Sunday, July 17, 2011

Getting Silly over 1812

Hey Canada, pull out the worry beads.

We appear to be fretting ourselves into a funk over a major celebration of our history. As usual, the fretting is connected to our incurable inferiority complex.

The Toronto Globe and Mail has published a hand-wringing piece about how the federal government will “tread carefully” in celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812-14 to avoid “inciting anti-American sentiment.”

Ottawa will be very careful, the Globe reported, not to upset the Americans with boasts of how we repelled the U.S. invaders roughly 10 generations ago. It said the government is carefully crafting its messages about the bicentennial to stress how we have lived peacefully with our most important neighbour and trading partner ever since.

The paper even had eminent historian Jack Granatstein predicting that sparks will fly across the border as the bicentennial approaches.

The fear is that bicentennial celebrations will spawn Canadian cockiness and anti-Americanism that will inflame sensitivities south of the border.

Oh dear, we Canadians do know how to haunt a party.

Firstly, the Americans, plenty busy with their own current problems, likely don’t care how we feel about the War of 1812 or how we celebrate its anniversary. To them, that war was basically another fight against the hated British.

The Americans haven’t held a grudge about this before, so it’s hard to see why they would two centuries after it ended. In fact, they have done more to celebrate one hero of the British-Canada side than we have. That would be Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief who left Ohio Territory to fight on our side because the Yanks kept stealing Indian lands.

Kids in the States have been named after him, including the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland offer prayers and pennies to a statue named Tecumseh in the hope that he will bring them good luck in exams and sporting contests. A scene of his death at the Battle of the Thames is painted high atop the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

So Canada, let’s take a few really deep breaths, a couple of teaspoons of perspective, and have some fun celebrating history shared by both countries. After all, the War of 1812 ended in a draw. Let’s keep it that way.

(If you want to know more about Tecumseh and the War of 1812, see my book ‘Tecumseh: Shooting Star, Crouching Panther’ Dundurn Press 2009)

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