Our Best Friends

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange regrets that, in the United States’ efforts to combat terrorism, it often forgets that what unites it with its neighbors is more important than what divides them.

(Lange) About thirty years ago there was a violent rainstorm in the Adirondacks that caused a tremendous avalanche. I was there just afterward, when the smells of crushed trees and rock powder still hung in the air. The gray granite of the mountain had been swept and rinsed perfectly clean. It was pure essence of mountain.

About two years ago, after the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center, we heard a lot about the incredible response of the citizens of our nearest neighbor to the needs of their American brothers and sisters. That was pure essence of Canada.

By 11:00 a.m. on September 11, the airport at Gander, Newfoundland, was crowded with dozens of aircraft. Local officials unloaded them one at a time, while providing water, toilets, and medical attention. Someone put up a large United States flag on the control tower; after dark it was floodlit.

During the next three days, the 10,500 residents of the Gander area played host to 10,500 stranded travelers. The guests slept in high schools and fraternal halls; elderly people were put up in private homes. Helpful high school students were everywhere. Food for the unexpected thousands appeared as if by a miracle. There were centers for telephone, fax, and email, and even laundromat tokens for people separated from their luggage.

Virtually everyone who’d been stranded returned home deeply moved. Few ever had experienced northern hospitality before; many vowed to return to thank their hosts.

Which is why I found it surprising that, beyond a perfunctory expression of thanks, our government followed that with, you’re either with us or agin us! This played well with many American voters, but caused some discomfiture for our allies. Canada was criticized for what was deemed a tepid response to our notion of justice. But the debate in the House of Commons on the motion to express “sorrow and horror…condolences…and to reaffirm [our] commitment to the humane values of free and democratic society…,” is every bit as firm as our own resolutions. What it lacks is the sense of strapping on our guns and going after the bad guys.

They wonder at our rapprochement with China and intransigence toward Cuba, at our reluctance to pay our United Nations dues and blowing the daylights out of Panama City to catch a dope peddler. We often seem to them an impatient, unpredictable neighbor.

We and the Canadians immigrated to the New World about the same time. We speak the same language; we have the world’s longest border between us; we are each other’s largest trading partner. Charles Caccia, Member for Davenport, Ontario, speaking in the Canadian Parliament, had this to say: “The…unanimous support of the House shows how deeply Canadians were moved by the tragedy…and [demonstrates] the strength of ties binding Canadians to Americans.” He’s right. The avalanche that swept away both lives and illusions exposed the granite bedrock that lies under and unites us.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

(Host) Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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