September 20, 2013

Undecided border battles

So there we were watching one of our favorite Plattsburgh TV news programs on the weekend and on comes a report about a commemoration event for the Battle of Plattsburgh, which the anchor described as one of the decisive clashes of the war. Indeed it was, we who sort-of know our history nodded in agreement, and took a hearty swallow of our strong Canadian beer.

Then the reporter came on and said the U.S. naval victory on Lake Champlain turned the tide and “ ... helped the Americans win the War of 1812.” We nearly spewed our northern ale at the screen. “Say what?” we said, for we the royal Canadian we, that is — have been told since we were babes swaddled in beaver pelt nappies that we — the British troops, that is — whipped (or is it “whupped”) the Yankees.

Interestingly, one of the history buffs cited in the TV report said “ ... with the result of the battle that took place here, we ended up remaining a nation. We are part of the United States, not part of Canada.” And all the while we Canadians were under the illusion the war-mongering Madison was hell-bent on conquering Canada.

That, at least, is the clear impression one gets from the Canadian federal government, which has devoted much attention and considerable resources to commemorating the bicentennial of the war. On his website, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a well-read student of history, invites Canadians to “share in our history and commemorate our proud and brave ancestors who fought and won against enormous odds.” Won.

“In short, the Canada we know today would not exist had the invasions of 1812-15 not been repelled.” Repelled.

So, here we are celebrating the bicentennial of a clash that may be over in terms of muskets and cannons, but lingers on as a discreet war of words.

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