On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, Captain Mike Jellinek of the Canadian navy took command of the watch at the subterranean headquarters of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, near Colorado Springs. By American law, NORAD still looked outward, not inward, chiefly at former Cold War enemies, evidence to its critics of military preoccupations outdated more than a decade after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. An airliner hijacking was reported near Boston, in NORAD’s northeastern sector. Local jet fighters had been scrambled. Jellinek phoned NORAD’s commander. Could
he react? Yes. Before the first hijacked airliner tore into the World Trade Center in New York, Jellinek had fighters vectored on its heading. If passengers on the fourth airliner had not fought their captors and crashed into a Pennsylvania field, NORAD interceptors would have met them over Washington. A Canadian had launched Operation Noble Eagle. Could anyone have saved the three thousand who would die? It was not a question NORAD had to answer.
It ordered every civilian aircraft out of North American skies. Combat air patrols swept over every major city. Non-conforming aircraft would be destroyed. Canadian airports filled with diverted international flights; communities took in marooned strangers without a second thought. Rallying his shocked and frightened country, President George W. Bush declared an unlimited war on terror. Any nation that did not wholeheartedly back the United States in this war would be treated as an enemy. Meeting in an emergency session on Wednesday, September 12, NATO representatives dealt for the first time in their sixty-two-year history with the proposition that had originally created the organization: an attack on one member was an attack on all.
That same morning, September 12, Canadians awoke to learn that the United States had slammed its borders shut, stopping four-fifths of Canada’s foreign trade, eliminating 43 per cent of its gross domestic product. This was an economic disaster on the scale of two simultaneous Great Depressions. Huge columns of trucks snaked back from major border crossings. Border cities, economies built on just-in-time deliveries, ground to a halt. By noon, cities farther away felt the crunch. Much that followed in Canada reflected the 9/12 crisis.
Canada had gone to war in 1914 because the British Empire had declared war. British Canadians, at least, responded as British patriots. That experience persuaded W. L. Mackenzie King and most other
Canadians that next time “Parliament would decide.” In 1939 and 1950, Canada’s Parliament had decided on war. It would do so again in 2001, but this time most Canadians understood that the price for
neutrality was unacceptable. Canada’s 1988 decision to link its trade as well as its defences to its hugely powerful neighbour left the Chrétien government no choice but to reassure President Bush that Canada would do all it could to back the American war. Many countries echoed that pledge; few had Canada’s practical obligation to respect it.
Excerpted from A Military History of Canada by Desmond Morton. Copyright © 2007 by Desmond Morton. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.