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In Our Time: The War of 1812

Thursday 31 January 2013, 11:46

Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg

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Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed The War of 1812. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - AI.

The War of 1812 The War of 1812

Hello

For most of us 1812 means the Overture or Napoleon's ill-omened march on Moscow.  The only good effect of that was that somehow it inspired Hitler to do the same stupid thing and in both cases led to the defeat of two dictators, one, of course (the latter), much worse than the other.

But a war with America!  Who could think of such a thing!  It just shows you: what goes around comes around.  And in the future...?  We never know.

Just before I went to Israel I wandered around London in the cold which is so pleasant, especially when the snow has been swept from the pavements and your feet are not freezing after the first hundred yards.  There's so much to notice in London.  First of all, you occasionally pick up the sound of English being spoken!  But secondly, I began to notice scarves.  Chaps with scarves particularly.  There's the bohemian scarf worn by elegant chaps in the environs around Buckingham Palace and among thespians, which is a rather loose-tied scarf loping down from the neck, showing an elegant carelessness.  There's the university flick, which has one leg dangling down the front and then a single wind around the throat and the other leg dangling down the back - a little bit Dr Who and a little bit juvenile lead.  There's the good boy scarf, neatly folded in front and tucked in tight to protect the throat and the chest, no doubt with a Vicks rub underneath.  There's the scarf which is wound round and round the throat - could be called the throttling scarf, or I-don't-care-if-anybody-knows-I'm-wearing-a-scarf-but-I-really-need-to-keep-warm.  Then there's that funny Italian double loop which came in a couple of years ago, where you shove both ends of the scarf through the loop and bring it round your throat and flash it off in rather an unnecessarily vain way, although, it has to be confessed (I'm afraid I've tried it once or twice), is very warm.  There are many other scarves, including of course the one that is simply hung round the neck like a halter and demurely crossed under the top button.

But enough of scarves.  Off to Israel now so I'm doing this newsletter in advance.  The first time I went was on a British Council tour with, among others, the late Iris Murdoch, the late Beryl Bainbridge, and what a wonderful trip it was.  Stories, stories, but no space for them now.  A revelation for me.  Israel was as familiar in my imagination, if not more familiar, from the Bible as Manhattan was from the movies.  Now roving over the place to find the 'real' Mary Magdalene and then through the Wall to Palestine and Bethlehem.  I went there once also to do a trial film for Jesus Christ Superstar, for which I'd written the script more than forty years ago, which led me to my first interest in the 'real' Mary Magdalene.  I worked there for eight days with a small Israeli crew and have never had a better time making a film in all my life.  You had the amphitheatre at Caesarea to yourself, and the rock musical pumped out while approximately twelve people stood in the amphitheatre and, somehow or other, it seemed enough for the scene that I had written (although I wrote it as a silent movie - if that makes any sense).

Dictating this from the House of Lords, having just listened to an excellent debate on nuclear weapons and the defence system of this country.  And before that had lunch at a place which was new to me, but in the corner there were the instruments for a jazz band: drums, a lolling double bass and a couple of microphones.  To be returned to.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

 

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    Comment number 1.

    Nice to hear the discussion about the War of 1812. Nice to hear Professor Burk give Canada some coverage. New Orleans was a large battle but there were battles in Canada with just as many casualties. Professor Cagliano treats the War of 1812 with a bit of disdain because it may be hard to accept that once again white, anglo-saxon, protestant people named after an Italian navigator (?) had allied themselves with another French despot to hold onto their slaves and slaughter Indians. However, he at least calls Indians, Indians. The more politically correct term Native American would be like calling Englishman - Native Frenchmen. Currently, there are some troubles with Indians, or First Nations, people here in Canada. There are good reasons we are having disputes with them. One, they have some legitimate beefs and two - they still exist in Canada. Google a map of Indian Reservations in the United States. As you discussed, they were successfully extirpated from the eastern of half of the States. There is another legacy for Britain from 1812 involving another small war, fought over a small island, involving very few combatants. Apparently, in 1940 some German bloke was bombing the heck out of this tiny little island just off the coast of Europe. Coincidentially, due to the Depression, there were a significant number of unemployed bush pilots in Canada. Turns out, many of them found work knocking down this German fellow's aeroplanes. Not always well remembered here in Canada because it happened long ago, far away and involved a miniscule piece of real estate.
    Sorry for the silly comments and thanks for the excellent discussion.

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    Comment number 2.

    Well said. Always good to read comments from a fellow Canadian :)

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    Comment number 3.

    Preceding this was the war between the greatest land power France and the greatest sea power GB.The United States got caught in between.Britain and France used America,they both didn’t want America against them.The colonies were regarded as essentially expeditionary establishments,sources of revenue,dependencies upon the mother country long after their peoples had developed a keen sense of their separate life.Two thirds of North America was under the British Crown before the American War of Independence.Different colonies held different views about slavery.America was a nation of emigrants who took possession of an almost empty land,destroying or interning the natives they found there.In 1783 peace was made in Paris,and the 13 colonies from Maine to Georgia became a union of independent sovereign states.TheUnited States of America came into existence.Canada remained loyal to the British flag.For 4 years these states had a feeble central government and seemed destined to break up into separate independent communities.Their separation was delayed by the hostility of the British and aggressiveness of the French.A constitution was drawn up and ratified in 1788 establishing an efficient federal government with a president holding considerable powers and the weak sense of national unity was invigorated by the 2nd war with Britain in 1812.France vied with GB to intimidate America into excluding its main rival from trade with America by penalising America.Democracy following French and American Revolutions becomes an important political force.Common sense provided the lever that asserted Englishmen born on both sides of the Atlantic had the same rights and the American Revolution made these rights known to all Europe.The Aboriginal Indians were the great losers,linked to the British going back to the American Revolution and 7 years war,despite their attempts at an alliance of tribes,being used as a buffer between the Americans and the Canadians,they were attacked, pushed west,divided,lost great swathes of land.Both GB and America thought they had something to gain from the war before a peace treaty was signed.With the collapse of the French Empire and defeat of Napolean friction between the Americans and British decreases before the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814.The US gained independence with security, England had defeated its true enemy and so forgot about its losses in the war of 1812.The American/Canadian boundary was reinforced.The steam-boat,the railway and the telegraph helped cement the union.

 
 

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