Canada Puts Spotlight on War of 1812, With U.S. as Villain

Although it produced “The Star-Spangled Banner,” War of 1812 does not get much attention in the United States. In Canada, however, the federal government is devoting surprising attention to the bicentennial of the conflict, which it describes bluntly in a new television commercial as an act of American aggression against Canada. Much about the war is a fiercely debated by historians but one thing is clear: Canada was not yet a country at the time of the war, which pitted the United States against the British. As sweeping government budget cuts affect historic sites and national parks, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has set aside about $28 million for events, advertising and exhibitions to commemorate the war. The government’s enthusiasm has puzzled and angered many people here, where flag-waving forms of patriotism are more subdued than they are south of the border. “Two hundred years ago, the United States invaded our territory,” a narrator says over dark images and ominous music in the government’s ad. “But we defended our land; we stood side by side and won the fight for Canada.” As founding president of the Historica-Dominion Institute, a charity that promotes Canadian history, Andrew Cohen, who teaches journalism and international relations at Carleton University in Ottawa, has been a particularly outspoken critic of the government in this case. “The War of 1812 is part of our history, that’s fine,” said Cohen, who first publicly took issue with the government’s effort in a column for The Ottawa Citizen. But, he added: “It’s turned into a form of propaganda, it seems to have married government’s interest in military with its interest, some would say obsession, with War of 1812. It’s clearly, to me, part of a campaign to politicize history.” During its first 6 years, Mr. Harper’s Conservative government expanded military spending and shifted focus of Canadian troops away from UN peacekeeping missions, toward an expanded combat role in Afghanistan. Far more than other recent prime ministers, Mr. Harper attends military events and praises armed forces in his speeches. David J. Bercuson, military historian at University of Calgary in Alberta, does not share Mr. Cohen’s criticism of the government, but he said he found its keen interest in the War of 1812 somewhat mysterious. “I’m scratching my head for the last year, asking myself: ‘Why is the government placing so much emphasis on this war?’ ”. The answer, according to James Moore, who as minister of Canadian heritage is in charge of the campaign, is that government simply wants the long-ago war, which few Canadians know well, to be remembered. “Canada was invaded, invasion was repelled, we endured, but we endured in partnership with United States”. “It’s a very compelling story”. But because Canada did not become a nation until 1867, the War of 1812 was actually a battle between the young United States and Britain. Why comparatively powerless United States took on the imperial power still remains a matter of considerable discussion. But the conflict did follow British interference with American trade and American concerns about Britain’s intentions in North America (…..)

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/08/world/americas/canada-highlights-war-of-1812-casting-us-as-aggressor.html

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