase in an e-mail to friends, one of whom forwarded it to Slate, which published it over her objections.

So now we know the phrase axis of evil wasn’t really coined by an American president. It wasn’t even coined by an American! You have to watch those Canadians every minute. They’re always trying to get this country to fight their wars for them, just like their British cousins.

I realize that by saying this I may have made it impossible for me to take my next vacation in Quebec. I will probably be barred from Canada under their stringent hate-speech laws, and my rather innocuous remarks will probably fall under that heading in their hypersensitive minds. I’ll be accused of fomenting hatred against all Canadians.

Well, let the chips fall where they may. Canadians can go around calling other countries “evil,” but if you suggest that they themselves have their little shortcomings, you’re a bigot. The double standard is flagrant.

I don’t suggest that all Canadians are evil. I’ve known several who weren’t — Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye, and the Montreal Canadiens, for example. But they have their own angle, and you have to deal with them with due wariness.

Canada is a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. For one thing, taxes are stupendous — though it doesn’t matter much, since the official currency is essentially counterfeit anyway. The value of the Canadian dollar shrinks so fast you need a stopwatch to time it.

On the other hand, Canada is a democracy and our only reliable ally in the region. It’s rich in natural resources and every year exports thousands of Newfie jokes, which are now considered hate crimes. Hate crimes! They are among Canada’s chief contributions to Western culture. True, the premise of the jokes is that the noble people of Newfoundland have IQs somewhere in the Bush range. But every country has its seething ethnic tensions, and humor can be a healthy release. The whole problem could be resolved by giving the Newfies their own homeland.

Call me a nativist, but I’m getting just a little weary of Canadians pouring into this country to dodge taxes, take our women, and get us into wars. Do they take us for a bunch of Newfies?

Joseph Sobran

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