September 11, 2004


From 1814, Tales Keep A-Comin' (JEFF Z. KLEIN, 9/11/04, NY Times)

The War of 1812 has lain mostly dormant in the American imagination for generations, its memory invoked only rarely, as in Johnny Horton's 1959 hit version of "The Battle of New Orleans" ("we fired once more, and the British kept a-comin' ") or in periodic retellings of the story of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Otherwise, the war remains an overlooked episode in American history, perhaps because it ended in a draw.

But the History Channel has been doing its best to make Americans remember the conflict, heavily promoting "First Invasion: The War of 1812," a two-hour documentary that it will show at 9 tomorrow night. Why this obscure war now? The key lies in the first part of the title. It is the documentary's contention that the War of 1812 teaches a lesson about the invasion of the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

That connection is explicitly drawn in the opening moments of the documentary when the words "September 11" fill the black screen over the sound of explosions and alarm bells and the voiceover intones ominously, "America is on the brink of annihilation." The screen then brightens to show cannon and soldiers in period costume, and the title changes to "September 11, 1814" - the date British forces advanced on Baltimore after burning Washington.

According to the documentary's view of the war, the fledgling republic perseveres against the enormous odds stacked against it by the powerful British military and its own disorganization. And if "First Invasion" backs off the Sept. 11 parallel soon after the opening, it does see the war as an inspiring lesson for Americans in a time of crisis.

"It is a story of courage, endurance and a little bit of luck," the narration says. "Forged by fire, united by will, a young nation defied the odds - and won."

But the documentary, from Native Sun Productions, tells the story of the War of 1812 selectively, leaving out large portions that would show American conduct in the war in a less successful and less glorious light.

There's still plenty of time to settle matters to the North.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2004 1:08 PM

Careful. Ever hear of Canadian insurgents?

Me neither.

Posted by: Peter B at September 11, 2004 1:57 PM

Peter, surely you've read Pierre Berton's 2-volume study.

I have been reading Victor Davis Hanson's hilarious "Carnage and Culture" and hardly a page turns that I don't recall Berton's vivid descriptions of Americans running away from Canadian militia, redcoats and Indians.

All they saw was backs.

Even the hard-fought victories on the lakes were notable, in this context, largely because the Americans refused to fight, except in the flagships.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 11, 2004 3:13 PM

Citizens of the eastern provinces can be herded into Quebec which we can treat like Cuba, the western provinces are already american. Two weeks for the shuffling, no shots fired.

Posted by: Jim Gooding at September 11, 2004 3:28 PM

Here we go again. To assess the outcome of the War of 1812, I submit that we must look at the war's geopolitical outcomes. The U.S. came away from the conflict with a free hand to wrest its frontiers from the savage and to continue its pursuit of manifest destiny.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 11, 2004 8:51 PM

But the Brits felt free to 'impress' our sailors for a few decades afterwards.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 10:14 PM

Lou, were we not free to do so before going to war with Britain?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 12, 2004 6:20 PM


No. We still feared that we were inferior to the Brits.

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2004 6:23 PM