Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

War of 1812's Anniversary Is a Big Deal -- in Canada

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

War of 1812's Anniversary Is a Big Deal -- in Canada

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- For a piece of history that gave us the rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air, the War of 1812 tends to evoke a collective "Huh?" on the U.S. side of the Canadian border.

"The War of 1812 has no compelling narrative that appeals to the average American," said Jerald Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. "It's just a hodgepodge of buildings burning, bombs bursting in air and paintings being saved from the invaders, all for a vaguely defined purpose."

Yet the vacuum of interest in the War of 1812 is about to get a pyrotechnic blast of attention for its bicentennial year. Canadians, who consider the war a pivotal conflict in their nation's history, have made 200th anniversary celebrations a national priority and are opening government coffers to stage a splashy show. Also, a few American cities and states, mostly on the East Coast and Great Lakes where fighting took place, are planning commemorations.

For Americans who may have napped during this history lesson, the War of 1812 is a bit of a dud, historians say.

"If you ask the average American what they think about the War of 1812, some will have a puzzled look and ask who fought in that war?" said Ralph Eshelman, a Maryland historian who has written about the war in the Chesapeake Bay region.

While some U.S. boosters believe that our side won, many historians say the war -- largely fought over British impressment of American seamen and interference with U.S. trade and westward expansion -- ended in a draw.

And then there's that episode when the British burned Washington. "We don't have a lot to celebrate," said Northeastern University history professor William Fowler.

Still, the war produced the words for "The Star-Spangled Banner," as Francis Scott Key watched the defense of Baltimore. Andrew Jackson was elevated to hero status for his victory at the Battle of New Orleans. And Dolley Madison earned her place in history books for saving George Washington's portrait from the British torching of the White House. …

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