Commercials and Websites in Canada Haven’t Worked, but a Film or Two Could Change That
COMMENTARY | It’s the bicentennial for the War of 1812, but you’d never know it in America and Canada, two countries forged by that conflict. A high-profile attempt to get Canadians excited about the conflict seems to have fizzled somewhat. Maybe Hollywood can help.
A little more than 200 years ago, America was locked in a desperate struggle for its existence, having challenged the world’s superpower for stealing its sailors to fight a war with Napoleon. We attacked the nearest thing we could, the British colony in Canada, and local residents successfully resisted our incursions, leading our neighbors to the north to think of the war as their battle for independence.
One can understand why Americans seem unimpressed with the conflict. Revisionist historians have watered down or hyped the negative elements of the conflict (as with so many others) to ensure no one would want to know their country’s history. The History Channel has a decent production, but PBS has a series on the war that spent more time saying why you shouldn’t care about the war in the first place.
But what do our cousins just above the Great Lakes think? It was reported last week that the Canadian government, led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sank millions of taxpayer dollars into a huge War of 1812 website, as well as a number of government ads hyping the site. The results showed that the second-most commonly clicked button after entering the site was the exit button.
The war reads like a movie script. You’ve got our tiny, plucky navy besting the best fleet in the world, capturing two entire squadrons on the lakes and winning several ship-to-ship battles. We burned the Canadian capital and lost ours to a British raid. A spectacular upset in Baltimore gave us our national anthem, while the Battle of New Orleans (after the peace treaty was signed, but not before it became legally binding) put the world on notice that America could not be taken. It gave us heroes, optimism, and kept our country from being pushed around by European powers. Many tourists pack reenactments and living histories in Baltimore, New Orleans and other historical sites.
Students taking my class on the subject have wondered aloud why more movies haven’t been made about the subject. And that’s a good point. An article of mine submitted to The War of 1812 Magazine showed how several movies were made about impressment, Jean Laffite, the Battle of New Orleans, Tecumseh, and privateers over a 20-year period. These films starred John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Angela Lansbury, Paul Henreid, and Louise Platt. But since 1959, only one film has been released on the subject, and it was a made-for-television production.
It is time for Hollywood, which has made so many historical classics on our other conflicts over the last 20 years, to take up the anniversary of the War of 1812. We’ve seen “Gettysburg,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “War Horse,” and even “Master and Commander,” set during the Napoleonic Wars. Maybe that might get some more web traffic for that Canadian site, and prompt us to launch one of our own, getting school children excited again about learning their national history.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.