Re-fighting the War of 1812, not just Vietnam


Many have noted that America seems to be re—fighting the Vietnam War in the election of 2004. With the telecast tonight of a History Channel documentary on the War of 1812, and a New York Times review of the program, it would appear that America is re—fighting that war as well.

This review seeks to explore the documentary's contention that the War of 1812 can be a prism through which one can view the 9/11 attack and its aftermath. The Times departs  from reviewing the documentary itself to expostulate that the War of 1812 was motivated by the imperialistic designs of America —— that it was an attempt to defeat Canada.

The review criticizes the documentray for referring to American actions on Canadian border towns as "attacks." The Times thinks that these should be referred to as "invasions." The review disparages what it sees as the documentary's attempt at morale—boosting after 9/11, and attempts to promote the Canadian view that this was an American defeat or at best, a draw. The review quotes a Candian professor: "The war confirmed certain American messianic views about the continent, views the U.S. still holds."

Laced throughout the review is an attempt to link our actions in Iraq with our "war—mongering" in the War of 1812 and it pointedly instructs us that an attempt to defeat a "small country" can be much more difficult than one expects.
Historian John B. Dweyer deserves our thanks for providing an honest view of the War of 1812 on these pages today.
This approach of the Times is eerily reminiscent of the Communist Front days of the 1930s, during which evaluation of the artistic merits of an object could not be done without an evaluation of its political merits.

Some excerpts:

It is the documentary's contention that the War of 1812 teaches a lesson about the invasion of the United States on Sept. 11, 2001....

While the American failure in the north meant that the United States would never seriously threaten British interests in North America again, it also meant that Washington would direct its expansionist energies more fruitfully westward and southward against the Indians, Spain and Mexico....

"The war confirmed certain American messianic views about the continent, views the UP.SO. still holds," Professor Clarkson said....

In The New York Times Magazine two weeks after the attacks, the novelist Caleb Carr saw the British expeditionary force of 1814 as a direct precursor to the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The British, he wrote, attacked the United States and burned Washington "because of a deep anxiety over the spread of American democratic republicanism." Similarly, "it is the spread of American values," he continued, "that terrorist groups and the traditionalist, socially repressive societies that support them now fear. This fear has driven them to emulate the British forces of 1814 by damaging and destroying a group of structures that are among the most familiar symbols of contemporary American power."

If it is true that the War of 1812 somehow provides a geopolitical lesson for today, the nature of that lesson may not be as clear—cut as Mr. Carr or "First Invasion" sees it.

"What does 1812 teach us?" asked Wesley Turner, the Canadian author of "The War of 1812: The War That Both Sides Won." "Well, that you think you can conquer little countries, and it's not so easy."

Ed Lasky   9 12 04