Here’s a gentle warm-down from a long, rancorous political season in the U.S. news cycle. A nod to a small Canadian argument about a largely-forgotten war that happened 200 years ago.
When it comes historical significance – and popular memory – not all wars are created equal.
Everyone knows the U.S. would not exist without the Revolutionary War. There’s still broad interest in the Civil War and WW II. Then come second-tier conflicts – the ones you’ve probably at least heard of, like the Mexican-American War. And oh, yeah, that War of 1812 thing, which must have happened sometime around 1812, right?
More on the War of 1812 in a second, but first take a gander at two lists of wars and conflicts that took place on U.S. soil, or involved U.S. forces. Here’s one from About.com that pre-dates the American Revolution and here’s an even longer list from Wikipedia which they start from 1774 and on. (Wow! So many! Really, it’s astonishing.)
For a summary of Canadian conflicts check out this page from something called Access History Web Company’s page on Canadian History.
The last time the U.S. and Canada duked it out in a full-blown war Canada was not even a country. I’d go so far as to say it was not even a gleam in anyone’s eye as a separate country. After all, staying with mother England was sort of the whole point of who took up arms and stayed in the former Colonies verses who left/got kicked out and ended up in Upper Canada.
Which brings me back around to the War of 1812. Everything needs a media campaign these days so that war has been re-branded in Canada by the current party in power as “The Fight for Canada“.
The website’s logic runs thusly: “Canada would not exist had the American invasion of 1812-15 been successful”. (True, if viewed with 20-20 hindsight. Otherwise, that’s rather a bit of a backward projection.)
Much money has been allocated for events, organizations and programs commemorating this anniversary in Canada, $28 million and counting. Some think it’s great to advance the awareness and understanding of national history. Others smell partisan opportunism and allege a commandeering and twisting of history as self-serving narrative. Ian Austen has a useful write-up on the whole controversy in this Oct 7 article in the New York Times.
The topic will get a fulsome hearing at a debate in Ottawa at 7 pm Wed Nov 7 at the Canadian War Museum. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute (which calls itself “Canada’s only truly national public policy think tank”) has sponsored a series of debates, including this one, titled: Resolved: The War of 1812 has been over-hyped.
Globe and Mail journalist Jeffrey Simpson will argue in the affirmative, with military historian Jack Granatstein making the case that it was a war worth remembering – then and now. The moderator will be Canadian historian Michael Bliss.
Bliss highlights what attendees can expect in this Nov 5 essay in iPolitics:
The bigger issue, about the uses and abuses of cultural spending — are we politicizing the nuts and bolts of Canadian history? — will undoubtedly feature heavily in the debate, and it may cause the discussion to swing into the peacekeeping field, into future commemorations (will we go overboard about the centennial of Vimy Ridge in 2017, when we should spend most of our time on Confederation 150?), and into the role of our rebranded national museum. Nothing will be off the table during the evening, there is strong audience participation, and full coverage from CPAC and The Ottawa Citizen. The standing-room-only crowd that took in the first of the Great Canadian Debates, on the future of the CBC, was hugely enthusiastic about a format that fosters excellent argument by genuine experts.
Details on time, location and admission fees can be read here.
This argument may resonate more loudly in Canada, where there’s concern about allocating millions for War of 1812 commemorations whilst cutting funds for the Library and Archives Canada, and the recent announcement that the Museum of Civilization will be re-focused as a museum of Canadian history.
But specifics aside, questions about what history means – and who gets to shape it – are fairly universal.
For those who care, that is.
For Jane and Joe Public it’s something of a yawn. Just so much counting angels on the head of a pin!
POST SCRIPT added Nov 9:
Video of the debate will air on CPAC on Friday, November 9th at 9 pm ET and Saturday November 10th at 8:30 am ET. More info available at www.cpac.ca.