La Petite Guerre: A Strategy of Survival
by Bernd Horn
Experience is a powerful force, and historical experience is even more so. Its influence is pervasive and is often the driving factor behind the behaviour and actions of individuals, institutions, nations, and cultures. In short, we are all, to some degree or other, prisoners of our own experience. Within this context, arguably, it was the brutal struggle for survival in New France that developed a distinct Canadian strategy of survival based on circumstance, geography, and political will. For that reason many tenets of the strategy adopted would resonate throughout Canadian military history.
From necessity the intrepid leaders and settlers of New France realized that survival lay in the adoption of a number of basic principles. First, alliances for economic benefit and military cooperation were critical to counterbalance economically and/or numerically superior antagonists and neighbours. They were fundamental for survival in a hostile world. Second, subordinate stature as a distant wilderness colony in a larger empire limited New France’s population and resource base. These principles determined how much of its treasury France was willing to deplete in defence of its untamed colony, guaranteeing that New France would largely live or die by its ability to protect itself.
Such realities quickly dictated a distinct approach to war — adapt to the surroundings and circumstances of the colony and use those methods that would ensure survival and maintain the balance of power within North America. Given this largely tactical focus, strategic decisions and initiatives were simply beyond the scope and ability of New France. War, as such, had to be conducted on the cheapest possible footing, since New France was a distant theatre and the limited Canadian economy could not afford a protracted conflict, nor would the colony’s inhabitants tolerate one. Moreover, as circumstances eventually bore out, France was also unwilling to risk its position on the European continent, or in any of its