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Danger: National Myth in Operation

The Americans apparently believe they didn't lose a war until Vietnam. What then, it has to be asked, was the War of 1812 when the United States tried to take advantage of the Napoleonic War to annexe Canada? The war ended with the 1814 Treaty of Ghent restoring the pre-1812 status quo. The US failed to annexe Canada, therefore it suffered a defeat. I have a real problem understanding what present day Americans believe the war was about. I suspect many think the British invaded the United States and were driven back. The Americans at the time tried to justify the invasion of Canada by complaining that the arrogant British had been kidnapping their sailors for service in the Royal Navy. Putting aside the number of deserters from the Royal Navy who were crewing American ships, the Atlantic states were by far the least enthusiastic supporters of the war. That suggests "impressment", as it was called, was an excuse for war rather than a reason. Which brings us back to national myths. The real reason the United States failed to sweep aside the skeleton British force in Canada, aided by local volunteers,  was that the war was unpopular. The bulk of the US troops were militiamen who had signed up to defend their own homes, not invade other countries. The American invasion was half-hearted, if not quarter-hearted, and that is why it failed. Sadly, the lessons of 1812 were not learned.  Well, one lesson was learned: when a large part of Mexico was annexed by the US in 1848, the job was put the hands of the regular army. Just over 150 years later, it did not take long for the American public to work out that their sons were being sent to die in Vietnam to prop up a deeply unpopular, and often downright criminal, regime. One of the lessons here is that the United States cannot win prolonged wars overseas that are unpopular at home. It is a lesson that has been plain to see since 1812.

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