Nossal: Why commemorate the War of 1812?

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October 24, 2011

It is always hazardous to dig up a faintly-remembered past, particularly when the digging is being driven by a government keen to “read” North American history in a way that seems primarily intended to serve political/electoral purposes.  But in the case of the commemoration of the bicentenary of the War of 1812, the pros outweigh the cons, particularly since academic historians are likely to ensure that the government’s misreadings of history – purposeful or unwitting – will be corrected in the retelling.  Commemorating the war will increase knowledge about a germinal event that many Canadians readily admit that they do not know much about.  Commemoration will also provide Canadians (and others besides) with an opportunity to reflect on the foundations – and conditions – of the long peace that all too often we take for granted.  And it will encourage us to ponder the might-have-beens of this war: had those native peoples who had fought on the British side been rewarded, as they had been promised, with the creation of a semi-autonomous Aboriginal polity situated between the United States and the settler communities to the north, the future shape of North America would have been radically altered.