In “”Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The War of 1812 In Canada And The United States In 2012,” Karim M. Tiro analyzes both the Canadian and American standard narrative of the War of 1812.
According to Tiro, the war has a nationalist narrative built and used for political means by the Canadian government and, in turn, the general public. Triro claims that “the Canadian federal government has recognized the power of the War of 1812, harnessed it, and is trying to see how far it can go” (Tiro, 91). The government (specifically the Conservative Party, and more specifically in 2012) sees the war as a part of Canada’s identity. And, though some – such as French Canadians – criticize the perspective pushed by the government, these criticisms only help publicize the war even more. That is the government’s intention, evident by the fact that they have spent upwards of $50 million “on historic sites, re-enactments, and even television advertisements and movie trailers” devoted to recovering Canadian national pride in it’s “military heritage and British identity” that the War of 1812 instills (Tiro, 92).
Contrasting this pride, the U.S. is seemingly indifferent to the war, preferring instead to gloss over it. Tiro explains this is due to America’s involvement in the war being counterproductive to pushing the American national narrative “of a nation born of resistance to imperialism,” as, per Tiro, most of the war consisted of the U.S. “making war on border communities in Upper Canada” who were in no way responsible for British impressment” (Tiro, 93-94). Additionally, the war is kind of an embarrassment for the U.S., who were pretty confident that they could conquer Canada merely by marching (to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson) (Tiro, 96). Further, America tends to gloss over the fact that the Treaty of Ghent paved the way for westward expansionism and its affect on the Native population. Tiro also notes that both the U.S. and Canada frame the war as David-and-Goliath-esque, “with opposite assessments of who was David and who was Goliath” (Tiro, 95). For the U.S., they were a small, young nation taking on the great British empire; for Canada, it was “a war of choice,” and that choice was made by the U.S. in order to expand its borders and strengthen its economy (Tiro, 95). Finally, Tiro calls on modern public historians in both nations to revise their narratives. The U.S. needs to stop ignoring the facts despite their running counter to the Grand American Narrative. Canada needs to stop romanticizing the war, especially when it comes to their relationship with Native peoples (Tiro, 96). Despite this call to action, Tiro does not see the standard narrative on either side changing in the near future.
Tiro’s analysis has both a comparative and revisionist approach. In comparing the standard narratives of the United States and Canada, Tiro allows the reader to clearly see the faults and biases in both; further, the reader gains two distinct interpretations of the same event, allowing them to establish a rounder personal perspective. In comparing the two, Tiro also highlights where a revisionist historian could improve upon and create a fairer narrative. Tiro’s historiographical approach presents two sides to the same story, analyzes the bias in both, and advises how to make each more factual.
Tiro effectively limits his personal bias to the point that I had to google where he was from because I could not tell. He only inserts his opinion at the end of the article when advising historians to revise their respective narratives. Additionally, being a bit of a cynic, I enjoyed his equal criticism of both nations and his lack of faith that either country will remove the bias in their narrative.
Word Count: 583
Karim M. Tiro, “Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The War of 1812 In Canada And The United States In 2012,” The Public Historian, 35, no. 1, University of California Press (2013). pp. 87-97.