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History and the War of 1812

I live just outside of the "Greater Hamilton Metropolitan Area" that includes the former City of Stoney Creek. I live less than ten kilometers from the site of the battle that took place in 1813. I've known about the battle since childhood, of course, but until now, I've always thought of it as but a minor skirmish in a very long war. Apparently, I was wrong.

I've been looking through the 2000 edition of the Canadian Global Almanac searching for interesting tid bits and facts to use on one or more of my web sites. I started reading the small write-up about the War of 1812-14. The write-up mentions about ten battles over the course of two and a half years, but fails to mention possibly the most well-known battle, the Battle of New Orleans, which took place after the war was formally over (but before news of the treaty reached the combatants). This omission is probably because it occurred far away from Canadian soil and did not include any Canadians. Among those ten battles was the Battle of Stoney Creek.

The war was, of course, largely a stand-off with neither side gaining anything significant as a result - well, not exactly. The war did achieve something almost unique in history: the beginning of a long and lasting friendship. It started simply enough with a determination to find peaceful solutions to the problems that confronted the three combatants: Britain, the United States and the colonies that would become Canada. Full friendship did not bloom, perhaps, until the dawn of the twentieth century - and rivalries (usually good natured) still persist. But the world's longest undefended border is a monument to the resolve of finding peaceful solutions that arose from this war.

This resolve has been tested several times over the years, perhaps most notably during and shortly after the American Civil War. The North was not happy when Britain supported the South and calls for an invasion of what is now Canada were common. Fortunately, they were not heeded. The calls continued even after the war and with them a push to grab as much of the west coast of North America as possible for the Union. The rallying call of 54' 40" or fight represented a very real threat to the peace. This friction was a very important catalyst not only to the formation of the Dominion of Canada, but to the drive to push the new nation to the Pacific. Fortunately, once again, saner heads prevailed and the boundary at the 49th parallel (set up as a result of the War of 1812) was extended from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific.

Thanks to 9/11, this friendship is again being put to the test. Not that there is much danger of it falling apart, but that, in its eagerness to protect itself, the U.S. might take further action to make the "undefended border" less "undefended".

Canada is a vast country with a proportionally small population - almost entirely located within 200 miles of the border. Defending Canada's entire coastline from infiltration is virtually impossible. Canadians have a somewhat fragile ego: we still go "gagga" whenever we're mentioned on American TV - usually inaccurately. We still cheer when Damon Wayans attempts to sing O Canada - but gets nowhere near it. Yet, we get very defensive at the idea of accepting American assistance in a joint effort to protect the North American coastline.

I'm proud to be a Canadian, even though I often feel like a third class citizen. But I'd be prouder yet to be a "Terran". I firmly believe that the age of nation-states, like the age of city-states before it, has passed. We are one human race, we inhabit one tiny planet that we constantly endanger; we should be solving our problems on a global, not national scale. It is both the problem and the solution: The United Nations is largely ineffective. The only source of leadership with the necessary teeth seems to be the United States. Americans, understandably, don't want to risk losing what they have. The solution is to find a way that others can achieve a standard of living and a form of government that approximates that of the U.S. and other "affluent" nations. War will not achieve this end. Terrorism will not achieve this end. Only co-operation, mutual understanding and respect can hope to achieve an approximation of global equality.

Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes a war to make people realize that there is a better way. Sometimes, it takes a war to stop some even greater evil. All wars end in defeat. There are no victors. But once in a while, a war can lead to something better, when wiser heads prevail.

This is not the article I started out to write. I was going to mention that I don't recall ever learning about the Battle of Stoney Creek in school. One of the more significant battles in one of the few wars that occurred on Canadian soil - a battle that took place less than 20 miles from any school I attended, and I don't remember studying it. (Of course, that doesn't mean I didn't, but, if I did, it certainly wasn't very memorable.) Some people question the value of learning history. Few question that we, as a race, more often than not learn from our mistakes. History is the record of our mistakes (and how we attempted to correct them). If we don't learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. Chamberlain underestimated the danger of, perhaps, the most evil man in history. The world came very close to disaster as a result. I have no crystal ball, but it is possible the United Nations and President Bush are in a similar position. Let us pray they make the wise choice.

Copyright © 2002 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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