Letter writer David Brandenburg recently expressed an alternative view about a war that some call the "second war of American independence" ("The truth about the War of 1812," June 30).
Mr. Brandenburg makes a number of interesting points that need a thoughtful response. He criticizes The Baltimore Sun for ignoring and "misrepresenting the historical facts" while not putting "the War of 1812 in its proper context." The proper context is many fold. Influential figures in Britain wanted to maintain maritime supremacy, so they forcibly recruited American sailors into the Royal Navy, passed British legislation and set up blockades to restrict American trade and armed American Indians, making some Americans demand war.
He then says the media is neither telling the "true nature of war" nor the reasons for going to war but is just telling about heroic soldiers, which lets the myth of the "good war" continue. The distortion of the war, he says, has allowed and will allow politicians to wage "unnecessary and unjust wars." As a result, the media projects the idea that America's wars help the world. In reality, the Civil War, the Indian wars, both World Wars and wars in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in the deaths of millions of civilians, killed partly because of America.
Also in the letter, he said the War of 1812 was not successful for America and was "not a war for independence," but rather a failed "attempt by the U.S. government to steal Canada from Britain." Certain scholars, such as UVA professor J.C.A. Stagg, support this view. America was in a sense waging a "war of aggression," or a war for territorial gain justified by self-defense, because the war was for survival of the young American nation but was also aiming to acquire Canada, Florida and Indian land.
He writes that a small group of "war hawks" in the national legislature pushed for war with Great Britain while others denounced it. Historical facts support his case. President James Madison was convinced by influential "war hawks" to go to war with Britain. He gave speech in June 1812 asking Congress to declare war with Britain that convinced more than a 60 percent majority of both houses of Congress to agree. This was despite the fact that most congressmen opposed the war originally. One small group of people, the Federalists, backed by wealthy New England merchants who profited from French and English trade, voted as a bloc against the war. This group of politicians was from several states that "threatened to secede," as Mr. Brandenburg notes. This resulted in the Hartford Convention and civilians in the area who didn't want to fight. Mr. Brandenburg assumes that such antiwar sentiment was widespread because of Francis Scott Key's views. However, Key's opposition to the war does not prove Americans opposed the war because public opinion polls didn't become common until the 1920s.
At one point, he concludes the British were not the aggressors because the attacks on Fort McHenry and the burning of the federal capital were blowback for the burning of York, Canada. Historically, this is correct, as Americans wanted to "liberate" Canada, but the British had blood on their hands: they had fought in a European war, which killed millions of civilians.
As the 200 year celebration of the War of 1812 continues, one must remember that war is not the answer to the pressing problems of the day.
Burkely Hermann, Towson