The opening paragraph of the Sept. 11 op-ed about the War of 1812 by Capt. Pratt (“Protecting America’s future”), and the U.S. Navy’s role in it, had all of the earmarks of a press release from an ad agency or public relations company representing the U.S. Navy. As a 30-year veteran of working on accounts like this, I should know.
No one would deny that the U.S. Navy is currently the most powerful navy in the world, but this was not the case in 1812. The Navy has spent $12 million taxpayer dollars over the last five years promoting the bicentennial of the War of 1812, telling Americans about the Navy’s role in winning the war. Unfortunately, the Navy and Capt. Pratt are ignoring the facts of history. The United States did not win this war; at best it was a draw.
According to the U.S. Naval Institute, “ … when considering the War of 1812 many Americans focus on the U.S. Navy’s stirring victories over the Royal Navy in frigate duels. The British, however, emerged from the conflict with total command of the oceans and broad experience in blockade and amphibious operations. The War of 1812 was not a success for the United States as a naval power, but it was a triumph for its naval reputation. The ability to win duels at sea in 1812 created a lasting impression and helped make the U.S. Navy more popular than the Army.”
“The U.S. Navy at the outset of the War of 1812 comprised only 16 ships, nine of them frigates. The British had 500 ships of the line” (Naval History Magazine, August 2008, Volume 22, No. 4).
Clearly, even back then the Navy had its PR machine at work, turning what was in reality a non-victory into a point of leverage to get more funding than the Army from Congress.
Allow me to give an example to support the “non-victory,” again based on facts. The USS Constitution, nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” had to stay in port for one year after its famous victory over British warships because a large fleet of British ships was waiting out at sea. By the end of the war there was a total blockade of the U.S. coast. So the U.S. Navy’s slogan for the bicentennial of the war, “Keeping the seas free for 200 years,” is untrue. The British had the largest fleet up to 1920. The slogan therefore should actually say, “Keeping the sea free for the last 70 years.” Not exactly a dynamic recruitment slogan.
The only losers in the War of 1812 were the Native American tribes who lost the dream of an independent Indian nation.
I know that getting on the War of 1812 bicentennial bandwagon is good for recruitment and promoting funding for the Navy, but please get the facts correct.