War of 1812: Remember the folly

March 08, 2012

A recent article ("War of 1812 is a big deal — in Canada," March 4) mentions the British burning of Washington and the American burning of York (now Toronto) but does not include that York was then the capital of Upper Canada, or that the British scorched our capital in 1814 largely in retaliation for our depredation in 1813.

I submit that the reason the War of 1812 has "no compelling narrative" for Americans is that the American narrative of the war is conflicted. While people in the Chesapeake region commonly view the war as a fight against invaders, it is clear that the primary American objective in the war was the territorial conquest of Upper Canada. This explains why most of the battles of the war were fought in the Great Lakes region. In fact, the British campaign in the Chesapeake was a strategic feint to draw Americans away from Canada.

And if war is the highest expression of national unity and purpose, the War of 1812 failed miserably — another reason for it's murky memory. From the start, the war sowed dissent among the national polity. "Mr. Madison's War" was rightly perceived as one fought for southern and western interests at the expense of New England. This was no "good war" like World War II, but an ill-planned, misled and divisive conflict that ended in stalemate.

In commemorating the war during this year's bicentennial, remember the folly as much as the glory.

John G Bailey, Edgemere

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