The War of 1812 may have been the first win-win in history.
By that, I mean that to this day both sides claim victory. Personally, I find that confusing. For one thing the United States started it, allegedly over issues that were never discussed in the treaty ending the war. I find it even more amusing when my U.S. friends cite as proof of their victory the fact that their nation is not part of Britain today; sort of ignoring the fact that Canada is not part of Britain today, but an independent realm.
Face it, the war was little more than an attempted land grab by our southern neighbours, sort of manifest destiny turned north. Now I don’t blame them for making the effort. Times were different and that sort of smash-and-grab approach to empire- and nation-building was considered quite acceptable back then. I have a problem when they claim they won the war on the basis of the Battle of Lake Erie, or the Battle of New Orleans. Proof that they lost is the fact that Canada is not now part of the USA. As you can imagine, I like the Brock, Tecumseh, Secord, and Sallaberry stamps, and haven’t found too many U.S. offerings that strike my fancy. Until now..
The United States Postal Service and Buffalo Fire Department are remembering that fateful night of Dec. 30, 1813, when a mixed force of around 1,400 British regulars, Canadian militia, and native warriors crossed over the river near Niagara. They landed at a place called Black Rock, dispersed a larger force of Americans, and chased them to Buffalo. Once there, our boys showed their class by burning down all but four buildings, and destroying the navy yard and four armed vessels. They returned home through Black Rock, pausing only to set fire to that place as well.
Officially, the move was in retaliation for the burning of Newark, present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., by American troops on Dec. 10 of that year. The official line ignored the fact that on Dec. 18, British troops had burned four villages in upstate New York.
By now things were getting out of control. For their part, American troops returned the favour by raiding villages and supplies on the north shore of Lake Erie during May 1814. In the community of Port Dover, Ont., troops destroyed 20 horses, three flour mills, three sawmills, 12 barns and three distilleries, and shot all the hogs and cows in sight.
This time the British filed official protests. American officials determined that their commander in the field had exercised poor judgement, but didn’t punish him. Totally forgetting their role in burning and pillaging, British officials accused their enemies of committing “wanton and unjustifiable outrages” on non-combatant civilians, and ordered their troops to destroy and lay waste towns sparing “merely the lives of the unarmed inhabitants.” Apparently the rule had an amendment not to attack towns which supplied the British, or who offered to make contributions in return for not being raided. That was the rationale behind the attack and burning of Washington in August of 1814. We’ve come a long way from a simple postmark commemorating a single battle.
In this case I have to take my hat off to the people of Buffalo, N.Y., for having the integrity to mark a turning point in the war, even if they got their backside kicked.