Canadians in the Making: A Social History of Canada

By Arthur R. M. Lower | Go to book overview
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113: The War of 1812,
constructive conflict

WAR, SURELY, IS THE DEEPEST EXPERIENCE a society can have. While most Canadian wars have been fought on other people's soil and far away from home, yet in the view of the English branch of the Canadian people, whatever others may have thought, they have always been wars of high moral purpose. From the defeat of the Armada in 1588 to the defeat of the Communists in Korea, the tradition has been continuous. Philip of Spain was succeeded as the threat to liberty by Louis XIV, Louis XIV by Napoleon, Napoleon by the German Empire and Hitler, and Hitler by the present Russian autocracy. The average English Canadian does not know his history well, but he invariably feels that he fights, not for any interested motive but for ultimate objectives, of which the clearest to him is "freedom." In this respect, he would, if informed only slightly beyond the average, probably draw a contrast between the wars mentioned and the great mid eighteenth centurywars with France which made Canada British, for the Conquest in which they resulted might cause him certain twinges of conscience.1

There is one war which gathers up all the moral fervour of other conflicts, all the convictions of justification, and unites to it the vast sense of the heroic, the tide of passion, which arises from the attempt to defend one's own hearth and home against a would-be conqueror, and that is the War of 1812. The place of this contest in Canadian history goes far beyond the military events involved: it goes to the roots of Canadian life. As a factor in the building of the Canadian nation, it is hard to see how it can be outranked by other experiences. For two years and a half Canadians of both races struggled with all the power that they possessed against an enemy who seemed to them determined to possess himself of their soil, who landed on their shores, carried off their animals, burned their houses,


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