Many don’t understand War of 1812

Sunday, July 15, 2012


This year is the bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812. This has confused many Marylanders who supposed the fireworks on the new license tags represented the exploding registration fees under Gov. Martin O’Malley. They don’t, although they could. They represent the shelling of Fort McHenry by the British. This bombardment inspired Francis Scott Key to write, “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light.”

Meaning, I guess Baltimore was experiencing yet another “brownout,” and the only light available was that provided by the dawn.

Many Americans don’t understand why the War of 1812 was fought, or who won. Unfortunately, many of these are history majors in our colleges and universities who are hearing of the war for the first time.

This has alarmed some who’ve confused 1812 with 2012, and they’ve taken to the streets protesting, “Hell no, we won’t go.” These should not be mistaken with the recent graduates in the streets chanting, “Hell no, we won’t go.” These are former history students protesting against being thrown out of their parents’ homes.

The War of 1812 had auspicious beginnings. President James Madison was a little put out that all the good war names were taken. “The Revolutionary War,” “The French and Indian War,” “The Civil War,” “The Napoleonic Wars,” “World War I” and “World War II” — even “The War on Poverty” and “The War on Drugs” were used up. This put Madison in a testy frame of mind.

When the British ship Leopard fired on and boarded the American ship Chesapeake off Norfolk in 1807, they did so in order to capture, deserting British seamen aboard the U.S. frigate. This outraged President Jefferson, although he got no support from the “do-nothing” Congress. Two of the sailors were African-Americans, which led Foreign Minister James Monroe to invoke the “Monroe Doctrine,” which declared that illegal aliens could not be searched due to racial profiling. This later became the “Holder Doctrine,” which added the caveat: “especially if they’re buying firearms from the U.S. government.” Madison at the time was the secretary of state and known to be lusting after the presidency.

During this time, the British had allied themselves with the Indians over disputed land in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. These are the states that are referred to in election years as “key battleground states.”

The British hoped to use this territory as a buffer against an American invasion of Canada. Why America would want to expand to Canada has never been adequately explained, although possibly there was a moose and beaver shortage in the U.S. at the time.

So for these excellent reasons, Madison declared war on the “axis of evil”: the Indians, the British and Canada. He said the war would be over quickly and it was just a matter of “weeks, not months” before the Americans could declare victory. This did not happen, as Madison relied on the various militias in each state to step forward. They did not. They were ill-trained, incompetent and understaffed. (To salute this effort, the Delaware National Guard has chosen the July 4 weekend to send a convoy across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.) The America’s campaign of “shock and awe” resulted in the loss of Detroit and the burning of Washington, D.C. And the British were fighting a defensive war since they were still contesting with Napoleon in Europe. The British royals were convinced a Napoleon victory would have a “domino effect” throughout Europe.

America won decisive defensive battles, including the aforementioned one at Fort McHenry when the British hoped to take Baltimore and kidnap the many excellent surgeons there to help with their poor national health care system.

Many historians agree the Americans resistance had much to do with the fear that their teeth could be put under the care of a British dentist. The key victory occurred in New Orleans by General Andrew Jackson after the war was over.

And so, the War of 1812 came to a close with us declaring victory. We got Detroit back. Canada expanded the National Hockey League into Florida and California, and the British gave us Simon Cowell.

The only losers, of course, were the Indians, who got casinos as a consolation prize.

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