The debate, Resolved: The War of 1812 has been over-hyped, takes place on Wednesday, November 7th at 7 PM ET at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Debaters are the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson and Canadian Historian Jack Granatstein. Click here for more details.
By Michael Bliss, iPolitics, November 5, 2012
Why would anyone go out of their way to commemorate the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain?
It was a minor, messy set of skirmishes, fought mostly by incompetents, which generated relatively few casualties and had inconclusive results. No one quite agrees on who won the war, and perhaps the best that can be said about it is that it began two hundred years of peace between the two greatest English-speaking powers. Perhaps we should be celebrating the long peace rather than the brief war.
That may be one of the arguments the distinguished Globe and Mail journalist Jeffrey Simpson hurls against the equally distinguished military historian (and former director of the Canadian War Museum) Jack Granatstein, in the second of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Great Canadian Debates series, to be held on November 7th at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. The event is open to the public. I will be the peacekeeping referee as the intellectual warriors refight two hundred-year-old battles and open up new fields of conflict.
The resolution under debate: The War of 1812 has been over-hyped.
Simpson, the attacker, is on record as suggesting that while a little bit of hype to commemorate any historical event is seldom harmful, the Harper government has gone way overboard in spending millions exaggerating the grandeurs of small military events. Does the government have an ulterior motive? Is it trying to rewrite Canada’s past to play up its military history, just as it seems to be rewriting past and present to emphasize our ties with the British monarchy? Are we seeing (literally, as we look around us in the spectacular Canadian War Museum) the creation of a Conservative narrative about the Canadian past, one which emphasizes our military traditions rather than our peaceful evolution? Good-bye peacekeeping, hello war-making.
It is unlikely that Professor Granatstein will defend the war-makers of 1812 as hyper-competent, and he well understands that it was only incidentally a conflict to defend a Canada that technically didn’t yet exist. Still, he will probably endorse the common view that it was the definitive war for Canada’s survival in North America. How churlish not to celebrate that! In fact, how churlish to complain about public money going to support Canadians’ sense of their history. Everyone knows that Canadians need to know more about their history. You have to start somewhere; 1812 isn’t a bad starting place. What would the flak have been if the bicentennial of the War of 1812 had been ignored?
The bigger issue, about the uses and abuses of cultural spending — are we politicizing the nuts and bolts of Canadian history? — will undoubtedly feature heavily in the debate, and it may cause the discussion to swing into the peacekeeping field, into future commemorations (will we go overboard about the centennial of Vimy Ridge in 2017, when we should spend most of our time on Confederation 150?), and into the role of our rebranded national museum. Nothing will be off the table during the evening, there is strong audience participation, and full coverage from CPAC and The Ottawa Citizen. The standing-room-only crowd that took in the first of the Great Canadian Debates, on the future of the CBC, was hugely enthusiastic about a format that fosters excellent argument by genuine experts.
Won’t it be a refreshing change on November 7, the day after that foreign country has its election, to be talking about Queenston Heights, Lundy’s Lane, and the failures or far-sightedness of the Government of Canada? Thanks to the War of 1812, we have neither Romney nor Obama.
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Great Canadian Debate on the War of 1812 takes place on Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 7 PM at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.