Oh Canada?

The War of 1812 is one of several American conflicts that often gets glossed over in conventional textbooks. We are all usually familiar with commonplace narrative regarding impressment and relatively obscure economic sanctions and the standout moments such as the British burning the White House, Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and Tecumseh generally causing mayhem. As Americans, we see the war, on the whole, as a victory. Territorial claims were cemented in the Treaty of Ghent, and America proved for the second time that it indeed deserved a place in the world after throwing back the British invaders in heroic fashion. Right?

As is the case with many conflicts throughout history, there are multiple perspectives, the War of 1812 is not exempt from this patter. Our neighbors to the North played a large role in the war and, chalk it up to American exceptionalism or narrative driven by the War Hawks, consider the War of 1812 to be a victory not for the United States, but for Canada. Historian Desmond Morton authored an article in 2012 entitled How Lower Canada won the War of 1812. Throughout the article, he challenges the conventional narrative and places an emphasis on the involvement and importance of the Canadian presence during the war. A cursory glance at the major battles map to the left indicates just how many battles were fought on, or north of the Canadian border.

Morton focuses on several key engagement in which Canadian militia forces served pivotal roles. He highlights the battle of Châteauguay where the Canadians, “… Against astonishing odds, killed the most dangerous American offensive of the war.” Morton emphasizes how these Candadiens (lower Canda loyalists) played no role in the operations in New Orleans, Washington D.C., or upper Canada, but instead ensured that Lower Canada was defended and free of invaders. Victories at Châteauguay, Michilimackinac and Queenston Heights emphasized their success.

Morton pushes the idea that an uniquely Canadian military front in the lower region of the country was paramount to the overall outcome of the war. It prevented the United States from gaining strategic ground in the country and maintained border integrity between the two nations. The War of 1812’s importance to Canada goes beyond these battles highlighted by Morton. It serves as a national landmark for Canadians. The war gave them a sense of identity and a common cause to rally around. To this day, Canadians still take pride in their involvement in the war; their ability to prevent the United State’s army from successfully invading; and the relationship that was forged between the two nations as a result of the treaty of Ghent. While Morton is a Canadian Historian, and his bias will naturally lean towards his nation, the perspective he brings to an otherwise relatively (on the United States’ end) unappreciated war goes a long way in showing just how much impact the conflict had.

This video goes a long way in demonstrating the significance the War of 1812 had on the Canadian people during, and directly after its onset, as well as how it is remembered and revered to this day.

“… The Women are to be Worthy of Respect…”

When asked to think about the quintessential snapshot of Americana from the 1950s and 60s, we are often greeted with the pastel, overly boyish images of a happy family sitting around a new television set; a boy casually sipping on a Coca-Cola from a glass bottle; or basically any Norman Rockwell painting. This kind of intrinsic nostalgia is, generally speaking, harmless enough; though if a we stop and take a closer look at the imagery associated with these decades, a narrative surfaces that does not necessarily align with the happy-go-lucky emotions that many of these images seek to evoke.  Pictures such as the one to the left are simple and innocent enough at a glance. Again, it carries those key traits that so many paintings and photographs did throughout the decade. The issue arrises, however, when we start looking at multiple of these pictures. Washing-machines, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, and so on; all are essential home appliances that serve to make life that much easier. Now, there is nothing wrong with advertising your product, however, when the target audience is solely women, and the manner in which women are portrayed throughout these advertisements presents some alarming rhetoric.

The above video is a prime example of the type of sexism that was not so subtly expressed in these advertisements. Viewing these ads and pictures through a critical lens allows us the opportunity to see the birth of  what has come to be some of the more sexist ideology in the United States.

The 1950s was a time in which The United States’ commercial industry was on the rise. The emergence of a booming middle class in the post WWII era came shepherded in  an era of American suburbia which, arguably, we are still in today. The traditional role of women had been that of the family matron. As society progressed, however, new opportunities opened up for women. While the new technology and amenities seen above went a long way to reinforce gender stereotypes, these decades also saw women challenging society’s conventional view on their roles. The Second Revolt of Modern Women written by Robert Fulford in 1964 goes a long way in explaining this change in mentality. Fulford states, “The oppression that the new feminists oppose is the psychological oppression of homemaking and motherhood seen as a full time career.” While technological advancements in home appliances sought to cement gender roles, they inadvertently pushed women to pursue a more liberated mindset. These new appliances simplified homework and saved time. Gone were the days where laundry and cooking was an all day affair.

Dr. Harvey N. Davis gave his opinions on technological development and women back in 1923. While this precedes the focus era by several decades, his precedent, while still slightly sexist, stands. He states, “Women, therefore, are up against the most acute cases of technological unemployment, having been dumped out of the work that was peculiarly their own.” Again, while there are still sexist undertones in the piece, Davis goes on to express how he believes this will result in more women attending university. He was, more or less, correct. Therefore, while these technological advancements pandered towards specific gender roles, they  justifiably enraged women as seen in the Fulford article, as well as gave women the time to pursue careers beyond the home. Many of these stereotypes are still alive today however, though there have been significant advancements in thought, society, and marketing that serve to make home-keeping a more gender neutral task. This said, it is still important to understand where these stereotypes came from, how they developed, and how the progression of technology both sought to cement these ideologies while inadvertently creating the means for women to break from these sexist ideas.



Fulford, Robert. 1964. “THE SECOND REVOLT OF “MODERN” WOMEN.” Maclean’s, Jul 25, 7. http://login.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1437752132?accountid=14826.

1923. “See Women Jobless in Mechanized Homes.” New York Times. https://canvas.vt.edu/courses/56760/files/folder/Women%20and%20Technology?preview=4499409

“Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness…”

Colonel Edward Shames. Few people know the name, and, for those who do, it does not always carry the best connotation. Col. Shames (pictured above) served in Easy Company Second Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during World War II. In more colloquial terms, the outfit portrayed in HBO’s famous mini-series, Band of Brothers based on Stephen Ambrose’s book of the same title. In the show, then Lieutenant, Shames’ character is glossed over, barely making an appearance in episode 6 ‘Foy’. For the brief moment he is on screen, he is portrayed as a negative leader, using intimidation and force to lead his people.

Why does this matter? Well, in reality, Col. Shames was an excellent officer whose people looked up to him for his gall and fortitude; so where is the disconnect? When Stephen Ambrose conducted his interviews, and later HBO, Col. Shames refused to stand for either. As such, Ambrose wrote him as the flippant lieutenant portrayed in the film.

Having personally met Col. Shames, I asked what he thought of the min-series and his portrayal. Between sips of his cocktail he responded with a gruff, “The hell if I care. I took care of my people, and we got home.” I talk about Col. Shames not only as a reinforcement of the value of perspective, but also as a segway into the reality and pitfalls of historical revisionism.

The author Michael Kammen published The American Past Politicized: Uses and Misuses of History which first discusses how revisionism in history is not a new, or American phenomenon before going on to highlight how it has affected American history and public perception thereof. Kammen goes all the way back to the American Revolution and highlights John Adams’ explicit feelings  towards the histories that had already began to appear immediately following the conflict. Adams professed that he would much rather read a Tory (English) history of the war, than an American as he believed the American accounts had been published for money and entertainment. His viewpoint lends credence to the importance of perspective and how revisionism can completely skew our view of how history has played out.

Kammen continues in his article to discuss how government agencies have influenced the production of history. By dictating the “official” statements that are released about given events, the government can inadvertently control the amount, type, and tone of detail that gets reported as fact. We see an added layer to this with today’s media and their selective reporting bias. All of this ultimately effects the manner in which the present is documented, recorded, and remembered. While revisionism may offer refinement of argument or fact, it can also serve as a faulty foundation for an otherwise credible argument or perspective. As such it is vital to read critically, understand one’s source and present history in as objective a way as possible.




Kammen, Michael. “The American Past Politicized: Uses and Misuses of History.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 617 (2008): 42-57. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/stable/25098012.


“What then shall we say in response to this…”

Perspective is an important thing to understand when conducting historical analysis. As such, we will be revisiting the decision to drop the atomic bombs in order to garner a more complete understanding of the decisions that surrounded the groundbreaking event. In order to do so, the chapter, The Decision to drop the Bomb, in James Davidson’s book After the Fact will be heavily referenced and compared to Stimpson’s article in Harper’s Magazine throughout this post.

The first claim that Davidson calls in to question is the idea that it was President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. As Davidson discusses, Truman was on the way back to the United States from the Potsdam Conference when the decision to use the bomb was made. Davidson asserts that this runs in contradiction with the over-simplified view of American Bureaucracy that is often present in narrative political science and history. It is easy to pin the “big decision” on the President as Truman was the man to coin the term “the buck stops here”. In doing so, however, layers of decision making are ignored as well as the leaders who made them, ultimately effecting the direction the war, and how the ensuing decades of Cold War arms race would play out.

Davidson places particular emphasis on the view that the United States, and ally Great Britain, were playing a “desperate” game of catch up to the scientifically superior Nazis. Several scientists from fascist Italy and Germany fled to either Great Britain or the United States in the late 1930’s with troubling information that their respective nations were developing so called “super bombs” that harnessed the power of atomic energy. Davidson continues to propose that this could have been once incentive to urge the Allied powers to develop bombs of their own.

The chapter further delves into the bureaucratic under-belly of decision making in the United States  specifically through highlighting something called Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs. This is an interesting point for Davidson to hone in on for such a bulk of the chapter. On the surface it may just seem to be another acronym meant to simplify life. SOPs, however, are the brain-child of the United States Army, and have deep roots in the Military Decision Making Process and Troop Leading Procedures. Both of which are guiding doctrine in how to lead and execute military operations. As such, the language and decision making process used are heavily influenced by military jargon and procedures. The emphasis on military draws an interesting connection with Stimpson’s article for Harper’s.

Stimpson’s whole argument revolved around the idea that dropping the bombs would ultimately save lives and end the war in the most expedited way possible. As Secretary of War, he represented the view of the military. As Davidson discussed in his book, Truman, while Commander in Chief, was not completely in the loop with regards to the decision to drop the bomb. As is seen through both his physical location, and the manner in which the decision and implication of SOPs was made, it was a military venture.

Perspective can change at a moments notice. It can also allow for connections to be drawn between people, events, or circumstances that otherwise seemed unrelated. As historians, perspective is essential in order to better understand the full scope of a given field of study. Nothing is black and white and nothing better shows us that than a careful look at perspective.

“I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful Rebukes.”

When we think of World War Two, we are often greeted with imagery of patriotism, immense struggle for the greater good, and the triumph of democracy over those who would oppress and conquer. We see Marines raising the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima, Patton standing stoically on the slopes of Italy’s mountains, or the salted faces of the first infantry division about to storm the beaches of Normandy. With these notorious images, however, comes controversy and dissent. Among one of the most debated issue to this day is the use of the atomic bombs on the Empire of Japan. Henry L. Stimpson, the Secretary of War during WWII, provides immense insight into the development of the great bomb and its strategic use in an article for Harper’s Magazine Published in 1947.

Henry L. Stimpson

“The face of war is the face of death; death is an inevitable part of every order that a wartime leader gives.”  Acceptance. There is perhaps no better word to summarize Stimpson’s view on the events encompassing the development and eventual use of the atomic bomb. Throughout the article he brings the reader from the first conceptualization of an atomic weapon to its implementation in the Pacific Theater. He remains, on the whole, emotionally objective regarding the ordeal. Stimpson presents his view analytically and empirically making it difficult to contest his backing of the decision to drop the bomb.

There are many critics who would suggest that the atomic bomb was a superfluous use of force. Their argument centers around the idea that by using the atomic bomb, the United States ushered in the era of atomic warfare and opened the door to a new threat the world over. While this may be the case, decision makers do not have the benefit of hindsight. They need to execute in the way they deem most effective. In the case of Stimpson and the United States government, this meant using the bomb.

Two great nations were approaching a fight to a finish which would begin on November 1, 1945. Our enemy, Japan, commanded forces os somewhat over 5,000,000 armed men. Men of these armies had already inflicted upon us, upon the breakthrough of the outer perimeter of their defenses, over 300,000 battle casualties. Enemy armies still unbeaten had the strength to cost us a million more… My chief purpose was to end the war in victory with the least cost in the lives of the men in the armies which I had helped to raise.

These are the direct words of Stimpson from the Harper’s Magazine article. It is not the view of a political scientist or historian, a war fanatic or pacifist, a general or a private. No, it is straight from the mind of the then Secretary of War. In no way does this discredit the reality of how immense the loss of life on behalf the atomic bombs was, however, it does offer clarity as to the why behind the decision of the United States.

So what? What makes this any different from the hundreds of discussions that have covered this issue over the past seven decades. Its all about perspective. Stimpson most likely would have wanted to present a view of the situation that properly justified his actions, and he does so in a convincing way. There are two sides to every argument, and his makes more sense logically and consequentially.

Yes, by using the bomb, the United States opened the stage for an international arms race that would set the precedent for the Cold War. However, the bombs ended the immediate conflict, WWII. Yes, the U.S. could have invaded Japan, but, as Truman so accurately stated, “It would be an Okinawa from one end of the island to the other.” The survival rate for the United States Marine Corps at the peak of fighting on Okinawa was 1 in 5. Yes, it can be argued that the U.S. only wanted to use the bomb to justify its over 2 billion dollar budget, but had the bomb not been used countless more money and resources would have been poured into a costly land invasion.

Again it is all about perspective. The view that the bomb saved lives while deliberately ending the war is coming straight from the then Secretary of War. Very few other people would have had as accurate a perception and understanding of the implications both political and militaristic that the bomb would have. As such, the decision was an informed one that would ultimately usher in peace and allow for the U.S. to rebuild the nation of Japan.





Stimpson, Henry L. “The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb.” Harper’s Magazine, February 1947


Battle Of Okinawa: Summary, Fact, Pictures and Casualties


“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


There is a very practiced and nuanced format to which persons are expected to adhere when conducting professional and credible historical work. The aforementioned form falls under the  umbrella of historiographical processes. Of these processes, the unequivocal importance of objectivity stands as a cornerstone, a pillar of necessity that deems lesser all other tenants of “good” history.


Just like that, I have single-handedly inserted a very strong, albeit obvious, bias into my work regarding the unparalleled importance of objectivity. While it is important to understand objectivity, or the ability to present information in an unbiased and accurate way, it is not the sole determining factor that dictates a strong work of history. The way in which a lack of objectivity can gloss over detail and different perspective is what makes it such a

danger to the historiographical process. It is usually right around now where people start to roll their eyes and yawn as the idea of historiography is not an overly compelling one. Historiography’s lack of luster may make it difficult to study, however, it is still an important concept to understand as it will bring one’s writing to a higher, more refined level.

Once again, ever so subtly, I inserted a simple counter. I acknowledged a common perception, or belief that could serve as a bias when learning about historiography. This acknowledgement of bias can somewhat negate it and serve to make a stronger point.

I digress, however, we must move on to why objectivity in history is in fact important, and touch on several of the more common forms in which objectivity, or, more accurately, a lack there of has impacted how we view the world.

As everyone’s favorite Prime Minister (more bias right there look out) so eloquently stated, “history is written by the victors.” That statement is true on a variety of levels. If we look back to World War II, the general consensus is that the Allies were good, the Axis bad. While a compelling case can be made for that stance, it deliberately ignores detail. By making something black and white, we lose sight of the grey, and its that grey which so often gives character, context, and reason for much of what we see in history.

A Higher Call is an excellent book that really calls out the importance of understanding context and the background when studying history. In the book, the protagonist, a German fighter pilot escorts a wounded American bomber back safely to Allied controlled airspace. The book goes into detail about the German pilot, Franz Stigler, and how he was not himself a Nazi. He considered himself an honor-bound knight in service to his country. Understanding that makes seeing all Nazis as “bad” much more difficult. It also creates layers to history where the importance of underlying motivation can ripple across time. Here we are some 70 years later, and this story of unusual compassion still strikes a chord.

History is a complex, beautifully woven tapestry of a diverse and intensely nuanced past. This is what makes it so fascinating, but when we let our objectivity by the wayside, we allow bias to slip in, and bias is blind. We lose sight of the whole picture and once that happens it becomes impossible to analyze  any period of history no matter how seemingly simple the matter at hand may be.

Below is a video that says what I have tried to convey in a much more sophisticated and refined way. I highly recommend giving it a watch to get a better idea of just how important objectivity is, and how it really has impacted every facet of our historical perspective.