The War of 1812: Now playing

The government’s love of all things military has reached a new ridiculous high (or low depending on how you see it). A “Heritage Moment” commercial on the war of 1812 debuted earlier this month and has been playing before films ( Steven Chase, “Playing at a theatre near you: Ottawa’s shock-and-awe film on War of 1812,” Globe and Mail, 6 July 2012):

When the Harper government set out to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812, it promised to celebrate a formative event without stirring up anti-American sentiment.

A new government video advertisement designed to educate Canadians about the conflict throws all that nuance out the window.

To borrow a phrase from the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, Ottawa’s “Fight For Canada” ad turns the dial up to 11.

“Two hundred years ago, the United States invaded our territory,” the narrator tells viewers in a grim and determined voice as war drums and frantic violins play in the background.

In what might be better titled “1812, The Summer Movie,” the video – now playing in theatres – is designed to stir up patriotic fervour.

It’s a one-minute adrenalin trip full of dark forests, closeups of weapons and battle, and pride at repelling American assailants – one that is more Jerry Bruckheimer than Canadian Heritage Moment.

“But we defended our land,” the narrator continues as American and British soldiers line up opposite each other before they begin blasting away with rifles.

The final few moments of the short depict military commanders preparing to give the command to start killing. “Ready …. aim … fire!”

Like other wars, however, the realities behind the War of 1812 were more complicated than simple patriotic cheerleading might suggest (Roger Hall, “The war that everybody, and nobody, won,” Globe and Mail, 22 June 2012):

[T]he Americans remember isolated naval victories and the successful Battle of New Orleans (fought after the peace treaty had been signed) and overlook the fact that conquering Canada failed, Washington was burned and the U.S. treasury was nearly emptied.

Canadians – desperate to kindle their own mythologies – downplay the role of the professional British regular and cheer on the citizen militia and even Laura Secord and her sacred cow.

What is certain is that if those “sides” won, another definitely lost: native people and their desperate attempt to link up to stop the unyielding westward march of transplanted Europeans.

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