‘South Pacific’: Do we appreciate America, or take her presence in the world for granted?


The Québec Art Company (QAC) begins another season this fall, this time with another famous musical: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific’. As I sat on the steps of Holy Trinity Cathedral reading the script for the first time before practice, the introduction gave an overview of some of the WWII jargon that was used in the play.

They went on to remark something to the effect that, at the time the play was written, most people were familiar with such terms as a ‘Jerry Can’, or a ‘Seabee’ (C.B. or someone who works in the Construction Battalion). But as WWII faded into memory, people forgot about these things.

This brings to my mind many issues. Such as, what was America’s role in the war in the Pacific all about, anyways? And how does that affect our everyday life in today’s world? When I think of so many of the things we all take for granted nowadays, such as Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, not to mention the internet, I often wonder if people realize just how those institutions got to be global like they are today.

I can tell you one thing, it wasn’t Mr. Dress up and the Friendly Giant who went with Casey and Finnegan to parts hither and yon, and got out his tickle trunk, while Friendly played the flute and exhorted everybody to get along with each other like good Canadians.

No, it was the U.S. Navy, and before that, the Royal Navy, who aggressively went out and opened up markets in foreign countries, even to the point of having Commodore Mathew Perry of the U.S. Navy, in the mid 1800s, park his warships outside Japanese ports, and threaten to kill people by bombing their cities, if they didn’t sign trade agreements with the U.S. Would Japan have industrialized as rapidly as it did, if such ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’ had not been practiced?

By the same token, would Japan have risen up as quickly as a military power, and turned around to threaten the very nations that once threatened it, to the point of us having to lob two nuclear bombs on them to subdue them? (fuelled by uranium from Canada, by the way, which was processed at the Chalk River reactor in Petawawa ON, which later went on to produce radioactive isotopes to cure cancer around the world!!!).

We think of the west coast of the U.S. as a place of surf, sun, and skateboarders, not to mention Hollywood. But how many people know that  San Diego started out first and foremost as a naval base in the  1800s.  Why do Phillipinos for the most part speak such good English and are often so well educated? Because America governed the Philippines from 1898 onwards and took it over from the Spaniards in the Spanish-American war because of their superior Navy.

Financial institutions such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express are now ubiquitous worldwide. One can go on vacation anywhere on this planet and at least one or several, if not all of these cards will be accepted. This is all a direct result of first the Royal Navy deploying itself throughout the world, then the U.S. Navy, along with the rest of her armed forces, who have seen fit to open up the world to commerce for virtually all who wish to participate in the Pax Americana.

Countries such as Canada, who’ve chosen not to invest as much in our armed forces, due to our large commitments in health , education, and social services spread out over tremendous distances, and a miniscule population, essentially rely on flying safely under the wing of the American Eagle when it comes to opening up and maintaining access to foreign markets for our products and services.

We should therefore be very grateful to our American neighbours for the protection they afford us. This brings me to another issue. What will happen, if and when some country, such as Communist China, decides to build a Navy comparable, if not more formidable to that of America? This hypothesis seems to be increasingly likely, as sources indicate that China, as of 2010, intends on beginning to build a carrier fleet, with a full battle group of warships to support each carrier. What then?

I think ultimately, those of us who believe in liberty, freedom, and democracy, not to mention respect for the rule of law, will one day in the not too distant future, have to stand up and be counted, and stand by a country which has done virtually everything in recent memory, to give us the freedoms, the way of life, language, culture, and sheer richness of diversity that we all take for granted.

This will be in the face of a burgeoning empire, belonging to one of the most ancient civilizations on this planet, one which has for almost a millennia looked inward and seen itself as the centre of the earth, but which now is increasingly looking outward, and sees the world as its oyster. It sees however, only one fly in the ointment: The western alliance of nations led by the great Republic of the United States of America.

Some shall say that it is inevitable that the Pax Americana should crumble and fall. After all, they will say, empires come and go. Let the new kid on the block have a kick at the can, right? But what does Kid Cathay stand for? Remember the tank in Tiananmen Square? The man who stared down that tank is reputed to have disappeared into the oblivion of the Chinese system of prison camps. He may even have been summarily executed.

As much as we abhor porn on the internet, do we want government censors blocking our ability to use the internet and communicate freely? Do we want our lawyers who speak up for human rights to be jailed and harassed by the police? Do we want our mines and factories to be places where literally tens of thousands of people are killed every year? If Communism is such a superior group-centred ideology, why is it that only 47 million out of 300 million Americans lack health coverage, whereas half of 1, 3 billion Chinese have no access to a doctor?
As I go to choir practice every Sunday for ‘South Pacific’, and ham it up, I can’t help but think that someday, maybe in my lifetime, the people of my country may be called to stand by its best friend and ally, to defend a legacy which so many fought and died for seventy years ago. Makes me wonder if that ‘show’, so to speak, will make WWII look like choir practice in comparison.

Hold onto your credit cards, folks. The post-modern generation of Commodore Perrys may be doin’ a little ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’ in the not too distant future. (Coming to a theatre near you, in living colour.)

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