Friday, February 25, 2011

History Channel War of 1812 Documentary Waves The Flag

THE HISTORY CHANNEL® PRESENTS: THE WAR OF 1812 is a must-have for anyone that's remotely interested in early American history. The DVD box set includes the following programs:
  • FIRST INVASION: THE WAR OF 1812, which portrays a young United States "on the brink of annihilation" just 30 years after its independence
  • SAVE OUR HISTORY: THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER, which takes viewers through a history of the American flag and the poem that became America's national anthem
  • THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS, which covers General Andrew Jackson's lopsided and crucial victory over the British in 1815, weeks after the War of 1812 had officially concluded
  • Special Features, including a behind-the-scenes look at First Invasion and an episode from Extreme History on surviving in an 1812 battleship.
The real prize in this boxed set is the documentary First Invasion: The War of 1812. The documentary, which first aired on The History Channel in 2004, portrays a young United States of America "on the brink of annihilation" as it battles the largest and most powerful empire on earth. The clearly pro-American documentary chronicles primarily the final phase of the war, focusing almost exclusively on the British sacking of Washington, the assault on Fort McHenry, and the climactic encounter at New Orleans.

First Invasion tries to tie in the infamous "September 11" date by pointing out that British warships were descending on Baltimore and Fort McHenry, backed by an invading army, in the month of September 1814. To the Americans besieged in Baltimore and to a young attorney named Francis Scott Key, the assault on Ft. McHenry, coming on the heels of the capital being overwhelmed, was every bit the "September 11" of that generation.

Critics say First Invasion is far too pro-American, and that it ignores or downplays other elements of the War of 1812. Well, First Invasion is indeed guilty of "US spin" (as one critic called it). I'm not sure this is necessarily wrong, though. Michael Moore is famous for turning out documentaries that advocate a certain point of view and "spin" facts accordingly. While I'm not necessarily a Michael Moore fan, I don't have a problem with documentarians coming at their subject with a perspective or viewpoint. In this case, the makers of First Invasion clearly are Americans and they are patriotic. Or at least they are appealing to patriotic Americans. Not a problem, as far as I'm concerned.

Is it accurate? Yes, the documentary is very accurate. It points out that American looting and burning in Canada is what set the stage for the British torching public buildings in Washington. The film also acknowledges some of the expansionist greed that was behind some of the US politicians who supported the war. Nevertheless, the film very correctly points out that the United States was fighting for its viability as a free nation, if not its independence altogether. In many respects, the War of 1812 was a second war for independence with Great Britain. Losing the conflict would have been disastrous to the United States.

Of course, the United States was hardly prepared for the conflict. When war was declared, the U.S. had only 7,000 scattered soldiers under arms and roughly 16 warships. It could not strike directly at Great Britain, even though the Mother Country was distracted by Napoleon. So, the US had to invade Canada, which it did in 1812. And that didn't go too well. Before long, the US was rocked back on its heels, facing invasion from several fronts. And that's where First Invasion picks up.

If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend you pick up a copy at your local bookstore, order it online from this link, or try to borrow it from your local library.

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