Now that the celebrations of the War of 1812 are under way, it seems that the Sun's message to its readers is clear: Enjoy the celebrations, and ignore the facts ("Commemorating the War of 1812," June 10).

But while The Sun's eagerness to celebrate a famous moment in Maryland history is understandable, its continually misrepresenting the historical facts is quite troubling.


The headline on an article in the special section about the conflict, for example, called it "America's successful 'second war for independence,'" which is wrong on two counts: First, the war was not successful, and secondly, it was not a war for independence. In fact, it was just the opposite — an attempt by the U.S. government to steal Canada from Britain. And it failed.

Since so few people today know anything about history, it's easy to make it make it seem as if the British were the aggressors. After all, they were on the offensive at Fort McHenry, and they did burn down the White House in 1814.

But these attacks were in no way unprovoked. Burning the White House was a response to the earlier American attack on York, the capital of Upper Canada, in which U.S. troops set fire to the parliament buildings.

And the attack on Fort McHenry was part of an attempt to capture an important center of maritime activity (and a "nest of pirates", according to the British), which would have made it difficult for U.S. troops to continue waging the war they themselves had started.

While it's admirable for the Sun, and the people of Baltimore, to acknowledge the bravery of the soldiers who fought for our side in the war, let's not let that cloud our judgment on the larger issues. Among all the articles in your paper celebrating the conflict, I have yet to see any attempt to put the War of 1812 in its proper context.

Even in the commemorative section devoted to the war, there was only a brief mention of the fact that it was only a small group of "war hawks" in Congress who pushed the country into war, while other congressmen denounced the conflict as a land grab.

Yet most people will get no sense of the historical reality: That it was an unjust war started by the U.S., that several states threatened to secede because of it and that it was vigorously opposed by many Americans.

In fact, one of the people who opposed the war was Francis Scott Key himself, who condemned his country for starting "this abominable war," calling it a "lump of wickedness."

He may have been glad that Fort McHenry didn't fall to the British, but that was only because he found himself in the awkward position people often find themselves in during wartime: his government had put him and his family in jeopardy by starting a war and then not fighting it very well. So he was forced to root for the side he knew to be in the wrong, just so he wouldn't lose everything he cared about.

When the media insist on whitewashing the past they miss an important opportunity to inform the public about the true nature of war.

By concentrating on the "glorious deeds" of soldiers — while ignoring the not-so-glorious reasons their government sent them into battle — you perpetuate the myth of the "good war" and make it easier for current and future politicians to continue waging the unnecessary and unjust wars that have cost so many lives throughout our history.

David Brandenburg, Parkville