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Monday, October 8, 2012

Canada Takes On the United States: The War of 1812 as Propaganda

Two centuries after the War of 1812, the Canadian government sought to commemorate the “fact” that Canada had thwarted the invasion of troops of the American republics to the south.  “Two hundred years ago, the United States invaded our territory,” a narrator says over dark images and ominous music in the government’s ad. “But we defended our land; we stood side by side and won the fight for Canada.” However, the New York Times points out that “because Canada did not become a nation until 1867, the War of 1812 was actually a battle between the young United States and Britain.” The fight was not for Canada, as the British troops were fighting for the British empire rather than for a few colonies in North America.

                                         The British are coming! A British hero in "Upper Canada."         rpsc.org

The real question is why the young American empire sought to take on the British empire, and the northern British colonies fall by the wayside as soon as this question is brought into focus.
 
The other correction that comes with shifting the question to why a young empire would challenge an older one involves the distinction between a colony, state or host kingdom on the one hand and an empire thereof on the other. In the case of the American colonies, a very large one (e.g., Virginia) as well as several of them (e.g., New England) and even the United Colonies of North America as a whole were referred to as an empire, though by the time of American independence that term was generally used with the United Colonies and then United States. In contrast, the few colonies north of that “empire within an empire” were not viewed as an empire, but, rather, as a few members of the British empire. In the context of the meaning of empire as a combination of kingdom-level polities (including colonies as such polities) of sufficient scale, four or five colonies fall short. Even in the twenty first century, the amount of usable land and the population of Canada (i.e., 34 million in 2011—only a few million more than California’s) is equivalent to one of the large United States. To be sure, the cultural differences by province in Canada are similar to what one would find in an empire, but the scale and number of republics are not sufficient for Canada itself to be considered to be on the empire-level alongside the U.S., E.U., China, India, and Russia (at least not until global warming renders much of Northern Canada habitable such that the population and number of states in Canada increase dramatically).
 
Accordingly, the U.S. Constitution allows for Canada to enter the Union as a state. To be sure, the ten Canadian provinces (and three territories) could come in as a few medium-sized states or several small ones rather than altogether as one big one like California, but it would not be a case of two empires uniting “in partnership.” Rather, one or a few republics would be joining an empire of such states. No European would say that Turkey joining the E.U. would be a merger of two equals. “That would be like Mexico becoming a state in the U.S.,” a European official once put the matter. That is to say, the “United States of” Mexico would translate into one big state (or a few smaller ones) rather than as another United States of America.
 
There is thus a category mistake in the following statement by James Moore, who as minister of Canadian heritage was in charge of the advertising (or propaganda) campaign on the War of 1812. “Canada was invaded, the invasion was repelled and we endured, but we endured in partnership with the United States,” he said. The British Empire was invaded, and the accession of Canada would not be a matter of partnership. To take a few maple leaves and consider them to be commensurate to a branch is to make a category mistake that cannot but lead to erroneous conclusions.
 
Source:
Ian Austen, “Canada Puts Spotlight on War of 1812, With U.S. as Villain,” The New York Times, October 8, 2012.