The War of 1812: A Comparative Study in Nationalist Mythology

After having an anxiety dream last week about Tuesday morning’s citizenship exam, I got serious about studying for it. We’ve made flash cards and are practicing on a daily basis. It’s probably overkill, since immigrants who have English as a second language and not much schooling also have to be able to pass the test, but still.

The entire Citizenship Guide is incredibly ideological. Of course it is, it’s a nationalist document. It’s full of very different versions of stories I learned growing up in the US (or later). But my favourite part is the war of 1812, because it so directly contradicts what I was taught in US grade school.

US version: the British were still bugging us, most by trade restrictions and by arming the native American population. So we took advantage of their being engaged with the French and attacked. It didn’t work out because in the end they burned Washington, but we kicked them back and out and reasserted our independence and control over the American continent, and ended the threat of a Native American confederacy supported by the British. The war made General Andrew Jackson’s career, and he would later be president. it also inspired the national anthem.

Canada version: American aggressors invaded Canada in an attempt to annex it. The English, French and Aboriginals banded together to repel the foreign invaders. We burned Detroit. They burned York (Toronto). In revenge, we marched down from New Brunswick to Washington DC, kicking ass all the way and burned their capital. This war established Canada’s independence.

There’s tons of stuff in there like that. Also,

Number of mentions (by page) in the new Canada Citizenship Guide: Queen: 17; military: 14; Tommy Douglas: 0.

Don’t even get me started on Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison.

This will be on my reading list, after I take the test (and assuming I pass it).

4 replies on “The War of 1812: A Comparative Study in Nationalist Mythology”

  1. And it would be impossible to ignore those little red lines, I know. (Also, I suspect those little red lines come from your browser or your OS, rather than from WordPress. WordPress is wunnerful and all, but I don’t think it’s that robust. If it were, then I wouldn’t be seeing those little red lines right now under the word “WordPress.”)

  2. Having spent several years on a documentary about the War of 1812 I can echo your assertion that the national memories about this war are very ideological. For the film, we researched four perspectives: Canadian, U.S. British and the Native nations involved in the conflict. Four different stories emerged after the war, and were reshaped as times changed.

    The film was broadcast last year — it’s available for free on-line streaming at the web site.

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