Awkward: Commemorating the War of 1812

Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.   We have been commemorating the Civil War and tend to mark significant anniversaries of other major events in American history.  But not much is being planned for this one.  Except in Canada, which is planning a big celebration of how they defeated the American invaders.  From a piece by David Shribman:

What is the best way to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812? . . . .

How does Canada celebrate its victories over American invaders without alienating its biggest trading partner? How does the United States approach a war in which its principal adversary, Great Britain, is now one of its closest friends? And do the British pause to mark this event at all, given that for them it was but a brief, minor sideshow in the far more important Napoleonic Wars?

Along with the Korean War, the War of 1812, which most Americans remember dimly as being about impressment on the high seas and freedom of movement on the Great Lakes, is often called the Forgotten War.

It is sad  that Americans are so forgetful, for this conflict, which lasted roughly two and a half years, gave the United States its national anthem and its national identity, cemented in large measure the nation’s cultural and geographical boundaries, ushered in 200 years of peace with Britain and Canada, made the White House white and provided durable heroes such as Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Oliver Hazard Perry and Tecumseh.

It ended in virtual stalemate — no side lost substantial territory except, of course, the Indians — and was a decidedly mixed experience for Americans, whose generals were execrable, whose militia didn’t fight well and whose twin theories of warfare (that the French Canadians would rush to the U.S. side and that Canada would collapse into American arms) were ludicrous.

“The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, then out of office, “and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next and the final expulsion of England from the American continent.” Maybe Jefferson wasn’t a genius after all.

At the same time, however, the American Navy excelled, forcing the British to lose whole squadrons, which had rarely happened before. American naval prowess on the Great Lakes is still the stuff of legend, as is the old warship, the USS Constitution, known then and now as Old Ironsides.

But from the viewpoint of Canada, whose War of 1812 heroes are Isaac Brock and Laura Secord, the conflict is a different matter altogether, remembered for its glorious victories over American invaders.

“Thus the war that was supposed to attach the British North American colonies to the United States accomplished exactly the opposite,” the late Canadian historian Pierre Berton wrote in his two-volume history of the conflict. “It ensured that Canada would never become a part of the Union to the south. Because of it, an alternative form of democracy grew out of the British colonial oligarchy in the northern half of the continent.”

All this was two centuries ago, but it remains potentially awkward today.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which often stresses renowned moments in Canadian history, vowed in its federal election platform to undertake a vigorous commemoration of the war. Now, however, it is trying quietly to steer the commemoration away from noisy celebrations of American defeat, an effort that may not be entirely successful.

Canadian military historian Jack Granatstein believes the commemoration will be the occasion for what he calls an anti-American festival. “The normal discourse in Canada is anti-American,” he says. “It’s a secular religion, and this is the only acceptable form of bigotry in Canada. So when we have a chance to get up on our high horse and be self-righteous and say we whipped the United States, we’ll do so. It doesn’t mean more than one Canadian in a hundred knows a thing about the war. They don’t. Usually we have a moral superiority. This time we have 200-years’-old military superiority.” . . .

The war ended in a draw, but the contest to conduct the most comprehensive commemoration isn’t even close. The Canadians have appropriated millions, the Americans hardly anything. At this rate, the Canadians will appropriate the war entirely, at least for the next several years. Which brings us to a lesson for our time: Even forgotten wars can be lost 200 years later.

via War of 1812 anniversary poses dilemma / LJWorld.com.

HT:  Jimmy, my brother, who remarks, “I was wondering if our Canadian neighbors know that when we play the Star Spangled Banner before ballgames with the Toronto Blue Jays, the ‘bombs bursting in air’ were aimed at Canadians. I just hope they don’t find out, and to commemorate the 200th’s anniversary of the war of 1812 they add another verse to Oh! Canada, which celebrates how they defeated us in our northern campaign to liberate them from the British.”  Actually, Jimmy, if you would come to visit us out here, far from Oklahoma, we would take you to Ft. McHenry in Baltimore harbor where that song was written and where you would learn that these were bombs being lobbed by British mortars into American fortifications.  But still, your point is well-taken.  I can’t understand why these countries we are always trying to liberate, to the point of going to the great trouble and expense of invading them,  just don’t want to be liberated!

 

The American religion

“I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior. He redeemed me fully and completely. He is the only reason that I am able to stand here today. I am a proud member of that faith, but more importantly, I am a proud member of the American religion.”

–Glenn Beck, addressing controversies over Mormonism

via At values summit, Romney keeps focus on Obama – The Washington Post.

Exegete THAT.

What would you say are the tenets of “the American religion”?

Where do we see the American religion as being treated as ‘”more important” than the Christian faith?

Black Cherokees

I grew up in northeast Oklahoma: Cherokee country.  Many of my African-American friends growing up were also members of the Cherokee tribe.  The “Five Civilized Tribes,” which include the Cherokees, assimilated quite a bit into the white man’s ways–which is why the white men called them “civilized”–and that included, since they mostly lived down south, owning slaves.  On the Trail of Tears, they took their slaves with them to Oklahoma.  After the Civil War, in which conflict most of the Cherokees sided with their fellow slave holders in the Confederacy, the slaves, of course, were freed.  In 1866, the tribe signed a treaty that included the provision that all of the Freedmen, the ex-slaves and their descendants, would be granted full membership in the Cherokee tribe.  I always thought that was a noble gesture, accepting the former slaves as equals.  And the Cherokees in the past have not been particularly insistent on “Indian blood,” since tribal rules also allows for white Cherokees, who are as little as 1/16 Native American.

But now the Cherokees have voted to kick the Freedmen out of the tribe.  That was a few years ago, but now the tribal court has ruled on the matter, saying the black Cherokees can be kicked off the tribal rolls, which also means that they will be cut out of the health care and other benefits the federal government gives to Native Americans.  A federal court, though, has stepped in, forbidding the racial discrimination and insisting that the 1866 treaty is still valid.   So now the tribe is up in arms (not literally, not like the old days), insisting that a nation has the right to determine who its citizens can be.  (I suspect that another dynamic here is a bitter election for tribal chief.  A recent vote was nearly a tie, and it was contested to the point that a new election is in the works.  I suspect that disenfranchising a block of voters might be to one of the candidates’ advantage, though I don’t know who.  And there may well be other issues.  I’m pretty much out of touch these days.  I’d be glad to hear from any Cherokees of any color who might be reading this.  Feel free to correct me.)

Cherokee Indians: We are free to oust blacks – US news – Life – msnbc.com.

The coming Obama landslide

Now that President Obama’s poll numbers are at record lows is a good time to make my prediction:  He will win re-election.  Easily.  Maybe in a landslide.

That the economy is a mess and that he has botched so many of his jobs will make no difference.  Yes, polls show any generic Republican can beat him.  But we have no generic Republicans running against him.  They are each highly particular.   And they all either turn off or scare to death the general public.

It isn’t that they are necessarily too conservative.  A conservative could have a good chance today.  But not an angry conservative.

To be sure, when Americans want their leaders to “do something” to fix the economy, that is not the best time to sell an ideology of limited government.  So actual conservative policies–as opposed to just conservative rhetoric–will be a hard sell.  But what Americans want most of all is someone to bring them out of the national funk.

The model, again, is Ronald Reagan, the cheerful and optimistic conservative, who brought us out of the malaise of Jimmy Carter.  That’s what would win today.  But there is no Ronald Reagan on the horizon, as far as I can see.

In the meantime, even though they don’t think very highly of him, Americans will go along with Obama again.  The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.  No need to change horses in midstream, all of those maxims.  He comes across as more likeable than his opponents, and I believe that–not economics–trumps everything else.

Please understand, I am not saying that the current crop of Republican candidates might not all make good presidents and better than what we have now.  I am just saying that none of them, in my opinion, is electable.

As I have said, most people hope they are right.  I find myself more often hoping that I’m wrong.

If you can shoot down my analysis, I’ll be much obliged.

Hard life

One of the things that has struck me, as we cruise by in luxury, is just hard life is out here for the people who live in the small towns and remote areas of Alaska.  Skagway is mainly a cruise ship town in the summer, with an influx of businesses that descend on the place for a few months to sell jewelry and cheap souvenirs to us tourists, but some 800 people live there year-round.  Our tour guide was telling us about how the winter brings 15 feet of snow accumulation, winds that routinely reach 50 mph, temperatures that average between zero and 10 below—sometimes dropping to -30 with -100 windchills, and, what is even worse than that, darkness that lasts all day.   The sun is over the horizon for about  28 minutes with only 4 hours of daylight.  In Skagway barges come in once a week with supplies for the grocery stores and such, and the pickings can get pretty bare by the end of the week.  (Forget about fresh vegetables.)   Skagway was the model for the town in Northern Exposure.  (Indeed, there is no doctor.  There is a nursing station, but if you need a doctor you have to travel six hours on the ferry or fly out to Juneau.)  But the people are still happy, right?  Well, the rate for alcoholism and suicide is many times what it is in the lower 48 states.

I could appreciate living in a place like Anchorage (pop. 300,000), which has the diversions of civilizations and economic activity.  But in the remote towns people make their living mainly by fishing (think The Most Dangerous Catch, which is about fishing in Alaska) or by doing other kinds of physical labor that is much more difficult due to the challenging conditions (think Ice Road Truckers, which is about driving a truck in Alaska).

But surely living out here must have its compensations.  The Northern lights.  The frontier spirit.   None of our tour guides, after all, have been full-time residents, just followers of the tourist trade who go back to California when it gets cold.  I’d like to hear from some real Alaskans!  Please comment, telling us how things really are where you live.  What are the joys that keep you there?

In the meantime, I salute the hardy souls who live through the Alaskan winters, the remnants of those pioneers and frontiersmen who made our country great.   Most of us Americans have grown soft, unable to endure even the most minor hardships, so no wonder we are in decline.   I honor you Alaskans, even as I myself am thinking, I don’t think I want to retire here.

America’s last space ship?

Last Thursday, July 21, the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed, ending the United States’ Space Shuttle program. And it may mark the end of manned flight, at least as far as the United States is concerned. Russia will still be able to send people into orbit, and American astronauts can hitch a ride with them to get to the International Space Station, another program whose days are numbered.  But there are no plans to update manned spacecraft  or start any more manned space programs.  See Shuttle Atlantis Final Landing Completes U.S. Retreat from Manned Spaceflight – IT Infrastructure – News & Reviews – eWeek.com.

So does this mean all of those science fiction fantasies about space being the final frontier and all that were just a blip of technological and imaginative optimism?


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