**UPLOADER'S Notes** As the article below describes in detail, this is a fairly pro-American version of these events, and contains some innacuracies and glaring omissions. However, it IS a good introduction to an overlooked period, and should be seen only as a starting point to serious studies.
First Invasion: The War of 1812, a History Channel documentary that first aired in 2004, portrays a young United States of America "on the brink of annihilation" as it battles the largest and most powerful empire on earth. Critics say the documentary is far too pro-American, and that it ignores or downplays crucial elements of the War of 1812. Others praise First Invasion for its compelling presentation of a far too neglected period of history. This article looks at the documentary and the controversy.
Documentaries and Bias
First Invasion: The War of 1812 is indeed guilty of "US spin." It is definitely favorable to the American perspective and is guilty of more than a little American triumphalism -- something that will understandably put off some British and Canadian viewers.
A bias, however, does not necessarily qualify a documentary as "rubbish" or "misleading." It is possible to be biased and accurate. Condemning the Holocaust in World War II as evil serves as an excellent example.
In the case of the War of 1812, the United States perspective is a valid one, and it's not unreasonable for a documentary to take that perspective and run with it.
The British-Canadian PerspectiveThe British were locked in a brutal and ongoing struggle with France. Indeed, the British had fought a series of wars with France, including the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. With the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, those ongoing hostilities resumed.
As an understandable war measure, Britain used its naval power to obstruct France's international trade. This meant seizing American trade vessels. In addition, Britain needed manpower for its Royal Navy and could ill afford the desertions its navy was suffering. And many of those deserting seamen were fleeing to American ships. Britain therefore justified both the seizure of American trade vessels and the impressment of American seamen (including and especially suspected British deserters) into His Majesty's Navy.
It was also not in Britain's best interests to have the United States expand unimpeded to the Pacific Ocean. Accordingly, Britain and Canada (its remaining North American possession, which was on the road to quasi-independence) supported Native American or Indian tribal nations in their resistance to US expansionism. This included an alliance with the charismatic Indian leader Tecumseh.
The American Perspective
So, what was the American perspective with respect to the War of 1812? The answer is pretty simple. The United States wanted free trade internationally and unfettered expansion into the western frontier. The British Empire, including Canada, was an obstacle to both of those objectives.
With the respect to the frontier, historian Bevin Alexander explains: "The conviction grew without the West that the frontier could enjoy security only by expelling the British from Canada and annexing the entire region to the United States."
This was not so much a belief borne out of greedy expansionism as one rooted in Machiavellian logic. Britain, at this point in history, was a serious rival to both the long-term and short-term interests and security of the United States. Its removal from North America was seen as a necessary extension of the American War for Independence.
First Invasion: The War of 1812
Faced with the reality that the British Empire was not respecting US sovereignty at sea or even on its own continent, President James Madison asked for (and was granted) a declaration of war against the British Empire.
Since the United States, with only 7,000 scattered soldiers and roughly 16 warships, could not strike at Great Britain directly, the only real choice was to attack Canada. To this day, Canadians see this invasion as evidence of greed. Where else were the Americans supposed to launch their attack? Canada was the only logical choice, especially given the geo-political and strategic considerations that led to war in the first place.
The US was woefully unprepared for what followed, and its clumsy, poorly coordinated, and pathetic forays into Canada were turned back. The British-Canadian counteroffensive pushed deep into US territory, leaving the US much worse off than when the war began. And then Britain defeated Napoleon.
The documentary First Invasion: The War of 1812 picks up the war at this point, following the United States as it loses its capital and then fights for its life at Fort McHenry, Baltimore, and finally New Orleans. Had the United States lost Baltimore as well as Washington, the consequences would have been catastrophic.
Taken from the American perspective, the documentary First Invasion: The War of 1812 is a sobering and inspirational look at this all-important and too-often neglected period of American history.
In: Other Entertainment, Other
Tags: first invasion: the war of 1812 history, channel, documentary, aired, 2004, neglected, period, American history
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