Not every country can be expected to be as fearless as Guinea, Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico and Turkey.

But, as we ponder how to respond to last week’s stern lecture from U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci, we could do worse than to look for inspiration to these brave little countries that refused to knuckle under to relentless pressure from Washington to support its war against Iraq.

Predictably, Cellucci’s words gave a thrilling boost to the small but prominent coterie of Canadians who apparently see this war as an opportunity to knock any lingering vestiges of independent-mindedness out of the Canadian psyche, once and for all.

Among those rushing to denounce Ottawa and express their loyalty to the American empire was Ontario Premier Ernie Eves.

Over at the National Post (the unofficial Canadian headquarters for the U.S. war effort, cleverly operating under the guise of a “national” newspaper), there was clearly relief that a high-ranking American was finally calling Canadians into line.

Mostly, Cellucci tried to guilt Canadians into submission, suggesting that America’s loyalty to Canada (“part of our family”) was greater than ours to America, since if Canada were threatened, Washington would rush to our defence.

But the image of the U.S. as an endangered nation abandoned by unfaithful Canada is far-fetched. Everybody knows that Canada would rush to America’s defence — just like we twice rushed to Britain’s — if there was any evidence that the U.S. was in danger of an attack from Iraq (which has no known links to Al Qaeda). Of course, U.S. soldiers are now in danger in Iraq, but that’s only because they’re in the process of invading that country.

Clearly the Iraqi Republican Guard would pose no threat to U.S. soldiers if they were back home in Milwaukee or Atlanta. (The notion that attacking Iraq is necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks is one of the wackier ideas of the Bush administration; common sense suggests the opposite — that terrorist attacks are more likely after TV footage of besieged, bleeding Iraqis is shown night after night across the Arab world.)

It’s not surprising that Cellucci would try to portray the U.S. as threatened by Iraq. Otherwise, why should Canada feel obliged to join its war?

Friendship? Certainly, if your friend is attacked, you help out. But what if your friend picks a fight, ignoring widespread pleas for restraint? You’re hardly obliged to join in the battering … unless you take your cues from the Hells Angels code of conduct. Many who are skeptical about the war argue that we should nevertheless support the U.S. because it is our largest trading partner and it might otherwise retaliate against us.

Whether or not war co-operation would make any difference on the trade front — being “family” never spared us from softwood lumber duties — this sidesteps a crucial question: Are we willing to kill Iraqis in order to protect some conceivable trade advantage?

If the answer is no, let’s stop obsessing about the size of our cross-border trade. This is, after all, about waging war — as serious as it gets in terms of national decisions.

If we have any claims to being a civilized people, the discussion shouldn’t be reduced to how to best maintain our current rates of GDP growth.

Would we support killing people if it would improve our productivity levels or increase the global competitiveness of our banking sector?

The argument would be more understandable if Canada were a poverty-stricken nation — an Angola or a Guinea — and, in refusing to join the war, we risked starvation or some serious suffering. But we’re talking, at worst, about slight impacts on our GDP growth or, more likely, no impacts at all.

Of course, Canada defied Washington back in the ’60s and early ’70s, refusing to take part in its war against Vietnam.

But this is the first post-NAFTA indication that there is still a Canadian pulse.

No wonder that causes concern at the Post and the C.D. Howe Institute. After years of trying to convince Canadians that resistance to the American empire is futile — so just lie back and enjoy it, engage in what Murray Dobbin has dubbed “pre-emptive surrender” — things are in danger of becoming unhinged.

None of this was in the script. Jean Chrétien was supposed to just stay the course till Paul Martin, someone presumably more attuned to the realities of power, took the helm. But Chrétien proved unexpectedly feisty.

Will Canadians refuse to get back into line, now that we’ve had a small taste of independence again?

Stay tuned for Canadian defiance, the sequel. Things could really get interesting.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...