Friday, May 18, 2007

Historical "Explosion" in the Gym

Sometimes I get a little too smug and reactionary for my own good. Today, in the gym, my friend, Saul, and I were giving each other a good-natured ribbing, as usual. I challenged him to go two days without using the F word, at least while he’s around me. About then one of his drinking buddies from Canada came in. Turns out, his name is Rob from Ottawa.

Shaking hands, I told him about my own connections to Canada. My mom was born in Toronto and we still have cousins there. On my dad’s side, we have family that was forced off their Toronto farmstead by the Brits (Tories) after they hung my triple great grandfather, Samuel Lount, in 1838 for treason.

Rob kicked in, almost with a snarl, that he had family killed also, only by Americans way back when. Now that sounded interesting to me so I pressed him a little for details. He said it was during the border skirmishes of the War of 1812.

“Interesting,” I told him, “my family name changed a little because of that war. Originally, our last name, which is Scottish in origin, was spelled with an “i,” but after we beat the British, in a swell of patriotism one of my ancestors changed the “i” to an “a” after “America.””

Rob could have cared less. “You didn’t win that war, we did—the British.”

Oh my! Fighting words! I practically exploded on him. Before I knew it, I was only a foot away from him, full of challenge and ready to debate.

“How can you possibly say the United States lost the War of 1812? We fought the Brits to a standstill,” I let him know vociferously.

To his credit, Rob didn’t back down and came back at me. “Well, we invaded (notice the “we?”) your soil and burned down your capital. Of course we won the war.”

I was having none of that… “Sure, they burned down the White House, but we ended up defeating that same British force as they marched on Baltimore. Hell, we killed their commander!

(“The Star Spangled Banner,” penned by Francis Scott Key, was written on a British ship during an attempt by those same “dastardly” English to force the capitulation of Baltimore by bombardment from the sea, which also failed, just like the British attempt to attack over land.)

I couldn’t help myself; I ranted on: “You know Rob, the English forced that war on us. They were upset that their sailors were deserting in huge numbers during their war with France whenever their ships made port in the U.S.. To teach us a lesson, they forced hundreds, maybe thousands of American sailors into “service” onto their navy and mercantile ships. It was a case of the Americans standing up to British bullying. They were basically enslaving our people on their ships. Damn, it was piracy man!”

Saul was getting a little uneasy with my tirade and tried to get me to ease up a little, but I wasn’t ready to calm down. I continued…

“Rob, ever hear of the Battle of New Orleans? Now THOSE particular British troops had just come across the Atlantic after beating the pants off of Napoleon. So, naturally, they were feeling their oats and THAT was their mistake—they underestimated us! Andrew Jackson smashed those overconfident Redbellies and threw them all back into the Gulf of Mexico.”

Saul was still trying to calm me down a little, “Phil, Phil…”

I kept at it, “To say the British won the War of 1812 is to re-write history man! WE won that war dude. Google it Rob.”

Rob, ever calm but looking a little hard-pressed, answered me in a placative manner, “Well, no one ever really wins in any war…”

I snorted, “Yah, Yah, right! If you say so…”

I started feeling a little foolish and began to think maybe I need to increase my meds by a dose or two. Later on, I approached him in a calmer manner and we talked of “normal” things. Still, I think he’s a bit leery of me now. I need to watch that.

Nevertheless, I was curious about his claim that the Brits won the War of 1812. Rob is a schoolteacher, he’s not an uneducated fellow, and so I did a little more research on what I thought was a very weird assertion. I mean, MAYBE I AM wrong... Sure enough, I found that Canadian history books actually claim that the Canadians and British defeated the Americans in that war! Ah Hah!

The reason they teach this quirky (or maybe not so quirky) account of the past is that at the beginning of the war the inexperienced and unprofessional American militia, mostly recruited from the unenthusiastic Northeast--lacking decent leadership and armed with poor weapons while dependent on even poorer logistics--were indeed forced into retreat. So, the fact that the half-hearted American attempt to invade Canadian territory WAS beaten back is THE reason Canadians teach and believe what they do concerning the result of the War of 1812.

Not yet knowing any of the above, but wanting to offer an olive branch, I endeavored to engage Rob in some less hostile conversation. I asked him if he’d ever heard of the Canadian Rebellion of 1837 in Toronto. He never had, and so has never heard of my triple great grandfather Samuel Lount, a good man who was found guilty of treason and hung by the Brits in 1838.

His last words on the gallows were, “"Be of good courage boys, I am not ashamed of anything I've done, I trust in God, and I'm going to die like a man."

Hmmm. Well, obviously Rob is an Anglophile, so I suppose it makes sense that he wouldn’t want to concentrate too much on some of the more distasteful aspects of past English rule in Canada, or that of their loyalist partners.

Funny what can come of a seemingly innocent meeting between two North Americans in a neutral location, such as a gym in Angeles City.

(Incidentally, in a way, Rob was right. By all accounts, the Treaty of Ghent basically reestablished status quo borders from before the beginning of the war, and The Brits agreed to stop fomenting and supporting the Indians against American settlers moving west. Their war with France was over and so they had already stopped kidnapping our sailors.

Even more interesting for me though, is that the War of 1812 caused a surge of nationalism in both Canada and the United States. No wonder Canadians teach their children that they won that war. In an important way, THEY did. If things had gone differently, there is a good chance that Canadians would be speaking American today! (grin)

But seriously, at the time, most Americans (like my name-changing forebears) felt a great sense of pride in having bested so often during that war the world’s most powerful armed force, and for the SECOND time, by TWO different generations!)


Anonymous said...

That's funny, Phil. Love that story. I too have been taken aback by a Canadian telling me "We burned down your White House", when we Americans have always been taught it was the British. We have a clear idea of our beginnings since 4 July 1776 gave us a before and after line. Canadians don't seem to have that. Their transition to independence took a very long time and in several phases, making when they were British and when they were Canadians a bit murky. Their defense was handled by both locally raised troops as well as British garrisons. And I just read that the Canadian navy wasn't even created until 1906. Ain't dat sumpin?

Amadeo said...

Do you remember the song of Johnny Horton, The Battle of New Orleans? This song by the singing cowboy fisherman of some Southern California county was very popular, earning for the singer concert trips abroad.

One stop was Great Britain. For this, he had to re-issue the same song with different lyrics, since the original did not come out "complimentary" to his Brit fans.

I kept both versions and the latter one is quite rare.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yah, that IS something. The Canadian military is very very tiny. They (some Canadians) can tend to look down their noses at our "warlike" ways, while knowing full well that as a part of NATO, we will help defeat any enemy that might attack them. (Its called a free ride, and lots of our "friends" take advantage of it.) The good news is that the folks that tend to join the Canadian military are more like people like me than they are like the people in charge in Ottawa.

I grew up listening to Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans" and I can sing the whole song, every verse! It's a kick ass tune about kicking ass! Andrew Jackson is one of my favorite Americans of all time. If you ever pass by Nashville stop in at "The Hermitage" and check out his homestead and grave site. Its an amazing historical spot.

Amadeo said...

Yes, Ol' Hickory was also a favorite of mine, epitomized in a role played by Charlton Heston.

Johnny Horton is a sentimental favorite and I've collected most if not all of his songs. North to Alaska and The Sinking of the Bismarck are also favorites.

If your email service allows for attachments of at least 3MB, will be glad to send you the "sanitized" version of The Battle of 1814.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Actually, I don't currently have a way of listening to music at the moment... I'd love to see a copy of those politically correct (as far as the Brits are concerned)lyrics though.

Anonymous said...

Learn something new everyday. I didn't know the Canadians thought differently about the outcome of the war.

I always thought that album with the Battle of New Orleans was one of the weirdest of all time. Seeing Johnny Horton in a red suit with that cheesy grin really sticks in my mind.

PhilippinesPhil said...

You're too young too appreciate him. You probably didn't like the legend of Davy Crockett either.

Don't talk down Johnny Horton. Them's fightin' words!