Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Canada delenda est

There were four world-wide European wars between 1689 and 1763, each of which was primarily a contest between England and France, and each of which was fought in part on the American continent. British colonial interest in the overthrow of French power in North America had its beginnings with the King William’s War (1689-1697), when New Englanders, fed up with French attacks on their North Atlantic shipping and fishing interests, set about the task of destroying privateer haunts in Acadia. In the spring of 1690 Port Royal (Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) fell to a motley force of some seven hundred New England troops. Although it was regained by the French the following year, this initial success emboldened the government of Massachusetts to entertain hopes of neutralizing the French threat decisively, once and for all. Quebec, on a promontory overlooking the St. Lawrence River, founded by Champlain as the center of French power in Canada, became the symbol of the French threat to the British colonies. Delenda est Canada! (Canada must be destroyed), became the rallying cry of New England.

In this quote from Brown University's Library's webpage, the phrase shows up as "Delenda est Canada"; in the opening section of the first chapter of the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, where I first encountered it, it's rendered as "Canada delenda est." My limited second-hand understanding of latin grammar accords with Franklin's arrangement; on the other hand, this page renders what according to this page is the original reference as "Delenda est Carthago"—Cato the Elder's call for the destruction of Carthage in what "may be the first recorded incitement to genocide." "Plutarch tells us that Cato's call ended his every speech in the Roman Senate, 'on any matter whatsoever', from 153 BC to his death aged 85 in 149." The opening section of the first chapter of the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of the most surprising and exhilarating literary compositions I've ever read.

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