With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 approaching, Canada has a bit of a problem. How to commemorate this major formative event in their history without offending the United States, who lost that war. It’s touchy business for the Harper government. On one hand, this conflict highlights the military daring and courage of the country as it repulsed an invader, but on the other, it reminds America of its not so noble land grab and one of its few military defeats.
It Was A War of Southern Aggression
The war itself was fraught with death and destruction. Both the White House and the first parliamentary buildings in Upper Canada were burned to the ground, and while Americans enjoy recounting First Lady Dolley Madison’s bravery as she rescued paintings from the East Wing (silver and other valuables were actually gathered up by her slaves), they aren’t as fond of being thought of as naked aggressors in a war that was largely about expanding the borders of the United States by forcibly annexing its neighbor to the north.
Harper’s Conservatives Driving the Commemoration
Canadians, however, are justifiably proud of their ancestors’ victory, and the Conservatives are pushing to commemorate the bicentennial not just in 2012 but beyond. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made no secret of his desire to promote the heroism in Canada’s military past as part of the country’s national identity. The government’s message, however, focuses on the victory as an important step in the founding of Canada, steering away from any sort of one-upmanship language that might provoke Americans into viewing Canada in a negative light.
In other words, Canada is proud of the butt-kicking it gave the United States 200 years ago, but only in the “aw shucks” deferential way that America has come to expect from its “nicest” North American neighbor.
Hurt Feelings Unavoidable?
Despite the muted tone, some feel that anti-American sentiment is inevitable, and no matter how the government spins it, feelings will get hurt.
With the Conservatives promising another war monument in the National Capital region and designating the entire month of October in 2012 to commemorate key battles via hundreds of planned re-enactments and ceremonies to honor the heroes of 1812, it’s difficult to imagine hard feelings not arising. But perhaps Americans, embroiled in the last leg of what is already shaping up to be a contentious presidential election, won’t have time to notice.
How Do You Feel?
It’s an important event in Canadian history. Ask any Canadian, and they will recount the victory over the United States in 1812 with pride.
With 200 years having passed and as many years of cooperation in between, should Canada worry about American sensitivities when celebrating its own rich and amazing history? And should the Americans really care anymore about an event that they should probably feel a bit contrite about in any case? Let’s hear your thoughts.
Photo Credit: War of 1812 by RichardBH