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The worst war--the War of 1812

Seriously? Worse than the Iraq War? Or the Vietnam War? World War One or Two? The Civil War?

I’ll make my case:

Never in the history of American warfare has this nation witnessed such an exhibition of cowardice, indecisiveness, incompetence, and laziness in the army’s senior officer ranks. Battle after battle was lost, untrained troops were sacrificed in fights they could never win, territories won were quickly squandered, and the chain of command was ignored to near-treasonous levels.

The stakes were high: America’s first invasion of another nation could have, and almost did, end disastrously. It was launched just twenty-two years after the ratification of the Constitution that created the United States we know. It was the first critical test of democratic leadership on an international scale that would decide whether the grand experiment of self-government would survive or collapse.

The Battle of North Point: The battle that no one knows

So, what does America do? It declares war on the mightiest empire of the time: Great Britain.

America had virtually no navy—its warships numbered in the single digits—while Great Britain had nine hundred. The oceans of the world were virtually a British lake.

America’s regular army comprised about five thousand officers and men; Britain’s numbered in the hundreds of thousands. America thought it could rely on its motley militias of the separate states, some of which refused to fight outside their states and all of which were comprised of undisciplined, inexperienced citizen soldiers who often had to supply their own arms and provisions.

America’s treasury was virtually empty, putting the war’s success almost entirely in the hands of the banks. Great Britain’s rich empire reached into the far corners of the world.

This was the same British military that soon was to dispose of Napoleon after he had conquered nearly the entire European continent. Great Britain could be expected to swat away America like a pesky fly.

While the U.S. Navy proudly acquitted itself in the war, thanks to the superb seafaring skills honed as leading international trader, the land war was a disaster. Defeat was a distinct possibility.

An American defeat likely would have resulted in Canada’s annexation of New England or in the return of those former colonies to the British crown. The Southern and Middle Atlantic states might have gone their separate ways. New wars could have broken out on the North American continent—involving Britain, France, Spain, or Mexico—over control of the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. Five New England states met in secret convention to debate secession from the Union.

Considering the critical role that the United States has played in global affairs in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, a defeat could have changed the face of today’s world.

So, how could the War of 1812, with all of its mistakes, have been worse than the Vietnam War? I’ll be reminded that we lost that war.  More than 58,000

Washington burning.
Americans died in it. But, even though we lost it, America survived, somewhat battered and bruised for the experience, but still ticking.

For many Americans, our experience in Iraq amounted to a defeat. Almost 4,500 Americans were killed. It cost hundreds of billions. But even if America had been thoroughly beaten in the war, we, as a nation, would have continued.

The War of 1812 could never compare with the millions that were killed in those two conflicts. And surely, if we had lost either of those wars, the America and world we know today would not exist.

And the Civil War? The loss of life per capita was the greatest in America history. A loss for the Union would have permanently split the nation, with the Southern half remaining a slave holding region, for how long?

Yet, the War of 1812 nearly threw everything away that came after. The good with the bad. The very survival of the nation was at stake. A divided United States might not have come to the rescue of the western democracies in the two world wars, leaving the world in the grip of fascism, communism or other horrors.

There probably wouldn’t have been a Civil War because a loss in the War of 1812 could have already divided the nation into—who knows? —two or three bellicose and combative segments that could have been at each others’ throats for decades.

So, what made the War of 1812 such a mess? There’s a way to find out. Madness: The War of 1812 is a quick and easy read that views the conflict through the eyes of ordinary Americans. Readers who were unfamiliar with the war typically valued the novel as a fast-paced story that told them things they never knew, some of them quite surprising. Like: “You mean, we once invaded Canada?”

I invite you to explore the rest of this site where you can read some book excerpts, link to other war sites and immerse yourself in the bicentennial celebrations of the war. To get a true feel for the most ill conceived, poorly executed and least remembered war in American history, order the book here. I offer a special discount, knocking a half off the publisher’s price