Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Dumbest War Since 1812

Once in a while as I am casually listening to the news I will hear something that is so totally off base and false that I just blurt out "what?". Yesterday Congressman David Obey (D) who represents the northwest quarter of the state of Wisconsin said the following at a gathering of Democrats:

This country was mis-led into war on the basis of bad information and false information. I believe some of that was purposeful. I think our attack on Iraq is the dumbest American war since the war of 1812.
Yikes. Before I address the 1812 reference, can you believe that one of our elected congressmen uses the word "dumbest"? Quite a statesman and orator, this Mr. Obey.

I would love to know from Mr. Obey what the "smartest" wars were - The Civil? WW1? WW2? Korean? Gulf 1? 'Nam? Spanish-American? Mexican? All served a greater purpose - which is "smart"? Which is "dumb"? Unbelievable.

The War of 1812 is one of my history "sweet spots" so when I heard this on the radio (after I said "what?") I knew that it had blogpost written all over it.

Of course Mr. Obey doesn't elaborate on why the War of 1812 was "dumb" or if any of the other wars were "smart". Using a (relatively obscure in the case of the War of 1812) historical reference that can't be fact checked quickly is becoming quite popular on both sides of the aisle in political debate. Note the recent references to the Gulag, the Holocaust and others. I admit that there are quite a few that know what the Holocaust or Vietnam was, but I will also tell you that a large majority do not know anything about the Gulag system and I could almost guarantee you that 99.9% of the population could not tell you who even fought the War of 1812.

This ignorance of history - especially anything over, say, 20 years old, makes it very easy for someone in a position of authority or status to use old wars or historical events to try to make a point. Obey could have said that the Iraq invasion was the "dumbest" since the invasion of Africa in November of 1942 with the same exact effect. How can one argue the point if one does not know to what the point refers? I wish so bad I could have been there - I would have simply said to Mr. Obey "Sir, just exactly how was the War of 1812 "dumb"?

But I digress - was the War of 1812 "dumb"? This is a difficult question at best. I will try to boil the answer to this question down in a few paragraphs. Actually there is no real answer - just opinion.

It was "dumb" for the Americans, with an army and navy in a very sorry state, to decide to declare war on Britain. There were many very good reasons to declare war on the Brits which we will get to later, however it would be sort of like Belgium declaring war on the US today. Belgium may have some good reasons to declare war, but their army is a joke.

On the ground the US forces took quite a battering in the early stages of the War of 1812 but came around later to score some impressive victories.

Likewise, on the oceans and lakes the US Navy was far outmanned and outgunned. But again, they got it together and won some historic victories.

So, if you say that it was "dumb" for the Americans to declare war on Britain because the American armed forces were weak, you might be right. However, there were many very good reasons to declare war on them.

After the Battle of Tippecanoe the victorious Americans found that the supplies left behind by the fleeing Indians were of British origin. This cemented the settlers feeling that the Brits were supplying and inciting the Indians against the Americans. On the high seas, the British ships were constantly impressing Americans and ex-Brits into service on their galleys and seizing American property. This is no laughing matter as sailing ships back then was simply an awful proposition. Another good reason to go to war with Britain was the Orders In Council of 1807 that stated that the British Navy could seize any ship and it's goods if conducting trade with France (they were at war with France at the time) and her allies. There are a few other reasons, but you get the drift.

To say that the War of 1812 was "dumb", without being specific is just, well, "dumb".

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