Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Canada and the War of 1812

As the United States is in the midst of the sesquicentennial of its Civil War, its northern neighbor has its own public history event at the moment.  Canada is revisiting the War of 1812, during which its population faced US troops attempting to annex its territory.  Many so-called 'nationalists' (more like anti-US racists) are using the occasion to show how grateful they are not to be 'American.'  This poll from CTV News shows as much:

It is true that US troops failed to overcome small armies of British regulars, white militia, some Indians and even a few black soldiers.  It is also true that British soldiers and sailors attacked and burned Washington DC to the ground.  The war also ended in a stalemate that left the northern part in British hands, later to be handed over to the new Dominion in 1867, while the southern part stayed in United States control.  The real losers in the War of 1812 were the Native Americans, whom both countries marginalized to the point of annihilation to make way for more European settlers.

Yet these 'nationalists' completely ignore what happened in between then and now.  Since then, the two countries have coalesced and generally cooperated in virtually every sphere of activity.  As Britain and the US began to ally in the late 19th- century, so did too Canada.  All three became allies in the 20th and now 21st centuries, in each other's wars - from the Spanish-American and Boer Wars, the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and Libya - and goodness knows where else.  Yes kids, Canada was involved in Vietnam and the Second Gulf War.

Economically, it is no longer tenable to see Canada and the US as separate markets - they are one, and both have prospered because of it.  The two live virtually identical lifestyles in urban, suburban and rural ways, shop for the same goods in the same ways, and enjoy the same TV shows, movies, music and literature.  Variations on these themes do exist, such as language (French in Quebec, Spanish in parts of the US, many others), region (American South, Canadian West, etc) and race, but I argue the general trend stands firm.  Notions that the US is 'coming for' Canada are ridiculous for two simple reasons: 1) they already have you; and 2) your own population handed themselves over to them. 

Indeed, I'd say that Canadian views of their history are shaped by American influences, though in misleading ways.  "Confederation" in 1867 becomes Canada's independence day - even though it's still not independent from the British Crown.  That the two days fall close together - July 1 for Canada, July 4 for the US - adds to the confusion.  "The Fathers of Confederation" become equivalent in status and reputation as the "Founding Fathers."  How someone like Sir John A. MacDonald becomes the George Washington of Canada is beyond me.  Having lived in both countries myself for prolonged periods, I appreciate just how good the US is at heart despite the heavy burdens placed upon it - providing for a huge population while preserving world peace is not easy.  So, to these 'nationalists', I say "Read some real history."

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