It’s the bicentennial of the war of 1812 this year. There’s not much evidence of commemoration on this side of the Atlantic, though apparently they’re taking it a bit more seriously in the US and Canada. For of course this was the last time Britain and the US were at war, and the result was, basically, a draw. In a nutshell, the Americans got cross with the British conscripting their sailors into the Royal Navy to fight the French (this all took place at the height of the Napoleonic wars). They tried to invade Canada and were driven off (they’re still not allowed warships on the Great Lakes as a result). Their ships raided our convoys, and we raided Washington and burnt the White House. Then we deployed the RN in force to blockade US ports, but when we landed an army near New Orleans it was defeated. Draw declared.
People often describe it the only war ever to be fought between democracies, implying that democracies are inherently peaceful. But it’s a bit more interesting than that. For a start, democracies can be bellicose. You can easily imagine a war between, for example, Egypt (now a democracy) and Israel.
But secondly, neither the US nor Britain were really democracies, as the franchise had not been extended to all in either country. What you could describe them, though, is as liberal states. In other words in both countries’ governments were subordinated (at least to an extent) to the interests of individuals. Since democracies aren’t always liberal, it should be all the more singular for two liberal states to go to war, as they did in 1812. It all goes to show, I suppose, that, in extremis, states of all descriptions will go to any lengths to protect their interests. Oh, and that humans are a pretty aggressive and violent bunch.
Here’s a picture of the USS Constitution, which successfully raided British shipping before being bottled up by the RN big guns: